Introducing Birqash Camel Market
Egypt’s largest camel market is held at Birqash (pronounced Bir’ash), a small village 35km northwest of Cairo, just on the edge of the Delta’s cultivated land. Until 1995 the market was held in Cairo’s western suburb of Imbaba, but when that land became too precious for camels, one of Cairo’s age-old institutions was relocated. The Birqash camel market is not for the faint of heart – these beasts are not treated like beloved pets. But it can make an unforgettable day trip, especially if you’re a photographer.
Hundreds of camels are sold here every market day, with the liveliest action between 7am and 10am. Most of the animals are brought up the Forty Days Rd from western Sudan to just north of Abu Simbel by camel herders, and from there to the market in Daraw in Upper Egypt. Unsold camels are then hobbled and crammed into trucks for the 24-hour drive to Birqash. By the time they arrive, many are emaciated, fit only for the knacker’s yard, and some expire at the market itself. Traders stand no nonsense and camels that get out of line are beaten relentlessly.
In addition to those from Sudan, there are camels from various parts of Egypt (including Sinai, the west and the south) and sometimes from as far away as Somalia. They are traded for cash or other livestock, such as goats, sheep and horses, and sold for farm work or slaughter. Smaller camels go for as little as E£600, but bigger beasts can sell for E£5000 and up.