Pharmacists Kirit Patel, Peter Cattee, Manvir Patel and Hiten Patel are heading overland from the UK to India by car and have reached Samarkand, Uzbekistan
We were stopped by police roadblocks on five separate occasions in Uzbekistan. At one of them, a plain-clothed official interrogated Peter and looked at our passports.
He spotted that we had arrived in the country two days earlier than our visa had indicated and demanded that we leave the country two days earlier than planned.
In the city of Samarkand, we stayed at a B&B with a local family. The homemade breakfast was the best we had eaten in days.
The city was an important crossroads in the Silk Routes and was captured by Alexander the Great. Since then it has be ruled by many, including Turks, Arabs, Mongolians and Russians.
|We were stranded in no-man's land, in the middle between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a strip of some 50 metres!|
The Registan (where we are pictured, above right), which is sometimes known as The Sandy Place, is the largest Madrasah (Islamic school). It is majestic – there are tilting minarets with azure mosaics in open spaces in the centre of the city. It is one of the most awesome sights to see in Central Asia and is more than 600 years old.This was once the Islamic world's largest mosque.
Legend says that Bibi-Khanym, the ruler Amir Timur's favourite wife, ordered this mosque to be built for him while he was away. The architect who built it fell madly in love with her and refused to finish it unless he could give her a kiss. The smooch left a mark and upon seeing it on his wife, Amir Timur executed the architect. He decreed that all women should henceforth wear a veil, so not to tempt other men.
We all have different habits. I note Peter and Manvir wake up at 5am, while Hiten and I wake up later. I am usually the last one. I go to bed well after midnight while Peter hits the sack much earlier.
Peter likes to eat earlier, the rest of us like to drink. Peter is a teetotaller and a vegetarian; he loves local food. The other two like spicy food (pictured right). Working as a team has been key to this trip.
Next stop: Tashkent
As we are scheduled to meet our Chinese official at 12.30pm on the May 11, we have a few free days, which we have decided to use in Uzbekistan rather than in Kyrgyzstan. This is taking us beyond our exit visa day, so it would make our border exit at Uzbekistan more interesting, considering the fiasco we had entering the country.
Today we spent most of the time travelling to Tashkent, and then looking for our B&B, which Manvir had booked online.
Peter likes the challenge of navigating to our destination while Hiten gets impatient and wants to get a taxi to take us there.
After one hour, we gave up and waved a taxi down; even the taxi driver struggled to find the place. But we eventually managed to find the small apartment that turned out to be one double bed and two small sofas, no larger than a baby's cot!
The silver lining last night was that Manvir and Hiten cooked up an amazing chicken curry.
We were thrown out of our hotel as our visas were running out that night. We had to head for Kyrgystan. It was 8pm and we had four hours to leave the country.
The hotel staff just took our things out of our room. They were ready to see us off because they get into trouble for taking people in who don't have a valid visa.
Peter is an expert on Google Maps and had downloaded an offline GPS we could use.
With Peter driving at breakneck speed and me navigating, we got to the border just before midnight, having had to go through two army checkpoints.
When we arrived at the border, the gates were closed and locked. We approached the four army officers and spoke to them through the gates, explaining that our visas were running out in half an hour.
After a lot of deliberation and walkie-talkie conversations with the immigration officer, one turned up and finally opened the gates for us. The process this time took an hour.
The place was in darkness. We were stranded in no-man's land, in the middle between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a strip of some 50 metres!
There was no water or sanitation in this area. Manvir and Hiten decided to set up a kitchen and cook some dinner while I kept an eye on the gates to see if I could spot any Kyrgyzstani army officers.
We were resigned to setting up camp and waiting until the morning. However, after an hour, I spotted someone at a distance. We shouted out and flashed our car lights.
A very friendly army officer came over and let us through. He was amused to see the cooking going on and agreed to wait until dinner was ready.
We arrived at Osh, the nearest town to the border, to find the gates locked.
Manvir had to crawl under the gate and let us in. This was the third gate we had managed to open that day! We had finally arrived and checked in at 3.30am.
While on our drive through a hillside town, we managed to visit some Kyrgyzstan pharmacies (right).
The mountainous region reminded us of the Alps, and we decided to set up camp near the river, but as soon as we had managed to put up the tents, we were invaded by goats and cattle (below).
A nearby farmer came to our rescue. We had to uproot our tents and relocate to the farm. If that wasn't bad enough, it started to rain.
Manvir and Hiten once again set up kitchen and cooked us a nice lentil curry. It certainly warmed me up; at 6,000 feet, it's very chilly.
All in all, it was a great day after the experience of the previous day. With such a wonderful meal at the end of the day, even Peter has forgiven Hiten for snapping at him this morning.
After a night's rest Peter woke us up at 7.30am. The farmer whose field we had camped in insisted that I see his beehives as he also made honey.
I am allergic to bees, and carry an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis, but to avoid upsetting the farmer, I went with him.
We are now on our way to China. It has been an eventful past few days. Wish us luck for this next part of our journey.
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 eight
Pharmacists on tour: part nine
Pharmacists on tour: part 10
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