Umm Al Quwain: Deep inside the desert somewhere between Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah, a large expatriate family is huddled together enjoying snacks and taking pictures, with their off-roading vehicles forming a splendid backdrop.
A little further down the golden sands, another family has positioned their 4x4 atop of a big dune, and is attempting to befriend stray camels, while taking in the panoramic views presented by the vantage point.
These are not common sights in the cityscape; they can only be enjoyed in the great outdoors of the UAE. Thanks to the Gulf News Fun Drive, an annual off-road extravaganza, hundreds of families get an opportunity to explore the desert in the most safe and secure manner and this year was no different.
The 37th edition of Gulf News Fun Drive kicked on Friday morning, starting from the Emirates Motorplex in Umm Al Quwain, taking around 3,000 participants along on an exciting eight-hour off-road drive.
Many of these participants were venturing into the desert for the first time in their own off-road vehicles, and seemed to love every bit of it.
Shaikh Marwan Bin Rashid Al Mualla and Rajeev Khanna flagging off the first car of Shaikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Nahyan at the 37th Gulf News Fun Drive.Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News
Kalpesh Shah has been in the UAE of 13 years but like most expatriates, had never experienced off-road driving.
“This is my first Fun Drive and it has been an amazing experience. This is the best way to get to know the desert and learn off-roading. We got stuck three times but it was a great learning experience, because marshals were available to help us through the difficult parts of the route,” said Shah, who put his new Lexus 460 through the paces for the first time over the dunes.
Another member of Shah’s convoy, Latika Sharma, has been in the UAE for 14 years and her closest exposure to the desert has been the safari trips.
“This is something amazing, a different experience and I am really impressed by the way the route has been planned and the entire event has been organised. This is the perfect way to learn off-road driving under the supervision of marshals. I am definitely coming back and making it an annual event in my calendar,” said Sharma, who works as a cabin crew with Emirates.
Like Sharma and Shah, Anwer Khan has also been in the UAE for more than a decade and has been an off-roader all along but never attempted to go into the desert.
“I can’t believe what I have been missing. This is so exciting, I was reluctant initially [to take part] but slowly I gained in confidence. I got stuck a couple of times but I know it is part of the learning experience. This has been so wonderful, from the drive being so close to nature and enjoying the atmosphere, it’s been great, something we don’t often do in the UAE,” said Khan.
Apart from the first-timers, several participants have been part of the Fun Drive for years, coming back year after year for the sheer thrill the event.
“I took part in the Fun Drive last year for the first time and I enjoyed the experience so this year, I brought along two friends and we are having a good time together,” said Anwer Magi, who was enjoying the cool morning sands under the winter sun at an oasis along the route.
Launched in 1986, the annual Gulf News Fun Drive, one of the UAE’s biggest desert trips, continues to get more popualr by the year.
“We are glad to see hundreds of people taking part in this amazing drive, making it such a big success. We are particularly proud about introducing so many people to the beauty of the desert, which was our original aim,” said Rajeev Khanna, who flagged off the convoy of more than 850 vehicles along with Shaikh Marwan Bin Rashid Al Mualla, Chairman of the Emirates Motorplex.
Khanna added: “For novices, it is the excitement of taking an uncharted course under the assured stewardship of expert marshals and for the regulars, it’s the sheer thrill of sharing the fun with so many new people, [and] bringing them back year after year.”
Heading the first batch in the convoy was off-road aficionado Shaikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, driving a very specially designed armoured jeep followed by a souped-up Dodge Ram and Ford Super Duty.
Supported by Al Futtaim Motors — Toyota, Fun Drive returned to the Northern Emirates after three years, snaking through a challenging yet scenic route along the dunes and mountains of the Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
Early on Friday morning, participants began arriving at the Emirates Motorplex from 6am onwards.
After completing the check-in formalities, and having a sumptuous breakfast, the participants collected their goodies — including one case of water per car, one goody bag per car and lunch boxes for all passengers in the car.
The participants then deflated their vehicle tyres and lined up for departure.
After an eight-hour drive fulls of thrills and excitement, the participants arrived at the camp at the Al Arqan region of Umm Al Quwain.
Set amidst painterly dunes, the 37th edition had one of the best camps in the history of the Fun Drive, with every conveninece and amenity catered to including community tents, portaloos, food and beverages. Participants enjoyed a host of entertainment programmes, including camel rides, DJ and live band, as well as a belly-dancing performance.
The Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive is supported by Al Futtaim Motors — Toyota, who are the main sponsors. Checkpoint sponsors include Laban Up, Lacnor, Oasis, Orient Tours, Orient Travel, Pringles, Total and Toyota. Support sponsors include Byrne, Denim, Flow Composite Manufacturing FZC, TORC The Offroad Company and Wildcraft. Catering is provided by Foodcraft and JA Resorts & Hotels. Official hotel is Barracuda Beach Resort UAQ.
Fun Drive numbers are sponsored by Amity University, Total is the lubricants sponsor and BF Goodrich is the official tyre sponsor. The Fun Drive is being held with the support of IATC and the Emirates Motorplex, UAQ.