She’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s… a camel.
Every December, camels strut their stuff as part of Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Festival. Their catwalk is an unnamed stretch of dusty desert road, which people have taken to calling “Million Street” because the most beautiful beasts typically sell for millions of dollars in local currency.
The camel beauty pageant, called the mazayna, is the highlight of the decade-old festival. Camel breeders primp and prep their most dashing dromedaries before parading them before a panel of expert judges.
The animals are divided into different categories, based on their color. According to the judges’ camel beauty standards, a winner should have big eyes framed with lush lashes, a nose that droops downward, a long neck, and a high hump. Camel owners mark their winning entries by smearing a traditional blend of saffron paste on the animal’s head.
The festival is a celebration of Bedouin culture. It’s also a way for breeders to promote and preserve purebred bloodlines. Hundreds of camel herders come from across the Gulf attend. In the weeks preceding the festival, their caravans pile into the area, where they set up camel camps along Million Street.
In addition to the beauty pageant, the festival also includes other events that highlight traditional aspects of Bedouin culture like a camel milking contest, falconry exhibits, Arabian horse racing, and date packaging.