For millennia, nomadic peoples crisscrossed the steppe, grazing their livestock on rich grasslands. Today, most are settled, but the shepherd still surveys a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and patterns, some subtle, others vivid, transmuted to all the arts of Central Asia.
With his classic Mongolian features, this boy descends from the warriors who first rode west in the 13th century under Genghis Khan. His shirt’s marine motifs have a grim irony, given the Soviet creation of his doubly landlocked country of Uzbekistan, as well as their diversion of the Aral Sea’s feeder rivers for irrigation, causing the world’s fourth largest lake to shrink to shallow ponds.
Typical of Central Asian markets, the core of the Khujand bazaar in Tajikistan is a covered square, with aisles of stalls arranged by food type. These displays of dried fruits evoke their origin in the fertile bowl of the Fergana Valley, surrounded as it is by purple mountains and snow-capped peaks.
A Khujand bread-seller shows off a fresh, golden loaf, its characteristic Central Asian contours echoed in her headscarf, dress appliqués, and especially her earrings. Although she herself struck the pose, she averts her eyes in a graceful compromise attitude towards being photographed.
In the hills above Almaty, this youth practices the art of falconry, honed over hundreds of years by his Kazakh ancestors. He and his golden eagle, trained each to the other, present striking parallels, sharing coloration of costume and feathers, planes of face and wings, and ornamentation of neckband and hood finial.
Along the Silk Road between Samarkand and Bukhara, members of an extended family make and sell textiles, continuing traditions handed down for generations. These young weavers are at one with their looms, two wearing weft-striped sweaters and the third seated on a cushion matching the turquoise of the warp poles.
The Registan of Samarkand remains this ancient city’s heart, flanked on three sides by madrassahs, Islamic schools of higher learning. Behind these Uzbek women soar the portal, minarets, and mosque of the 17th-century Shir Dor madrassah, its hues of blue, brown, and white finding remarkable counterparts in their clothing.