And they’re off! Crown Prince Camel Festival starts in Taif

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More than 10,000 racing camels are competing for top prizes at the Crown Prince Camel Festival, which started in Taif on Saturday. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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More than 10,000 racing camels are competing for top prizes at the Crown Prince Camel Festival, which started in Taif on Saturday. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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More than 10,000 racing camels are competing for top prizes at the Crown Prince Camel Festival, which started in Taif on Saturday. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 13 August 2018

And they’re off! Crown Prince Camel Festival starts in Taif

  • Saudi Arabia has added a new camel festival to its diary — the largest in the region for its size and prize money
  • The festival is considered the strongest of its kind in the region in terms of size and value of the prizes

TAIF/LONDON: The first warm-ups of the inaugural Crown Prince Camel Festival started in Taif in the early hours of Saturday, with thousands of camels on a two-kilometer, high-tech track. But that was just a start: Under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, more than 10,000 camels will be thrown in the ring over the next 42 days in the hopes of winning millions in prize money for special breed, good looks and speed.

Business leaders, politicians and camel enthusiasts from the Gulf states and other Arab countries will head to one of the Middle East’s largest displays of the finest camels in Saudi Arabia and the world. It is considered the strongest of its kind in the region in terms of size and value of the prizes, with SR45 million ($12 million) on offer. 

It is also the largest camel race in terms of the number of rounds, with a total of 781, including 308 first warm-up rounds, 20 production runs, two camel marathon rounds, 278 second warm-up rounds and 173 rounds in the final. This puts the festival firmly on top of the annual fixtures that celebrate Saudi culture, sport and the value of its age-old animal, the camel.

In Saudi Arabia today, camels are celebrated for their beauty, grace and speed. Even as the country rapidly modernizes, the animals remain a central part of Saudi culture, and a lucrative one, with camel prices reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars and even breaking the $1 million mark.

The festival aims to enhance the camel heritage in Saudi, Arab and Islamic culture. With that in mind, it will feature sport, cultural and entertainment activities alongside educational workshops for camel owners and visitors interested in camel sports.

“Camel racing is a culture we have inherited from our ancestors,” Hussein bin Saud, a camel owner, told Arab News. “We used to participate in small regional competitions, sometimes without financial prizes, just for tribal and regional reputation. However, over the years, these competitions became popular in the Gulf countries and the competition became more enthusiastic. Countries started to organize and support these competitions with financial prizes.”

Saturday’s warm-up rounds started amid great interest on the part of owners and organizers. Robots were mounted on the backs of camels and controlled remotely by owners, who followed their camels on a route determined by the organizing committee. The electric-powered robot, which weighs about three kilograms and costs about SR2,000, can work for several hours.

The race categories are classify camels according to their age, sex and distance they can travel: Mafarid, Haqqa, Laqaya, Jatha’a, Thanaya, Heil, Zamoul and Soudaniyat.

Races start with the entrance of the camels to the yard, where the robots are mounted on their backs. Next, camels are moved to the numbering and registration site and then transferred to another location, where they are brought to the starting platform by the organizers.

Musa Abdullah, one of the workers on the starting platform, explained that camels are arranged in rows without any escorts. Then the starting gate is lifted remotely and the race begins.

The organizing committee of the festival prepared a 10-kilometer camel race track, consisting of seven paved tracks, three dedicated to camel owners and one for media, with an outside barrier preventing individuals from entering the field.

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The manager of the camel field in Taif, Nawaf al-Qurashi, said that the old site was developed in a short period of time. The field was completely illuminated by the latest types of lighting and divided according to the types of camels involved.

“This festival offers an opportunity for all lovers of camel racing to participate,” said Mohammed Al-Marri, an owner from the Eastern Province. 

“The equipment that we have seen since our arrival in Taif gives a strong indication that this festival will be the largest in the Middle East.”

And then there is the benefit to the region’s economy. On the side of the camel field, there were a lot of fodder sellers, especially farmers who grow alfalfa, as well as sheep sellers, restaurateurs and other vendors.

Mirghani Ahmed, an alfalfa seller, was reaping the gains. “The influx of camels to this region has increased the demand for fodder, so we harvest the crop of farms and bring it to the camel field to sell it,” he said. “We may bring two or three loads sometimes because of the high demand.”

Mashhud Aman, who works in a nearby restaurant, is another to benefit. “Camel racing has revived the market with the influx of camel owners and the workers accompanying them,” he said.

The festival will continue for eight days before stopping during the Hajj, and then continue until Sept. 21. The key races will take place on weekends and include two sets of warm-up rounds.

 


Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

Updated 11 July 2020

Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

  • Saudis turn to domestic traveling and flock to their nation’s cooler cities and rural areas

TAIF: As Saudi citizens turn to domestic tourism in the country’s summer resorts, adapting to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rural areas have become targeted by local tourists wishing to get away from the soaring temperatures in most of the Kingdom’s cities.

Visitors are now choosing cold Saudi cities instead of Europe, which they are accustomed to visiting, such as Taif, Al-Baha, and Abha.

COVID-19 has postponed all plans to travel abroad, and attention has now focused on domestic tourism amid strict health protocols in parks, gardens and recreational areas.

Walid Al-Hamidi, vice president of the Tourism Development Council, confirmed to Arab News that Asir, with its facilities and attractions, was ready to receive summer visitors from across the country.

He said that under the directives of Asir's governor, who supervises all activities and events directly and constantly, many committees had been formed to prepare a successful summer tourism season, to optimize the opportunity and allow people to enjoy the exceptional ambiance of Asir.

“A comprehensive tourism plan was set up two years ago, which resulted in a successful Al-Soudah Season with the support of Asir’s Investment Authority,” Al-Hamidi added.

He noted that Asir’s directives aimed this year to build an exceptional tourism model that meets optimal health standards in dealing with COVID-19.

The model is supported by the “Nashama Asir” team — consisting of 4,000 volunteers — who have been trained for months and have all the necessary skills to make the season successful. Their work will continue until the end of the pandemic and throughout the summer.

“Everyone is ready at public facilities, gardens and parks, to serve tourists,” he said, adding “tourists coming from all the over the Kingdom will be welcomed with smiles, enhanced services, and warm welcomes.”

Dr. Sami Al-Obaidi, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Taif, told Arab News that the tourism sector was the economic backbone of any country or city.

He said that Taif was considered one of the most important tourist cities, given its many attractions  that made it top of any list of places to visit in the Kingdom.

“Suspending travel abroad, and limiting tourism … due to the coronavirus pandemic, makes us, as officials and citizens in Taif, well placed for a beautiful and safe tourism season for Taif’s citizens and visitors,” said Al-Obaidi.

“Meetings are held around the clock, headed by Saad Al-Maimouni, the governor of Taif, with the participation of the relevant authorities.”

He expected all sectors, especially tourism, hospitality and a few other businesses in Taif, to recover to some extent during this season, especially now tourists have already started flocking to the region, with numbers set to increase over the coming weeks.