Nearly 30,000 camels will gather over the next three weeks in Madinat Zayed, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi emirate, for Al Dhafra Festival.
Now in its ninth year, the festival will combine for the first this year the Baynounah and Al Dhafra camel beauty and heritage shows into one festival.
"Baynounah, a camel beauty competition for Emirati breeders, used to take place in the Western Region just before Al Dhafra, so it made sense to combine the two," Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, director of Projects Management at the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi (CPHFC) told Khaleej Times.
The ninth Al Dhafra Festival, which begins today until December 30, will have the first four days dedicated to the Baynounah camel competitions and the rest to Al Dhafra camel contests, where camel breeders from all over the Gulf region are welcome to participate.
"Last year, we had 1,500 camel owners in Al Dhafra competitions, and this year we are expecting more as we have combined Baynounah and Al Dhafra. But since registration and participation are opened on a daily basis, it is difficult to predict a final number," explained Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, director of Heritage Competitions at CPHFC.
Over the years, the festival has grown from just a camel beauty competition to a celebration of Emirati culture and heritage, and the celebration is reflected in 15 different art and heritage activities and competitions taking place during the festival.
From purebred Arabian horse race, falcon competitions and saluki races to sour milk, dates packaging, sheep beauty contest and camel competitions, organisers of Al Dhafra are giving awards in excess of Dh50 million to competition winners this year.
"Al Dhafra Festival has managed to promote authentic Emirati heritage and reinforce the valuable efforts made to ensure its safeguard and protection," stated Faris Khalaf Al Mazrouei, chairman of CPHFC.
"Over the years, the mazayna (camel beauty contests) categories, laps and prizes have grown to reach over 25,000 participating camels. Only camel owners from the Arab Gulf region are allowed to participate in the mazayna, which has been described by international media as the 'biggest camel gathering in history'," he added.
Out of the 1,500 camel owners taking part in mazayna last year with 25,000 camels, 656 won prizes - cash or 4x4 cars - during the 77 camel competition rounds.
During Al Dhafra 2015, there will be 103 camel competition rounds for both pure bred golden hair (Omani original) and black hair (Saudi original) camels, 37 of which will be for the Baynounah competitions and 66 for Al Dhafra competitions.
A traditional souk, children playing areas, art workshops and cafes will also be available for visitors.