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.