(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) When they strut down the arid land, the vastness of the surrounding wilderness humbles in comparison.
Even their shadows appear unconquerable and larger than life. Treading with raw, yet faultless gait on undulating ground, these two magnificent creations do to you what an oasis would in a desert. Meet Hamra Ain and Musaiah, unarguably among the most beautiful camel breeds in the sultanate today.
A collectors' pride, these camels cost a fortune, but for their owners - brothers Khamis Masoud and Juma al Zadjali - who don't shy away from flaunting them at their camel farm in Musannah, beauty like theirs is rare and priceless.
These camels have consistently been clinching top titles at beauty contests held across the country every year; especially the eight year old Hamra Ain. This one, having won the ''most beautiful'' title twice in a row at shows in Saham and Barka, is currently pegged as the most coveted camel in Oman.
Khamis first spotted the camel when she was barely three months old. ''When I saw the Hamra Ain, I knew she would grow into a very beautiful camel.'' He bought her from his friend for RO6,000. ''Within four days of buying her, I was offered RO15,000, but I turned it down because I knew she was a very selective, local breed. In fact, there are only three or four Hamra Ains in Oman today. This camel is that rare.''
It goes without saying that Khamis has an unusual knack of distinguishing an exquisite breed from an ordinary one. Having grown up on a camel farm, ''knowledge about them came naturally'' to him.
And while the family initially bred camels for racing shows, the sudden popularity of beauty contests in the sultanate over a decade ago led Khamis to shift tracks and invest his money on grooming camels.
However, for the pageants, he can't really adorn the animals with flashy accessories or stunning clothing as commonly presumed.
''Camels are judged solely on their appearance. There are several criteria for deciding that. Most importantly, it's the face: The bigger the head, the straighter the ear and fuller the lower lip, the more beautiful the camel is. Also, the manner in which it holds its head is taken into consideration. Camels with longer and straighter necks get more points.
''The next important factor is the shape of the body, and how the hump is situated. The perfect shape is one where there the hump is closer to the camel's rear. Finally, it's the legs. They have to be straight, long and strong,'' says Khamis.
The clincher, though, is how the camel walks on the day of the show. ''The judges watch each and every step of the camel, how it sits, stands or walks. In fact, a camel's true beauty is in its gait,'' says Khamis, jokingly adding, ''It's just like walking the ramp.''
The brothers are now thinking if they should enter their Hamra Ain in the beauty contest scheduled during the khareef season in Salalah this August. ''She just won the challenge round in February, so we are yet to decide if we should get her to participate in the next contest too. It takes a lot of effort to bring out those good looks,'' admits Khamis, claiming that like any other model preparing for a beauty show, the Hamra Ain would also need to be put on a strict diet and made to undergo special training.
''There is no doubt that she is blessed with good genes. But she needs to look healthy and fit. If your camel is not feeling too well on the day of the contest, you are definitely going to lose marks,'' says Khamis.
Usually, training for a contest begins with a resting period of about three months.
''During this time, we give them whatever they like to eat. This includes grass, wild trees, oats, milk and alfalfa that we grow on our farm. And, irrespective of whether they are being prepared for a show or not, the camels are fed a cup of honey with a litre of water thrice a week. It does wonders to their bodies,'' Khamis says.
Post the resting phase, the camels are trained to develop endurance and strength.
''For around three weeks, they will be made to walk for five to 10km everyday, but not ridden upon, as it affects their posture. We avoid sending Musaiah and Hamra Ain out when the sun is too harsh because that changes the colour of their hair. A bath thrice a week with an expensive shampoo is also part of this regimen.''
All this may seem too laborious a task; the result though has been more than gratifying for the brothers with SUVs and cash prizes pouring in.
But for the brothers (Khamis has a full-time job as tower chief at the Muscat International Airport and Zadjali is a senior accountant at Oman Air) their hobby' is not stirred by material gains.
''We thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, we spend the same number of hours at the farm as we do at work. There is a lot more money that goes into keeping our camels healthy and beautiful. But I don't keep a tab. If I do, we might reconsider engaging in such an expensive hobby,'' Khamis says, while reaching out to pet Hamra Ain, who leans her head on his shoulder.
As dusk settles, the other 20-odd camels that the Zadjalis rear for milk and racing, slowly return to their stables. On seeing them Hamra Ain and Musaiah begin to buzz in excitement. ''Observe their features carefully,'' Khamis says, ''They look their b