On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Turpan is equally attractive now

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
give lectures.

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.