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A checkpoint too far and my best Chinese meal – ever

Pharmacists Kirit Patel (pictured right), Peter Cattee, Manvir Patel and Hiten Patel are heading overland from the UK to India by car and are currently crossing China

Pharmacists Kirit Patel (pictured right), Peter Cattee, Manvir Patel and Hiten Patel are heading overland from the UK to India by car and are currently crossing China

Day 36

Since we had struggled to buy a decent lunch on the road yesterday, we decided to top-up supplies at a supermarket. Bing took us to what looked like a kiosk. However, we soon found out there was an escalator, which led to a large underground supermarket selling food, clothing and hardware equipment. Once again, we did not find any antiperspirant!

I was expecting a boring journey to Turpan but there was a twist that caused some excitement. After having gone through three police checkpoints with relative ease, we were flagged down by a police car while driving through to the next town. The car contained four officers in blue uniform. Immediately after we had stopped, another police van pulled over behind us. However, this one contained people dressed in black SWAT uniforms, carrying machine guns! We were surrounded by eight policemen! 

Another police van pulled over behind us. This one contained people dressed in black SWAT uniforms, carrying machine guns!

After Bing produced our permits and other documents, we were escorted to the police headquarters with one van in front and the other behind. At no stage did we feel threatened. At the police station, they registered our documents again. This procedure took half an hour and then we were left to carry on our journey. It was a bit of an anticlimax!

Turpan is located in the Xinjiang district. On the way there, we travelled at 450ft below sea level. It's a strange feeling looking at the altimeter as it kept recording such low levels.

We visited the famous Karez canals that were used for irrigation in ancient times (pictured above and right). The history dates back 2,000 years; there are a total of 5,272km of underground water canals and a further 313km of overground canals. The underground canals diverted water from the mountains. Due to the unique design and great importance, Karez (meaning 'well') is considered to be one of the three greatest water projects of China. When I consider that they had no modern technology 1,000 years ago, it's amazing how they managed to build this irrigation system.

This evening, we went to eat at a restaurant near the People's Square. Once again, we found many people dancing the night away. On the way back, Hiten convinced us to experience the flame-foot massage that he had done a few days ago. It was certainly something very different and I can't tell if I enjoyed it or not!

Day 37

We are heading for Hami today with Manvir at the wheel for the morning shift. I will be taking over after lunch. Peter drove all day yesterday and at times it was like being on a safari! 

Peter earned his first penalty point today by misjudging a sharp bend while driving on a narrow dirt road, meaning we nearly hit a small bridge! He managed to control the car superbly and we escaped unscathed. Peter seems to have lost his appetite and that is worrying all of us a little. 

The Chinese have built a good infrastructure of expressways and today's drive was over barren land. All we managed to see were a few donkeys pumping oil and some wind farms, but no people.

Upon arriving in Hami, we went to visit the mausoleum of the Muslim kings and princes that ruled the Xinjiang region of China for many years (pictured right). The Mongols had conquered the region in the Yuan Dynasty and Hami was the town they chose as their capital. 

Today, we are planning to just relax in the town. Finally, a day off!   

Day 38

Our destination today was Dunhuang (The City Of Sands), in the province of Gansu. The city has a history dating back to 2000BC. The Great Wall of China was extended to Dunhuang and stretched into the desert. The city was conquered many times in the past, including by the Moguls in 1200. Today, it is an important tourist attraction. 

It was my turn to drive up until lunch and we had to take the side roads to get there. We found that there are no petrol stations along the way and I was forced to switch on the reserve tank to get us into town. In the absence of any facilities, we had to stop in the Gobi desert for lunch. The temperature was scorching; the land was parched and cracked. However, the city itself was very beautiful. 

Dunhuang is by far the best city in China I have visited on this trip. They even sprayed the roads with water just to cool the city down. We managed to visit a pharmacy here (pictured right).

We had our best Chinese meal to date in a fantastic restaurant. I also managed to find some time to have my haircut.

Day 39

On our way to Golmud, we stopped at The Mogao Caves (known as the Thousand Buddha Caves), which are located in the Mingsha mountains, 25km from Dunhuang. There seemed to be many caves dug in to the mountains (pictured right). One of these contained a 32m-high statue of Lord Buddha. I am still baffled as to why the monks decided to live in caves thousands of years ago. The first ones date back to 366 and the monks kept building more right through the 11th century.

The original intricate murals still survive, even after more than 1,000 years! There are 733 caves in all containing 2,400 painted sculptures and 45,000m2 of wall murals. I am not surprised that China is once again rediscovering itself.

After that, we decided to save a day by driving 700km to the larger city of Golmud, rather than stay in a village with no wi-fi. It seems that wi-fi is now beginning to rule our lives. It would be good to spend this extra day in Tibet. The route took us over a series of mountain ranges crossing over at some 12,500ft high. I could feel a slight shortness in breath. It was also strange to come across a lake at 11,000ft.

We stopped for lunch and I decided to cut up some mangoes that we had bought in the morning. Peter's Swiss Army knife was deadly and, unfortunately, I cut my finger. Mani, once again, came to the rescue with the first aid box. No lasting damage done.

After lunch, we came across another police checkpoint (pictured right). This time, the guard in the sentry box decided to reposition himself and point his machine gun right at our car! Poor Hiten, he decided it was not a good idea to take any sneaky photos of the guard this time as the machine gun was pointed right at him! When we left, Hiten commented that he was glad it was not me who was pointing the machine gun at him! He thinks that I am too accident prone and that I would probably have pulled the trigger by mistake! That brought a few laughs at my expense and helped lighten up the mood.

Having just arrived at our hotel, we were informed that they were not registered to take in foreign tourists. This was something new I learnt about China today. We eventually managed to find a hotel that was registered to accommodate us.

It's almost time to have a beer and to relax for the evening. I am not sure if I am looking forward to another Chinese meal tonight after having eaten one, three times a day, for a fortnight.

Oh what I would give for a decent curry!

Pharmacists on tour: part one

Pharmacists on tour: part two

Pharmacists on tour: part three

Pharmacists on tour: part four

Pharmacists on tour: part five

Pharmacists on tour: part six

Pharmacists on tour: part seven

Pharmacists on tour: part eight

Pharmacists on tour: part nine

Pharmacists on tour: part 11

Pharmacists on tour: part 12

Pharmacists on tour: part 13

Pharmacists on tour: part 14

Pharmacists on tour: part 15

Kirit Patel is chief executive of Day Lewis. Kirit; Peter Cattee, CEO at PCT Healthcare; Manvir Patel, managing director of Manichem; and Hiten Patel, managing director of PharmaPlus, will be raising money for charity Pharmacist Support. To make donations and for more information, please click here. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to hear more about their journey

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