Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

Local Life

A century ago, when Stein travelled, the towns and villages fringing the Tarim were built in typically Central Asian style. Single-storey, flat-roofed adobe courtyard houses flanked the poplar-lined dirt roads. Irrigation channels ran alongside feeding the orchards and fields. The local magistrate usually had a larger house within its own garden — Stein often pitched his tent here.

Today the hearts of the old towns struggle to survive, increasingly hidden by new town centres with grids of paved roads, multi-storey apartments, offices and shops. Many towns now also have new museums displaying the finds from recent archaeological activity. Further into the desert the village houses remain the same, with the addition of electricity and TVs.

Trade continues as it has done for millennia. Each county town has its market day and bazaars with villagers travelling in on donkey cart, motorbike and on foot. Food still punctuates life, just as it did in Stein’s day, and banquets with local officials are an essential part of work.

Couple at Mazar Tagh. November 2008.
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Restaurant in Khotan, November 2008.
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Food being prepared at the guest house at Kapakastan, November 2011.
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Street scene, Khotan, November 2011.
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Making traditional bread, Keriya, November 2011.
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Street scene in Cherchen, November 2008.
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Road at Endere village with cotton fallen from lorries, November 2008.
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In a restaurant at the turn off for Minfeng on the desert road across the Taklamakan, November 2011.
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Lady outside her shop in Cherchen, November 2008.
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Shish stall in Keriya bazaar. November 2008.
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Farmhouse beside the Keriya River on the road to Daheyan, November 2011.
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Butcher's shop and shish stall in Keriya bazaar. November 2008.
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Fabric shop in the covered bazaar, Khotan, November 2011.
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Traditional house, Daheyan, November 2011.
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Woman in front of house, Khotan, November 2011
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Wash stand outside a restaurant on the outskirts of Khotan, November 2011.
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Farmhouse at Daheyan, November 2011.
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Village house north of Khotan, November 2008.
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Street in front of Alim Akhun's house, Keriya, December 1913.
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Reed huts at Nasakh-i-Diwana, Koh-i-Khwaja, December 1915.
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Outer gate, Tort Imam Mazar, Kunlun Mountains, August 1908.
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Children outside the mosque at Guyan, near Khotan, April 1908.
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Kaptar Mazar, a shrine to pigeons, June 1908.
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The guesthouse at Deheyan and its hosts, November 2011.
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The guest house at Kapakastan, with Susan Whitfield, November 2011.
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Street scene, Khotan, November 2011.
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Vegetable stall, Khotan, November 2011.
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Banquet in Urumqi, November 2011.
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Banquet in Urumqi, November 2011.
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Gume bazaar next to canal near Karghalik, July 1906.
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Aksu bazaar, May 1908.
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Local women at Aratam, October 1907.
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Khotan elders feasted at the garden palace of Narbagh, September 1906.
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