The old Chinese proverb ‘Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away’ could well have been spoken about Xīnjiāng (新疆), China’s far-flung and restive western frontier. Xīnjiāng and distant Běijīng have been at odds since time immemorial, but the cultural differences between the two are just what make this province so attractive to travellers. Central Asian culture is still very much alive in this Uighur homeland, from the irresistible smell of teahouse kebabs to the sound of the call to prayer from the neighbourhood mosque. There is much to entice Silk Road travellers here, including ruined desert cities, camel treks, bustling bazaars and a fascinating mix of peoples. Equally awesome are the landscapes, ranging from the scorching sands of the Taklamakan Desert to the cool forests and lakes of the Tiān Shān (Heavenly Mountains). A journey to Chinese Turkestan is above all a trip into the past, along desert tracks that for centuries served as the superhighways of the Asian continent.