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Highly symbolic ship of the desert

For this year’s partner country, Oman, even today the camel forms an essential part of its cultural heritage

For this year’s partner country, Oman, even today the camel forms an essential part of its cultural heritage

The partner country of ITB Berlin this year is a destination full of oriental mystery, beautiful landscapes and traditional customs. For centuries camel breeding has formed the basis of life for the Bedouins in the desert, and is an essential component of their culture.

Since time immemorial Arabian camels, also known as dromedaries, have been a vital means of travel across the extensive deserts and rugged mountainous areas of Oman. For the past 3,500 years Bedouin and nomads have valued the so-called ship of the desert as a true companion and a reliable form of transport. These animals can carry loads of up to 450 kilograms over distances of 50 kilometres, most of the time on challenging and in some cases thorny terrain. Camels can also store large quantities of water in their bodies, enabling them to cover hundreds of kilometres in the hot desert climate. Until the middle of the twentieth century the dromedary was indispensable for travelling in the desert, but has been largely replaced by cars and aircraft in recent decades. However, many Omanis have devoted themselves to preserving this valuable aspect of their country’s culture.

Ahmed Al-Mahrouqi is one of them, and in his spare time this oil company employee is a keen breeder of camels. He also encourages tourists and young people from his own country to experience these animals, thereby helping to preserve his country’s traditions. “Even today’s Bedouin live in brick-built houses and rarely travel in the desert”, he explains, adding: “Nowadays they often use cars instead of camels.” To honour his forefathers and to maintain their traditions, a few years ago Al-Mahrouqi began making trips by camel through the deserts of Oman. “This is the most original of all modes of transport in the desert and in their own records our ancestors described the dromedary as the most elite of animals.” Now he also offers guided caravan tours and excursions for visitors, but breeding dromedaries remains his main interest. And he is not alone in this, because “approximately 30 per cent of all the people in Oman are financially reliant on camels”, Al-Mahrouqi explains, and adds: “There are more than 10,000 camels in our country, and their numbers are rising. Breeding these animals is much cheaper than raising other kinds of livestock, such as horses, for example, because one advantage of camels is that they do not require stables.”

With his passion for camels and his aim of conveying this enthusiasm to younger generations and tourists, Ahmed Al-Mahrouqi is making a significant contribution towards preserving the culture of Oman. What has been inherited from his predecessors is for him one of the fundamental elements that explains the country’s appeal to visitors. “The Sultanate of Oman is the safest and most peaceful country in the region. Our citizens are open-minded and hospitable, while our ancient traditions are a fascination for guests and local people alike.” The beauty of the landscape, the safety of Oman and its neutral stance have given the Sultanate of Oman the nickname of the “Switzerland of Arabia”.

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