Saturday, January 17, 2015

Liwa Oasis

We'd booked an all day tour of the oasis and luckily for us were assigned a young Pakistani by the name of Taj as guide for the day.  Once we got through the (ho-ho) sounds like Indian (aaagghh!) thing about his name which he was of course highly touchy about, things went wonderfully.

The tour itself was most interesting but in reality it was the ability to speak with someone who was willing to talk about religion, politics and his way or life -- all things we in the West read about and think ourselves informed about but know in reality very little about.

He was also the first person I've ever heard who brings the "Insh Allah" (sp) seamlessly and naturally into his conversation.

Taj addressed the Parisian shootings saying that the perpetrators were not real Muslims as Islam was all about peace and harmony, certainly nothing to do with violence.  He also said that the ex-Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan would turn his country around and bring peace back to his troubled country.

I also got to the bottom of the conundrum from a post or so ago about the washing bit in the men's bathroom.

Not an easy topic of conversation at the best of times, I'll grant, but Taj once he understood what I was asking him stopped the car to demonstrate.  Fortunately it was at our tour's first stop -- a rebuilt fort just outside a small village called Al Jabbar -- where he got onto his hands and knees to demonstrate just how people wash before prayers.

The rebuilt completely empty fort.  Made of dried mud and palm leaves.

So he hadn't quite got what I asked him really but I could deduce that the hose in the bathroom was not used as you would, say in the garden when watering your flower beds when you'd shower water in all directions, rather the washer would let out very limited amounts of water and dab the parts he should 3 times in that particular order ending up behind his ears.  Taj demonstrated how to do this without water if you happened to be in the desert (which of course we were).  But I think I figured it out and like many conundrums, the answer is really quite mundane. And actually very sensible.

He took us to an art fair that had just ended and walked us around as he thought we'd be interested.  Nice of him but the thing that got me was that everything was about camels.  Of course the theme may have been camels but every scuplture, photo and painting was related to camels.  Close ups, camels made of palm trees, sculptures of camels from old tin cans, endless paintings of camels.  People here love their camels.  There are beauty parades of camels with the most lovely fetching into the millions, so I guess why not devote your art to them too?

How many ways can you love a camel?

That and falcons are a passion here.

And of course Ferraris, Maseratis, Bentleys...

We toured a hydroponic garden, toured a date factory and finally visited a camel training facility where people train young camels for racing.  This is big here too.  Successful racing camels go for big money.  They are young, maybe 2-9 years old, after which they are sold to places like the resort where they live out the remainder of their lives.

Training involves tying a bunch of young camels to an old camel ridden by a man and rode round and round the 5-6 km circuit.  The races are longer than horse races.  It takes 3 months to train a new camel after which they start racing.  Again for big money.

Training in action

They have jockeys too, the problem being that young camels cannot bear the weight of an adult.  In the old days they used babies (really) who they strapped to the camel for the race, reason being that babies crying encourages the camels to run faster (again really).  However this practice has thankfully been banned so now they use robot jockeys.

Meeting a new friend

Taj's Bangladeshi trainer friend showed us a specimen robot to which he plugged in a battery and showed us how the owners who drive around the inside of the circuit during the race use the remote to work the whip that encourages the camel to run faster.  Boy, did that whip go around fast!

The robot jockeys are operated by the owners in their SUVs that drive around the inside of the circuit as the race is on.  If their camel falls behind or if they generally want to exhort it to go faster, they press their control (like a garage control) and the whip thing whirls round and round... Ouch, ouch, ouch...

We ended up by going overland or rather over-dune back to the resort in what they call 'dune bashing'
here.  Namely letting the tyres down considerably (otherwise you could flip over) and aiming at the big dunes.  As fast as you dare.  Quite hairy it was too but also great fun.

I was absolutely fascinated by the desert.  Just stunning.


Our final morning was spent racing up the big dune now we were experts in dune climbing --- less
than 30 minutes up, still 10 minutes down with nary a stop for sand removal from our shoes.

Then it was all over.

What a trip!

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