The Camels Are Coming Oho,Oho!

I remember being taught that song at primary school – it never made much sense but then not a lot does at that age as we soak stuff up like blotting paper (the link is for those under 25 years of age). And like blotting paper our memories may be blurred but the marks and the lyrics are permanent. Which is why I still hum the ditty whenever J and I go to camel wrestling!


the camels coming – or possibly going

So, together with a couple of camel wrestling virgin friends, we headed for the village of Sinirtepe near Aydın for their annual, much advertised, Camelus dromedarius festival. The place was suspiciously quiet when we arrived and with good reason – they’d had their tourney on the 3rd of January! Ho-hum!


different venue, right idea

J and I prefer local, non-touristic venues and the price we pay is that information is sometimes lacking. The locals in Sinirtepe were sympathetic and in very short order they sent us on our way to a match being staged about 50 kms away at Bağarası. It could not have been a better introduction to the spectacle for our friends, It had everything – staged on a football pitch set in the middle of the shambolic industrial area, the parking was chaotic, the sights, smells and sounds exotic and the people wonderfully welcoming and friendly. Just our sort of place!

I know some of you might feel concerned that what we were supporting is some form of blood sport. It is not! The events are a continuation of a tradition from the days when camel trains and caravans criss-crossed Turkey and much of the Middle East and Asia. Traders would encourage the bull camels to do what they do naturally during the four month breeding season. The events brought camel owners together where old and new friendships were cemented, information and breeding stock were exchanged and a lot of feasting, drinking and wagering took place. Camel owners are easy to spot due to their distinctive dress: cornered caps, traditional scarves around the neck, jackets, special trousers and accordion-like boots.

camel owner2

old time camel owner

I love these boots


his job is to secure the camel’s jaw to prevent biting and injury

These days the camels are bred for strength and fed and trained to build them up. Like football and much else it is no longer a poor man’s sport. J made some enquiries and a young animal will set you back around six thousand lira. A mature 12 year-old bull with much of its wrestling and breeding career ahead would cost between eighty and one hundred and fifty thousand lira. Bulls begin wrestling at about seven years of age and continue for about ten years some up to the age of twenty. When you add in the cost of food, veterinary care, transport and pre-festival partying you are talking a pretty penny!

camel wrestling5

that said, there was one very vocal lady owner

bull camel

bull camel in all his finery and glory

With these magnificent creatures being so valuable great care is taken to ensure that no harm comes to them apart from a bruised ego if they go out in the first round! If an animal is reluctant or afraid to engage then the referee calls a halt. A win is signalled when one animal succeeds in pinning, tripping or totally dominating his opponent and two teams rush in to drag the beasts apart. Some contests can be like watching paint dry whilst others, especially in the later rounds with the best bulls, can be very lively.

Of great value is a good cazgır. He is the person who announces wrestlers or the wrestling camels – calls out the camels’ names. The cazgır reads poems praising each camel, adding colour to the contest. The cazgır, just as in two-legged wrestling contests, is the most important and colourful person in the competition. He treats a camel wrestling match just like a sport commentator at a soccer match.

bull camel3

Perhaps the most entertaining sights are when one camel has had enough and makes a bid to escape pursued by the victor. With bulls weighing in at between seven hundred and fifty and fifteen hundred kilos there are a couple of tons of tunnel vision thundering about. When pursued and pursuer head for the hills behind the spectators with their tables, chairs and barbecues the chaos and antics are like something from a Buster Keaton film. Do people get hurt? Rarely.

Whilst the stars are, without question, the magnificent bulls decked out in all their splendour and slobbering at the scent of battle (or is it female pheromones?) they are not the only attraction. The sight of thousands of Turks eating, drinking, socialising and dancing whilst wandering folk bands compete with each other for the rolled up bank notes that get stuffed into their instruments is something to experience. Add in the smells from countless barbecues and vendors selling camel sausage sandwiches and köfte with the aroma of rutting camels and your experience is complete!

camel burgers

camel sausage in a bun

wandering minstrels

our virgins getting the musical works whilst J is masticating again!

camels decorated saddle

pack saddle

camel muzzle and bridle

muzzle and bridle

camel pheromones

The name of the competing camel is written on a piece of embroidered cloth called a peş hung behind the saddle, which is called the “havut.” Beneath the camel’s name is written the word Maşallah (May God protect him). ‘Arza’ in heroic pose and spraying pheromones all over the place!

Is it worth going to camel wrestling? Absolutely! For the spectacle, the colour, the noise, the smells, tastes and the welcome for a visitor. The camels love to have their ears scratched!


Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps Here’re the real Cam(pb)e(l)ls Coming Oho, Oho!


'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

The Sexual Life Of The Camel . .

camel in rut

‘The sexual life of the camel,

Is stranger than anyone thinks.

One night in a moment of passion,

He tried to deflower the Sphinx!


Now, the Sphinx’s posterior anatomy

Is covered with sand from the Nile.

Which accounts for the ‘ump on the camel,

And the Sphinx’s inscrutable smile!’



J and I have had much to ‘get the ‘ump’ about of late. Those who follow these rambling wanderings through time, space and reality will know of the quarry that has been opened next door to our home. Anyway, to escape the noise, dust and mud that kicks off our days at 6.30 every single morning, we decided to have a few days away at a spa and take in some Camel Wrestling as well.

For those of you worried about blood sport or cruelty, let me reassure you that I’ve attended many a bout in my years in Turkey and I’ve never seen a camel hurt or in any way disturbed by the presence of the noisy audience. The animals are focussed on just one thing – being top-dog in the hierarchical world of bull camels at a time of year when the ladies are feeling receptive.

a bit of argy-bargy

To set the scene, you need to know that camel wrestling is not a touristy thing; it takes place over the winter months when the females are in season. With the steady expansion of winter tourism and with many more foreign residents around these days, venues near these centres now see a lot more ‘yabancı’ (foreigners) than used to be the case. For this reason, J and I prefer to frequent those places that are less ‘polished’ and less concerned about the image they are projecting. Rejecting the concrete safety fences of Selçuk for the chicken wire of Yatağan or Nazilli or Buldan suits us fine. Some of these venues are just a cleared area of forestry land, or an open space in the middle of a derelict works area, or, as was the case at Buldan where this post is set, a space in the middle of a quarry that was accessed through the town rubbish tip!

'Welcome to Buldan's Camel Wrestling Arena'

As we drove through the mounds of rubbish and dust we did wonder if the sign pointing us this way might not have been turned around as a prank. Our doubts soon evaporated as we joined the back of a queue to get our tickets from the Zabita (municipal police) – it was mayhem as drivers behind tried to pass on both sides on a track wide enough for one. We handed over 15 lira and got our ticket to admit one car and as many people as could jam themselves inside; pretty good value for a family day out. We drove forward just a couple of metres where we were again stopped by the Zabita who demanded our ticket, tore it into bits, chucked it with the rest of the rubbish and waved us through! Burası Türkiye! This isTurkey!

Being obvious foreigners, we drew a lot of polite interest and we were soon adopted by the members of an Ottoman Marching Band; photos were taken, cards exchanged and we now find that we are to be their honoured guests whenever we are in Denizli.

honorary members of the Denizli Fatih Mehteri - Ottoman Marching Band

For those who have never experienced an event like this, it can best be described as a total assault on the senses. There are the sounds and sights and smells that emanate from thousands of people talking, drinking and cooking; there are tea vendors, candy-floss and balloon sellers; sausage makers, video sellers and those cooking meatballs and sausages on huge ‘barbies’; there are wandering bands of traditional folk musicians and the over-loud public address system. In the case of Buldan, there were the colourful uniforms of the Denizli Fatih Mehteri (Ottoman Marching Band), and then, of course, there are the stars of the show, the bull camels, decked out in all their finery; foaming and slobbering at the mouth and pumping out bucket loads of testosterone induced pheromones! The overall effect on the sensibilities of the new visitor is incredible – J and I have been attending these things for a while now and we still get a huge buzz. If you love spectacle and you love people-watching, you won’t find a better combination anywhere.

slobber - slobber

It is worth remembering that the bulls are behaving as they would ‘in the wild’ where the instinct to gather as many females together as they can by seeing-off any likely competitor is so powerful that everything else pales into insignificance. To avoid any possible injury to these valuable beasts as they compete, they have a cord tied around their jaws to prevent biting.

camel wrestling - the take-down 'Come on ref!'

The contests between bulls amounts to a great deal of pushing and shoving with attempts to topple the opponent by wrapping a head and neck around his front legs. Some bouts are over quickly, others are called out of time by the judges – sometimes one of the beasts will take off for the hills and, chicken wire fences being no impediment, they end up scattering chairs, picnics and people! For me, some of the funniest moments come when two bulls, locked together and oblivious to anything around, end up by the fences – off come the spectators’ hats, up come the plastic chairs and there follows a totally ineffectual pantomime performance as the crowd tries to shoo the animals away. The wise would simply leave their place by the fence, but then they’d be giving up a prime spot and you know what Turks are like in a queue!

deve sucuk - camel sausage 'sarny'

In the end there will usually be a winner with one animal being ‘pinned down’; a judge blows a whistle and two teams of ten to a dozen men move in, get a rope around each bull and then proceed to pull them apart – no easy task. In the end the beasts are separated and immediately begin to act like perfectly behaved gentlemen, showing no interest in any more brawling.

folk musicians wander and play to the crowds

Buldan proved to be one of the very best venues we’ve been to – once through the rubbish tip, the atmosphere was brilliant – from here on the photos can do the talking. Back at our spa hotel we were able to have a nice long soak in the hot mineral waters and replace the smell of meatballs and rutting camels with the whiff of sulphur from the bowels of the earth – Sheer Bliss!

to the victor the spoils
two young ladies wondering what all the fuss is about
I say, that's my cousin you're eating!
making a day of it - Turkish style

standing proud
. . getting out was harder than getting in!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü