So this post is a little overdue, but a few weeks ago, I went to the camel races here in Qatar! They’re about an hour west of the city (which is, incidentally, halfway across the width of this tiny, tiny country) in the middle of the desert.
The track is 8 km long, which is just under 5 miles, and I’d estimate that about 20 camels races in each run. The whole experience was unlike anything I’d expected.
First of all, the entire arena is very open. You can casually stroll into the area where the camels are being prepped for racing and take as many pictures as you want. You can walk across the track, and I did… multiple times. There was no one standing by to stop us, which was shocking because that means a little kid could easily run into the track to say hello to a camel and get trampled. Sorry, that’s morbid.
Moving on… There were three main “venues” from which to watch the races. There was the starting gate, which looks very similar to typical horse race gates. (That’s about where the horse comparisons stop. Camels run a lot slower and they’re not nearly as graceful.) There’s a bar both in front of and behind the camels. It seems sort of like the idea is to make them feel claustrophobic so they really run out of there when the front bar is lifted.
You can stand RIGHT on the sidelines as this happens. It’s pretty exciting the first time, but gets routine really fast. The finish line is a very similar experience. You stand right by the track, watch the camels finish the race, la dee da. Again, really cool once or twice, and then that’s it.
The last “venue” though really doesn’t get old. As soon as the front bar lifts at the starting gate, everyone rushes over to these buses that then drive alongside the camels as they run around the track. It’s great because you can see the camels really up close this way – though to be honest, that’s as bad as it is good.
The thing is, from up close, you start to feel bad for the camels. They have small robot jockeys on their backs, and the camels’ owners (along with a ton of other race viewers) drive alongside them to make sure they’re up to speed. If a camel isn’t running at the pace its owner wants it to run, they remotely control the robot jockey and it starts whipping the camel. The extreme exertion makes the camels start slobbering a lot. The spit starts to collect on their mouths, resembling foam, and it then travels down their necks. Their lips also flap all over the place as they book it. It’s kind of disgusting, to be honest, but you also feel for the poor things.
We went on the bus ride a few times, and it was exciting every time. Everyone is clamoring for a good shot, so the atmosphere is competitive and fun. The radio also plays very loudly in the background as some sportscasters call the race. And of course, moving with the camels means you get to take some very cool pictures. I’m no photographer, but I did my best. Here are the rest of the pics: