Tourists are now competing with tomb raiders and climate change to destroy the remains of the ancient Loulan (Kroraina) Kingdom in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, locals and historians said yesterday.
A group of 12 foreign tourists were even recently spotted making their way deep into the heart of no man's land in Lop Nur to the 2,000-year-old site - which also happens to be a State-level cultural heritage area and barred from visitors - where they helped themselves to pottery shards and even urinated against the ancient walls, the People's Daily reported yesterday.
Lop Nur, a region near the Gobi Desert covering 3,000 sq kilometers where even flies find difficulty surviving, used to be a treacherous place known as China's Bermuda Triangle.
Yang Lian, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who has visited the site for more than 40 times in the past three decades, said there are now many routes to the site carved out by local drivers and travel agencies.
A favorite activity of tourists is to scramble up a tower built of hardened earth - one of two important relics at the site.
"If the situation continues, the tower will collapse very soon," said Yang. "You can always see many footprints on it."
Even worse damage has been inflicted at the Graveyard of the Sun, which is one of the major sites of the Loulan Kingdom.
The ancient graveyard gets its name from the many wooden poles left standing and arranged in the form of sunbeams, but "curious" tourists have been yanking these structures out of the sand.
Yang said the arrangement of the beams have changed so drastically that the original design is no longer recognizable.
"The authorities should have better management of Loulan, but it is still up to the tourists themselves - to damage these cultural relics or save them for future generations," he said.