You probably would have heard of the famous bull fights of Spain and India, the cockfights of Italy and the hunting games of England. However, something that you may not have heard of would be camel wrestling in Turkey. If you think you might have heard wrong, you did not. For camel wrestling is a popular sport in addition to being a festival in the Aegean region of Turkey and is witnessed by thousands of locals and tourists alike.
Origin of the Festival: It is not exactly clear as to how the festival started. Story goes that the earlier days saw many nomad caravans compete for power and authority by sending in their camels for a fight. This was quite a popular activity in the Middle East and slowly spread to Turkey and its surrounding regions.
Event Dates: The camel wrestling festival is usually held in winter when the camels are ready to mate. In addition to the festival, you can also enjoy watching camels wrestle in Selcuk on the Western Coast of Turkey, near Izmir and Ephesus on other regular days. This area is renowned for its professional camel wrestling league and has year round wrestling competitions.
Event Participants: Ok, here’s the fun part. If you think it’s going to be man against beast, think again. For the camel wrestling competition lets two strong camels fight it out in the open air amidst hundreds of spectators. The object of the fight is usually for dominance and leadership.
The camels that take part in the festival are specially trained and fed to increase their mass. Looking like pit bulls, these massive creatures put up quite a show as they try to scare their opponents away.
Camels are usually not built for battle but can pack in quite a punch if required. Their normal battle plan includes butting each other with the head, locking legs and trying to tip the opponent over, or leaning on them; and then when the opponent backs down, trying to sit on them to show their supremacy. This is not what usually happens. But we’ll come to that part later!
Event Particulars: The festival starts off with camel owners donning colorful traditional dresses and scarves and parading around town with their camels. The camels for their part are also dressed up in tapestries that are hand knit.
The owners walk with their camels throughout the entire town, boasting of the glory and strength of their massive beasts and challenging anyone to come up against their camels. Bells and drums are played in the background till the parade stops at the entrance to a huge ground.
The camels are then led to the center of the open aired field and spectators gather in a circle around the camels. The competing camels are made to face each other and a young she cow is paraded in front of them alluringly. The camels start to froth at the mouth and nose on becoming excited and start fighting with each other to win the favor of the cow.
Selected judges who sit with the spectators watch the fight closely and award the camels points based on the strength and style of their attack All the pitting and butting will last for only 10 minutes by which time, one of the camels decide it’s had enough and backs down.
Here comes the best part of the camel festival. Most of the time, the camel that decides to back out doesn’t sit down but turns on its heels and runs away, right into the crowd! Now how would it feel to see a 1000 kg beast running towards you at full speed? Scary right? Well that’s exactly the same feeling people in the crowd will have when they try to get away from its path by running away in all directions.
This passes off as quite a comic picture when you see people hurriedly trying to scramble away from the beast. What’s scarier is that sometimes, the camel that wins the fight decides it’s not had enough and tries to chase the loser for another fight. The thought of one camel ramming into you is enough to make you kick your heels and run off at full speed. How does the thought of two camels charging at you feel?
Accidents are very few as most people are able to quickly get out of the way and only some tend to get hurt in the stampede that ensues. Camels rarely bite people but are muzzled anyway to avoid biting each other or anyone in the crowd during the fight and afterwards.
Though quite spectacular and fun to watch, the camel festival is on the decline in Turkey owing to the money that needs to be put in for feeding, training and maintaining the camels. The owners solely depend on the festival to rake in some serious money by wagers and bets that goes into taking care of the camels till the next festival arrives.