Each year bedouins travel from all corners of the Arabian Peninsula for the Mazayin Dhafra Camel Festival. Here they sell camels for millions of dirhams and, more importantly, compete in the camel beauty pageant. Centered around Million Street in Abu Dhabi, it is one of the biggest and richest events of its kind, with more than $9 million and over 100 cars up for grabs as prizes.

Camels have long been revered as the desert ships of these lands, and they remain a valuable cultural and practical asset to the bedouin. The bedouin life has always centered on a transient existence—moving from one location to another, land held no value. Instead, camels became the measure of each man’s wealth.

Since the discovery of oil in the United Arab Emirates in the last century, the bedouin lifestyle has faded almost into extinction. Thatched huts have been replaced by towering Babel-esque skyscrapers, and even the once highly coveted camel has been traded in for the latest luxury SUV. Preservation of the Emirates’ cultural heritage may in the end prove futile. For now, Million Street offers a remarkable glimpse into a rich lifestyle struggling to maintain relevance.

Words and photos by Rich-Joseph Facun