Rajkumar Pancholia
Rajkumar Pancholia is a regular at the Gulf News Fun Drive since its inception in 1986. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: What brings people to the Gulf News Fun Drive year after year?

Ask Rajkumar Pancholia, a Dubai resident who has taken part in the drive every year since its inception in 1986.

“Every December we await the Gulf News Fun Drive announcement, eagerly checking the newspaper. Even my brothers-in-law in the US and India ask about the dates so they can plan their visit to Dubai to take part in the drive,” says Pancholia.

Family, relatives and friends are all on board when it comes to the Fun Drive.

“Around 15 years ago, I even convinced my Omani friends to join me on the Fun Drive. Many of my friends look for my name in the participants list and say this desert drive cannot be held without my participation.”

At times, friends or family who participate in the drive for the first time tend to drive close to Pancholia as they know he is there to help them in case their vehicles get stuck in the sand.

“Now my grandchildren, the third generation, are also excited about the drive,” he says.

Debut on a borrowed 4x4

“In 1986, I was in my office when I saw the announcement in Gulf News for the first Fun Drive. I spoke to my cousins and we decided to sign up. We didn’t have a 4x4 at that time, so we borrowed one from a friend.

Rajkumar Pancholia
From 1990 onwards, the women and children in his family joined Rajkumar Pancholia on the Gulf News Fun Drives. Image Credit: Supplied

“It was a wonderful experience. Since then, every year we usually join the drive in a group of three to five cars. From 1990 onwards, the women and children in my family started joining us. We loved camping overnight. We would bring our large tents that would accommodate our family on the camp site.”

When a storm-tilted signboard misled

Despite the many years of experience in the desert, there were times when things went wrong. Once, in days before GPS or Google maps, a storm turned a signboard in the wrong direction, resulting in the convoy losing its way and getting into difficult dunes.

“It was very tough to drive and we got stuck a few times. There were three cars with family and children and we were lost. Luckily, we were spotted by a helicopter, and a military vehicle was sent to find us and take us to safety. It is an unforgettable experience. It also shows how well the Fun Drive has been organised and participant safety is given priority.”

“During some drives, I even become an unofficial marshal for my companions. When they get stuck in the sand, I direct them to try different techniques to get their cars unstuck. If that doesn’t work, then I pull their car out using a tow rope attached to my car.”

“Getting stuck in the desert is a major fun factor on the drive. It is almost like the drive is not challenging enough if you don’t get stuck.”

Pancholia’s years in the desert also mean he has many stories to tell.

On one Fun Drive, after the family had settled down in their tent at the campsite, his three-year-old son wandered off. A search around the campsite drew a blank. After announcements were made, the boy found his way to the organisers’ cabin.

Memorable stories

“Two years ago, I joined the Fun Drive with my wife. After an unsuccessful attempt at climbing a dune, I reversed into a car behind me. At the end of the drive, we reported the incident to the police at the campsite. It turned out that the driver of the other car was the contractor who built my company’s warehouse.

“On another occasion, I came for the Fun Drive even though it was just two days before my daughter’s wedding. We thought about not joining the drive that year because we would be busy with the wedding preparations, but we went ahead anyway. I also brought the groom-to-be for the experience. That’s how much I’ve prioritised the Gulf News Fun Drive. After the first Fun Drive, we started going to the desert every weekend in winter. The Fun Drive stirred our passion for offroading and camping.”