Mongolia's steppes host camel derby and beauty parade

Mongolia's steppes host camel derby and beauty parade

DALANZADGAD, Mongolia, March 29 - Out in the Gobi Desert, the crowd, many in colorful Mongolian traditional dress, admire the shaggy-haired, cud-chewing camels as they plod by in a beauty parade.

Later, many of their owners mount their beasts to drive them on a dusty, chaotic 15-km (nine miles) race across the steppeland.

It's all part of Mongolia's Camel Festival - an event as central to traditional nomadic life as the bactrian camel itself, a wooly, two-humped beast that sports a flowing beard of hair.

Guinness World records classes the race, that is part of the two-day festival, as the largest camel race in the world, drawing 1,108 participants from across Mongolia to the site outside Dalanzadgad in Umnugovi province.

This year, the winning camel romped home in 35 minutes and 12 seconds on the wind-swept steppe, according to the records website.

The bactrian camel itself is a beast of burden that normally carries everything that is required for a Mongolian to be able to build and live in a traditional Mongolian tent. They cost about $750 per piece.

Known fairly or unfairly for their feisty temperament, some plowed into the crowd of spectators, though no injuries were reported.

"Your camel has to be bad-tempered for riders to get a place here," one person joked to another.

Many families trekked for at least seven hours from the capital Ulan Bator to watch the competition. There are minimal conditions to enter: the camels must be pure breed Mongolian bactrian and at least four years old. Entry is free.

Camel wool is vital for making clothes, blankets, jackets and socks, and also can be twined into rope.