Camel riding through Oman’s traditional roots

It was almost time for the sun to set and all that was left was just enough light to keep visible the Bedouin tent set up right in front of the Ministry of Tourism. The camels relaxed whilst munching away on dry grass. Although relaxing, these camels have a purpose — they have been and remain to be a major part of the Desert Caravan, travelling through the desert.

Just a few steps away from the tent in a small pit is the camp fire, it filled the air with traces of smoke from the burning charcoal. Along with the smokiness of the fire, in the air also wafted the strong aroma of Kahwa, flavoured rice and cooked dates. It was truly hard to believe that we were in Al Khuwair and not somewhere in the middle of Bidiya.
This was the purpose set in place by the team of Desert Caravan. Ahmed al Mahrouqi has been on a mission for the last few years to promote traditional travelling or at least the experience of it. This was targeted especially towards the younger generation to experience and learn about the traditions of their forefathers.
The Second edition of Desert Caravan not only welcomed the tourism season of Oman but introduced the desert life to many tourists. The four Omani travellers carried catalogues and brochures to show to the tourists on site about their beautiful country and its colourful and rich traditions.
In my opinion, the most interesting session for the tourists must have been the opportunity to learn about and try riding a camel.
The first step is to sit on the camel, but all the excitement starts when the camel prepares to stand up. As much as you try to hold on to its neck whilst it stands up, the neck seems farther than you imagined.
One quickly learns to stay perched on the camel especially if you are scared of heights. Once one wants to finally get down from a camel, you are again stuck in a tricky situation — bending to the front and then to the back.
At this point one is truly grateful that camels have a hump!
For Ahmed it is just part of the conversation he has with his camels. With the top tip of his camel stick which is curved he just looped slightly onto the muffler of his camel Rahal and with the end of the same stick he just tapped the leg. Immediately Rahal obediently sat down while nonchalant, going back to chewing his grass.
During the rest of the conversation Ahmed was leaning on Rahal who enjoyed the attention and the comfort. “Camels are great companions for a journey. They are strong and they never give up on you. They would be fine without food or water for up to four to five days,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed is also popularly known as the ‘Omani Traveller.’ He has named his camel the same — Rahal means traveller. There are other camels too who all have their own stories. If the intention was to promote traditions to the youth, the second edition of the Desert Caravan was a grand success.
Accompanying the seniors on the journey was Moneim Hamoud al Nahdi and Salem bin Ali al Nahdi. Moneim had previously accompanied his father on the trek up to Jebel Akhdhar.
As Hamoud, his son and nephew joined us, we sat in a circle — yet another custom of the desert. After a round of kahwa we were introduced to Madluk, a date dish which Ahmed had just prepared.
Madluk is meant for the colder seasons especially because it is spiced with black pepper. “It is prepared with dates, ghee, cardamom and black pepper. It is perfect for winter. It can produce heat which is why it cannot be consumed in summer. People do make it in summer but then they will avoid pepper.”
Ahmed also explained, “Hamoud is good in Taghroudah — the Bedouin poetry.” Just before we left Hamoud the senior most traveller in the group gave us a sample of the Bedouin poetry (you can view it on face book page @omanobserver).
The whole experience seemed to have been a celebration of age-old traditions right from the deserts. The only thing that gave the set away was the fact that the street lights were competing the skyline, where if it were the desert it would have been just the stars. Travelling on camels, crossing the desert from sun rise to sun set, is not a task — Rather it is life, making it more meaningful of course is poetry Hamoud al Nahdi is known for his talent. Hamoud, the senior most Omani traveller with the Desert Caravan with the youngest of the riders in the group — Moneim Hamoud al Nahdi and Salem bin Ali al Nahdi Along with the veteran Omani traveller — Ahmed al Mahrouqi.
Why do you prefer walking bare foot? Ahmed replies, “I want to feel the sand of the land.”

Lakshmi Kothaneth

(Pictures by Salim Al hajri & Abdullah Al Hajri)