Being a westerner, I originally believed camels were stubborn, charmless creatures that spit at you. That was before I was lucky enough to be forced to ride a Bactrian Camel. On a 28 hour ride back from the countryside, after listening to me jabber on about my love for Mongolian animals, our driver pulled over, pointed at me, then at an enormous camel. I was crawling in my skin with joy to actually ride one, but thought it outlandish if our whole car had to stop, for me to ride a camel. Fortunately, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I summited the giant furry thing blinking at me. Mongolia’s indigenous two humped camels are great to ride, because there is an excellent spot to nestle, giving one hump to lean back against, and one to hold onto. Sitting atop what felt like a nosediving boat, my camel extended its long hind legs to get up. I rubbed my camel’s coarse hairy side, and kept telling him, hair tai shuu, temme ‘I love you, camel’, while the Mongolians snarled with laughter at my affection for the fluffy beast!
The Bactrian Camels are somewhat misunderstood by tourists, because of the time it takes to get accustomed to their irregular gait. They are called ‘ships of the desert’ by Mongolians, and they provide a ride similar to their namesake. However there is much more to these magnificent creatures than a bobbly ride. Bactrian Camels are as fast as packhorses, but can haul three times the capacity (200 kilos), and if you take off their load they can even outrun a horse! One camel can provide 600 liters of milk a year, while also producing 8 kilos of wool! Bactrians are hardy creatures, being able to work in temperature extremes, go nine days without water, and 33 days without food! The health of camels can be diagnosed by observing the firmness of their humps; if their humps are firm, and upright, they are in fine health, while droopy humps signify the need for food and water. A thirsty camel can suck up 100-120 liters at one sitting, whereas a horse would drink 40-50 liters.
Beyond their physical merit, Mongolian Camels can feel deeply for their loved ones. If a camel’s baby dies or is taken away, it will cry for days and go without food. Conversely, if a baby is separated from its mother, it too will become sad and weep. Also if Mongolian Camels hear a beautiful song, it will cry big heavy tears. The Story of the Weeping Camel, a documentary about a baby camel orphaned in the Mongolian countryside, shows how herders played music for a prospective camel-mother, for her to accept the orphan. They nurtured the camel playing music on a tomor khuur, a metal mouth harp, and on the morin khuur, a horse head fiddle, until the adult camel wept and wept, and took in the baby to nurse. After learning of the much love and respect the Mongolians have for Bactrian Camels, and the knowledge of how sensitive they are, I gladly champion these sweet furry behemoths; hair tai shuu, temee!