The weather was at its best at the 41st edition of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive held at Tilal Swaihan in Al Ain on February 11. More than 650-odd cars descended into the UAE desert with the desire for off-road adventure.
Over 1,650 participants — some of whom avid off-roaders and others fairly new in the game — registered for the latest edition of the Fun Drive, showing up as early as 6am at the check-in desk of the Tilal Swaihan camp, the starting point.
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There was a festive spirit in the air as the DJ set the mood, churning out cool numbers to keep the crowd entertained. There was a definite buzz, as people started lining up to register their vehicles and pick up their number stickers.
Breakfast was served from 6.30 am and participants enjoyed freshly baked croissants, muffins, sandwiches, and more. Hungry participants feasted on a sprawling breakfast provided by Capital Catering+Services.
The route, like last year, was designed as a loop at the sprawling Tilal Swaihan campsite. John Spiller, route director for the Fun Drive, said the 140-km drive through the Al Ain desert was planned such that newbies and regulars would enjoy the adventure. Abbas Tinwala from India had registered for the drive with his wife Batul and son Huzaifa.
His mother Shakera Poonawala decided to brave the off-road adventure and brought her second son Yusuf, daughter-in-law Fatema and granddaughter Insiya as well. “The Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive is a great weekend getaway. We decided as a family to come out and enjoy the adventure,” said Tinwala.
”The children are excited about camping overnight too.”
Pakistani couple Ijaz Anwar and his wife Zarine, too, were looking for a good time. What better way than a desert adventure?
Marshals manned their posts early, while the recovery crew was ready to roll. The Al Ain Municipality brought its vehicle, MX7 – Panorama for the flag off, scheduled at 9 am.
Ahmed Omran Al Ameri, Advisor - Director of Municipal Community Centre, Al Aamerah, said the annual Gulf News event was a huge hit and propelled tourism in Tilal Swaihan.
“This car has been specifically designed to help push tourism in Tilal Al Swaihan. It has a 360-degree camera to capture pictures and videos. It’s the first time that this car has been brought to a community event. The Gulf News Fun Drive has put Tilal Al Swaihan on the international map and this is our way of showing our appreciation.”
Hamad Ali Al Mazroui, Managing Director of International Automobile Touring Club – the official vehicle recovery at the Fun Drive — who was at the flag-off point, said Gulf News Fun Drive attracts visitors from around the world. “I’ve been part of the Gulf News Fun Drive event since it started. At that time I didn’t have a beard, mustache, or a wife. Today we continue to support the annual Gulf News event for the amazing family adventure it offers.”
He also reminsiced about how they had to tackle challenges over the years. But in the end, everything worked out.
“One time I remember there was massive participation from Abu Dhabi to Liwa. We had 1,008 registered cars for the Fun Drive. Each car had five passengers. It was not easy to handle. People lost route, or got stuck somewhere. But it ended up being a successful adventure in the end.”
“The Gulf News Fun Drive is a great supporter for tourism in the area,” he said.
He believes this event now has global appeal.
“We’ve seen international participants flying down for this event. They would hire a 4X4 rent-a-car and participate. After it was over, they would leave the car at the rent-a-car and fly back to where they came from. Such is the presence of the Gulf News Fun Drive.”
A spokesperson for AW Rostamani Trading said: “We were excited to participate at the Gulf News Fun Drive. It was a great opportunity for us to invite the participants to our display area and showcase our products to customers. We’re extremely grateful for the support and hospitality provided by the Gulf News team. We cannot wait to see how much energy and excitement the participants bring in the upcoming Fun Drives. It will obviously motivate us to work together more and do more.”
Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, and Al Ameri; flagged off the drive.
The MX7 – Panorama was the first car on its way to conquer the dunes. Several cars made their way through the desert with help from the marshals.
British father-son duo Ghassan Shaban and Aden were on the Drive for some thrill and fun. “I’m so glad we did it. The Gulf News Drive is always fun and exciting. This time was no exception,” said Shaban. “We were never worried for marshals were always around to help out,” he said.
By 3pm participants started to make their way back to the camp where a lineup of activities was planned. A DJ manned the decks, setting the mood for the participants. Belly dancing, tanoura, and Bollywood gigs kept the crowd entertained. There were several activities set up on camp for families to enjoy. Games and food stalls got busy as participants enjoyed their weekend at Tilal Swaihan desert.