One very interesting place to visit near Cairo is the camel market (Souq El-Gamal) in Birqash, a small village about 50 km north and west of downtown Cairo. Hundreds of camels are sold in the market every day, most destined as food for Cairo-area residents.
Most of the camels start in western Sudan and are driven up the 40 Day Road, the "Darb al-Arba‘in", an ancient caravan route that goes through Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia and ends near Abu Simbel in Upper (southern) Egypt. They are then brought to Birqash by truck. Other camels come from the Sinai Peninsula or other parts of Egypt.
Buying and Selling
Each buyer has their own area where prospective sellers line up to display their animals. Each transaction is a spirited negotiation as the sellers extol the virtues of their camels while the buyer explains that, as much as he would like to, he can’t offer any more money.
Most of the camels are hobbled by tying one of their front legs up. This doesn’t always work and runaway camels are a common sight. The camels run surprisingly fast and it would be easy to be overrun if you aren’t paying attention.
The People
The people in the market included local villagers and traders from around Egypt and as far away as Sudan. No matter where they were from, they were friendly and quick to jump in and make sure we didn’t get run over by a camel or to show us something interesting. They were happy to stop for a photo and many were tried a few words of English to greet us.
One word of warning - the camel market is not for the faint of heart. The camels have been on the road for a long time and some of them are malnourished or injured. Most of the camels are wild and the owners don’t hesitate to control them using stout wooden sticks. We saw a number of dead camels alongside the roads near the market.
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