Weekend camel races in Biyata

Friday, 1.30pm. Dubai’s malls are teeming with afternoon shoppers. The beaches are packed. Sheikh Zayed Road rumbles with afternoon traffic after a morning of peace.

We’re about an hour away, heading towards the emirate of Umm al-Quwain for a camping weekend. Traffic jams and glittering buildings have long been left behind. We’re ambling along roads lined by dunes that pass through some of the UAE’s smaller towns, where village life is as it has been long before the Burj Khalifa was even a blueprint.

We turn off at the village of Biyata, a commune so small that Google hasn’t even registered its presence. It’s a tiny village showing a few signs of life in the form of hanging washing and embroidered rugs, surprisingly gleaming utes and four-wheel drives parked outside flat-roofed concrete buyout (houses), and livestock tethered in vacant blocks nearby.

Cutting through the deafening quiet are the faint shouts of some Emirati men in the distance. The noise is coming from a camel track that sits just behind the village, so long that its start and end can’t be seen from our vehicle. We follow it – and the increasing volume of spirited discussion – until we come to the source: some men are preparing to race their camels, and are happy to let us watch proceedings trackside.

After ensuring the toy jockeys are strapped securely to each camel’s back, the dromedaries are lined up and swiftly tapped on their backs before they take off at surprisingly lightning speed. In a haze of dust and shouts, the men rush into their waiting Jeeps to chase after them. It’s an exciting moment, and a welcome reminder of humble village life that continues to thrive in this part of the world.