Al Ain: Endless golden sands, clear blue skies and plenty of twists and turns turned the Tilal Swaihan expanse in Al Ain into an adventure land for hundreds of off-roaders during the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive on Friday.
Around 800 four-wheel drives traversed the unspoilt desert terrain, speeding up on flat stretches and slowing down to negotiate sharp turns, rises and dips of the sand dunes along the 146-km route.
Friends and families stopped along way to take in the scenic views, photos of camels and selfies galore on their mobile phones and digi cams.
Friday marked the 39th edition of the overnighter, this year titled ‘Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - Tilal Swaihan Experience’, supported by Al Futtaim Motors – Toyota, who are the Main Sponsor.
The event is being held in association with Tilal Swaihan, Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, Al Ain, and ADNEC.
Over 90 route marshals were never far to help participants get through sticky points, with eight check points dotting the path. This is the first time a new ‘loop’ format was introduced for the Fun Drive, meaning the loose caravan started and ended at the same location, at the camp in Tilal Swaihan.
After a hearty breakfast, participants lined up for the flag off in the morning.
After the dune-bashing, the first vehicles started returning to the camp about four hours later. People freshened up and sipped hot tea and coffee in the cool weather. Others were busily enjoying games and entertainment at the camp, which looked like a carnival with tents, camel rides, balloons and plenty of stalls. A lavish dinner was served in huge tent at the camp followed by live entertainment into the night.
Maryam Khan, who has done the Fun Drive six years in a row now, said she found the route easy, managing not to get stuck even once.
“I’ve got enough practice in dune bashing by now. We always look forward to the Fun Drive and we’re the last ones to leave,” Khan, who was there with her husband and children, said.
“It’s not just the drive, it’s the family atmosphere, entertainment, weather - everything.”
First-timers Vinay Menon and Anup Mishra said the adventure was well organised with helpful marshal and signage at hand for guidance.
“I’ve never done dune bashing before; it wasn’t as difficult as I thought but very thrilling. My friend has been telling me about this for years and I’m glad I came finally,” Menon said.
Mishra said the experience exceeded his expectations and he would love to return for Fun Drive.
“Everything from the driving to the facilities at the camp were amazing. The ambience, food and entertainment was great. I had no prior experience in off roading like this but the instruction and safety manual and support of marshals made it fun and enjoyable,” Mishra added.
Hicham Younis, on his third Fun Drive, said his Toyota four-wheeler made short work of the dunes. “It was a short and sweet trip for me and an opportunity to test the strength of my vehicle. The weather, the sunshine worked in our favour too. We got some great footage as well,” said Younis, who works at Al Futtaim Motors-Toyota.
A marshal, Tom Lynch, said marshals directly rescued two vehicles and provided assistance to six others. Speaking about the route, he said: “In the beginning, it was very easy and the recent rains helped compact the sand to make it a family day out. In some occasions, it was more for the professional, sharp turns and steep rises and falls. I’ve been a marshal four times and regular participant twice. Both are fun, with slightly different responsibilities.
Another fan, Vandana Kundra, who has also done the Fun Drive six times said: “I felt that the camp was more engaging, with more activities this time. The dunes weren’t so bad, they were family-friendly. I and my husband took turns behind the wheel. The track was well guided and we were never lost. Everything worked out so well.”
The first Fun Drive was a Day Drive held on March 28, 1986 with just 75 vehicles. So far there have been seven Day Drives, 27 Overnighters, one Abu Dhabi Day Drive and three Friday Fun Drives.
The 2020 Fun Drive is the 34th year of the Fun Drive. There have been two events in certain years, hence this year’s Fun Drive was the 39th.
The Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive is supported by Al Futtaim Motors – Toyota, who are the Main Sponsor, and the event is being held in association with Tilal Swaihan, Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, Al Ain, and ADNEC.
Checkpoint sponsors include Al Jazira Poultry Farm LLC, BLACK + DECKER, Dobinsons Spring & Suspension Trading LLC, FASTFIT, Orient Tours, Orient Travels, Shell HELIX Motor oils, Toyota and Western Digital.
Support sponsors include Byrne, Coleman, Emirates Water, Fly Audio & Almani by Ahaat, Mediclinic, TORC The Offroad Company and Techxhub.
Catering and food packs will be provided by Capital Hospitality.
Fun Drive numbers are sponsored by Tilal Swaihan. The communication sponsor is SanDisk and tyre sponsor is BF Goodrich. Shell HELIX Motor oils is the lubricants sponsor and recovery is by IATC.