Turpan, pronounced “tu-ru-fan'' in Chinese, is almost a medieval town with a population of 300,000. Most of the people are grape farmers, who
still use donkeys and camels as their
mode of transportation.
But the town is opening up to tourists
because it is part of the Silk Road,
which used to be a network of ancient land routes.
Not intended for trade at first, the
paths were carved out of the desert more
than 2,000 years ago when Emperor Wudi
of the Han Dynasty ordered an
expedition west to find possible allies
to fight the Huns.
After 13 years on the road, the
expedition yielded no new allies
but rather a lucrative link with the
Middle East and the West.
Today, it has become equally attractive
this time to tourism from both
the East and West.
The academicians from the Chinese Studies Department and I had flown to Lanzhou before travelling on highways, passing barren land and desert, to reach this town.
Unlike our ancient predecessors, who
travelled by camels and caravans, we went by air, bus and train. Speeding lorries and bus coaches, in fact, now rule the highways.
We passed parts of the Gobi desert, seeing hundreds of roaming camels. We saw sandstorms, mild ones and probably a minor irritation to the
locals, but enough to excite the Malaysians.
The famous Flaming Mountains, where a
part of the Chinese classic Journey to
the West was set, is located in Turpan. It is here that the “Monkey God'' supposedly failed to fly across.
Not far away is the site of the Ancient
City of Goachang, some 47km from the
city. Today, all that remains of the
garrison town of the Han Dynasty are
ruins of the city moat to tell its past
Also in Turpan is a pagoda shaped building where the famous monk, Tong, from the same classic, used to
As part of the Silk Road, where the East
and West met, Islam was brought in to
China through this road. Bearded men in
white skull caps hawked their
agriculture produce to tourists.
Kebab sellers fanned the charcoal fire to grill their skewers of dripping lamb cubes.
This is where the Uygurs, Hans, Kazakhs
and Xibes have converged and live peacefully for centuries.