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Laju Rupani's family on the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - Tilal Swaihan Experience Image Credit: Supplied

The Gulf News Fun Drive has been a fun filled celebration of life, adventure and fun for 40 long editions. And it has been a consistent winner only because of its dedicated participants who return every year to enjoy an adventure filled weekend with their family and friends.

At the recent Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive — The Tilal Sweihan Experience held on March 5 and 6, participants were unanimous in saying they had been eagerly awaiting this year’s edition considering it was being held after a two-year gap on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naturally, we were curious to know why so many UAE residents and visitors returned every year to have their adventure in the sand.

Family bonding time

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Kevin Maclean and his family Image Credit: Supplied

Canadian expat Kevin Maclean who was revving his Land Cruiser atop the Al Ain dunes said he has never missed any edition of the Gulf News Fun Drive. He was at this year’s event with his wife, daughter and her friend. “We are all set to have a rollicking time,” he laughed.

His daughter Sophia added: “I was two years old when I experienced my first Fun Drive. I have practically no memory of it. But my parents talk about it and we have some old pictures taken of the event. As the years have gone, I have built a series of memories of the adrenaline fun event.”

Maclean said the Gulf News Fun Drive continued to be a major hit with the family as they all came together to bond for a whole weekend. “Like my daughter said we have been part of this since she was two years old. It is a pleasant change for the family to get out and enjoy the weather. We have fun dune bashing and the concept is so flexible. We do some dune bashing and return to camp site. It is an event we don’t miss ever,” he added.

Three generations at play

Indian expat Laju Rupani, 62 and her husband Harish Rupani, 65 were returning to the Gulf News Fun Drive after a hiatus, joined by their daughter Aarti, 37, son-in-law Vinit Badlani and grand-daughters Hevanika 7 and Khushwika, 5.

“We were taking part in the Fun Drive even after our daughter was born. But she got busy with school, college and we got busy with her. So after regularly attending the Fun Drive for nine years straight, we took a break. Now we are here this year to continue our family tradition. Our grand-children enjoyed it thoroughly and hopefully we will be doing this regularly going forward,” Laju Rupani said.

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Dinesh Kumar and his friends Image Credit: Supplied

Friends Dinesh Kumar S, 60 and Joshi K Puthur, 59 have been attending the Fun Drive for several years. “I left the UAE some time ago but I am back here on a visit just to attend the Fun Drive. It is a ritual we friends do every year,”

Kumar said, calling the annual event a celebration of their friendship. “If anything it has strengthened our bond.”

Puthur could not agree more. “We motivate each other when off-roading. We follow each other and study the route together. This time we got our friends to join as well and we had a blast.”

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Dinesh Kumar and friends Image Credit: Supplied

He said through the years the friends have participated in the Fun Drive, they have educated themselves in mastering off-road driving. “Every year we get better at off-road driving. It is heartening to see this,” Puthur said.

Perfect outdoor getaway

Samina Khatib Image Credit: Supplied

Samina Khatib, 61, and her husband Suhel Khatib revved their Jeep Wrangler over the dunes for a thrilling adventure. A regular off-roader, Suhel Khatib decided to go the extra mile for this year’s drive, customising his car just so it was ready to conquer the dunes.

Suhel said his car underwent a suspension lift, fitted new wheels and big off-road tyres. He also fixed new LED headlights and spotlights for night driving. “I also strengthened the chassis for off-road driving and installed an electronic device to improve engine performance,” said Suhel, who called himself an entrepreneur.

Samina added: “We got stuck only once. We took the challenging route. We ran out of fuel towards the end but we made it through all the check points.”

Samina said the couplew were returning to the Fun Drive after 20 years. “We would attend it regularly but this time we came as we missed the event. There is a lot of camaraderie we see at the Fun Drive. Friends are made — whether it is with Marshals or fellow participants. My husband and I love the outdoors and the Fun Drive is just the perfect getaway.”

Learning a new skill

Pakistani family Maryam Ahmed Khan and her husband Adeel were at the event with their three children Nyle (15) and Mikha’el (11) and Ranya (10). She said she learnt to be a better off-roader thanks to her husband who is a seasoned off-roader.

“We have been attending the Fun Drive six times in the past. My skill as an off-road driver is getting better. As a family we don’t like to miss this event. We were disappointed that this did not happen last year owing to the pandemic. We were just as excited when the event was announced,” Maryam said.

She added her husband is now a pro at off-road driving. The family was driving a brand new Nissan Patrol into the desert. “The family decided to get this sturdy car into the desert and test its endurance. I have to say it was a fabulous experience for us. I took to the wheels as well when the track was not challenging. I did conquer some dunes too to be honest. I think attending Gulf News Fun Drive has made me fall in love with off-road driving. There is a lot of learning that happens enroute the Fun Drive,” she added. “And the best part is that all this happens when the family is together and enjoying their time out.”