A GROUP of friends have returned from an epic journey from Blackburn to Saudi Arabia – in a bus!

After 20 months planning the trip, culminating in the Hajj pilgrimage, the intrepid 10 departed for the Eurotunnel at Folkestone.

Over the next 37 days they drove their modified minibus across France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and through Bulgaria.

On reaching Turkey, the men had to leave their van and catch a flight to Jordan, so as to avoid conflict-stricken Syria.

Pharmacist Haroon Patel, said: “We wanted to take the route of the early pilgrims on camel back and thought we would be able to until recently, but it was not to be because of what is happening in Syria.”

The group then picked up another minibus and continued to the Israeli border, across which they had to take Israeli government transport.

Mr Patel said: “I think we were quite lucky with the borders, the fact that we were travelling for the Hajj made the guards a lot more accommodating.”

On reaching Jerusalem, a guide took the men to a number of Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites in the Old and New Cities and Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho.

Mr Patel said: “We went to the Al Aqsa Mosque and experienced a lot more of the unexpected, we saw the spot where the Prophet Mohammed tied his horse and where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and where he was betrayed by Judas.”

They then returned to Jordan by road through the desert at Wadi Rum where they camped for a night with local Bedouins.

Mr Patel said: “None of us slept in our tents because the night sky was breathtaking. There were many shooting stars and you could make out all the constellations.”

They then travelled to the Jordanian port city of Aqaba where they crossed the Red Sea by ferry to Nuweiba in Egypt, before flying to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, arriving in Mecca by local transport where they completed the Hajj, staying for two weeks.

Mr Patel said: “There are ground routes for people from the Middle East and elsewhere to take into Saudi Arabia, but not from Europe.

Jack Straw has helped us make a dialogue with the Saudi Embassy to hopefully enable future European pilgrims gain land visas so we can complete the old Hajj route. On a journey like this you have to be very close friends and you have to be willing to take risks.”