This is one of several preserved species on display in the History Museum of Aralsk, a formerly bustling Soviet fishing port on the Aral Sea. The animals were placed in Kazakhstan's "Red Book" of endangered species as water from the Syr and Amu Darya was diverted for cotton farming, causing the Aral Sea and the life it supported to deteriorate.  The Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three lakes, one of which has since disappeared. Animal life around the dried South Aral Sea has vanished, and the Aralsk History Museum's taxidermy evidence of the region's once vibrant animal life are also slowly distintegrating.
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The following photographs were taken in 2007 - 2011. A preserved Aral Sea bream on view at a permanent exhibition in the History Museum in Aralsk as a memorial to the life that once thrived in and around the Aral Sea. Aralsk, KazakhstanCarolyn Drake—Panos
This is one of several preserved species on display in the History Museum of Aralsk, a formerly bustling Soviet fishing port on the Aral Sea. The animals were placed in Kazakhstan's "Red Book" of endangered species as water from the Syr and Amu Darya was diverted for cotton farming, causing the Aral Sea and the life it supported to deteriorate.  The Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three lakes, one of which has since disappeared. Animal life around the dried South Aral Sea has vanished, and the Aralsk History Museum's taxidermy evidence of the region's once vibrant animal life are also slowly distintegrating.
These pieces of taxidermy are displayed in the History Museum of Aralsk, a formerly bustling Soviet fishing port on the Aral Sea. The animals were placed in Kazakhstan's "Red Book" of endangered species as water from the Syr and Amu Darya was diverted for cotton farming, causing the Aral Sea and the life it supported to deteriorate.  The Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three lakes, one of which has since disappeared. Animal life around the dried South Aral Sea has vanished, and the Aralsk History Museum's taxidermy evidence of the region's once vibrant animal life are also slowly distintegrating.
Rusting boats on the dried shore of the Aral Sea in Moynaq, a former fishing port on the Aral Sea.
A Soviet era swimming pool in Mary, a city developed by the Soviets as a center for cotton production after the Karakum canal began diverting water from the Amu Darya river
A light bulb hangs from the ceiling of a home in Damla, a village in middle of Karakum desert where people live off rain water collected in ponds. They raise camels, sheep and goats in the desert for food and to sell at markets in the cities. There is less and less rain and snow, so when water is scarce they must move their animals to the Amu Darya river.
A man drives an old Soviet Lada.
Peeling wallpaper in an abandoned check point along uzbek/turkmen border.
The Syr Darya river near Tashkent, viewed through an airplane window. The river feeds the North Aral Sea, which has grown dramatically since the construction of a dam that now divides the Northern part of the sea (in Kazakhstan) from the southern part (in Uzbekistan).
Part of a museum under renovation in Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Timur, a 14th-century conqueror of much of western and central Asia.Timur was a controversial figure, and remains so today. A number of his heaviest blows were against the fellow Turkic peoples including Bayezid's Empire and the Tatar Golden Horde. A great patron of the arts, his campaigns also caused vast destruction.
A hotel room in Zhetisay
A man from Almaty stands in a shower which sprays water from all sides. It is one of several treatments that patients go through during the course of a day at a spa called Zhetisay Sanatorium in the town of Mineral Water.
Damla, village in middle of Karakum desert where people live off rain water collected in ponds in low area. There is less and less rain and snow, so when water is scarce they must move their animals, which is their livelihood, near the Amu Darya river. They raise camels and sheep and goats in the desert. They are from the Teke tribe and likely moved into the desert in retreat from Russian occupation.
Playing on the muddy shore of the Syr Darya in summer.
Villagers along a canal near the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Navrus in Kokand
Electricity only 1 hr in am and pm. electricity is needed to pump irrigation systems but that comes from uzbekistan who switches it off for political reasons. Dushanbe arranged new deal with Turkemnistan for electricity. Our hotel Khujand has 24/7 electric because its in vicinity of government. Military on guard before "delegatsia" arrives. lots of drug money in khujand. there is coal town near Isfara where only a small number of people still live. this year agriculture minister put in place new plan to replace cotton with more viable crops. View of Syr Darya river from dilapidated soviet hotel Leninabad. ___, a city without water. It was built by Germans around a Uranium plant that employed Russians and Ukrainians. Closed after 1991, many people left. Picked up by kgb there.
An Uzbek woman whose husband has imposed Shariah law on the family poses in the courtyard of her home. Banned groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, a political party that aims to unite all Muslim countries in a unitary Islamic state, are appealing partly as a result of religious illiteracy and unemployment. Karasu,
A boy eats an apple in the kitchen of a restaurant in the Samarkand bazaar. On the right is a bread oven.
Food to be served at a birthday party
A fortuneteller/healer is making a house visit for a customer who wishes to be cured of tiredness due to the recent passing of a relative.
Shamanism
Shamanism
Shamanism
The following photographs were taken in 2007 - 2011. A preserved Aral Sea bream on view at a permanent exhibition in the History Museum in Aralsk as a memorial to the life that onc
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Carolyn Drake—Panos
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The Surreal World of Central Asia: Two Rivers by Carolyn Drake

Jul 10, 2013

The land between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the rivers the ancient Greeks knew as the Oxus and Jaxartes, serves for many of us as the ultimate flyover territory as we jet from Europe to Asia and beyond. Carolyn Drake, an American photographer who has worked for TIME, the New Yorker and National Geographic, spent five years and 15 trips roaming this expanse of Central Asia, documenting a hardy people who survived on the fringes of empires Russian and Chinese. From her travels to places with Tolkien-esque names—Osh, Termez, Kokand—comes a photography book called Two Rivers. It is a surreal and improbably luminous work, leavened by the kind of humor that flourishes in the harshest of places.

The land between the two rivers once supported fishing ports and fertile farms. But the ecological aggression of the Soviets, not to mention the toll of global warming, has robbed the region of liquid and life. Boats are now marooned on earth, livestock parched. Always there is dust. Raised in coastal cities and most comfortable when the horizon ends in a confluence of sea and sky, I find the aridness unsettling. Yet Carolyn captures the counterpoints to the landlocked breadth: a dirty puddle, a rush of irrigation water, a murky pool embellished with Olympic iconography.

If the Inuits, perhaps apocryphally, have dozens of words for snow, surely the peoples of Central Asia living in present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan must know how to distinguish between so many shades of brown: the salt flats of what once was the Aral Sea; the rusting machinery of the Soviet planned economy; the matted wool of a dirty sheep; all those deserts with all that sand; the stalks of cotton plants that suck up scarce water; the nuts and flatbread Central Asians offer up with their boisterous hospitality.

Yet even in this sere landscape, Carolyn displays an appetite for color that’s bold, maybe even defiant. There is the exuberant overlay of patterns that Central Asian women assemble as they dress each morning. We are treated to turquoise doorframes, the plumage of a freshly killed duck on white tiling and the burnt umber of an aged Moskvitch car from which a sad-eyed man stares out. Gaudy packages are used to smuggle heroin. Near the source of the two rivers, Carolyn gives us the frozen white of the Tianshan Mountains—I wonder what word the Inuits have for this particular manner of snow? And there is, of course, the visual assault of the monuments to ego built by post-Soviet dictators, whose love of gilt, marble and ever-flowing fountains underlines the paucity of the surrounding land.

One afternoon in mid-2011, when Carolyn and I were working together on a story in far western Kazakhstan, we wandered behind an oil refinery on the outskirts of Atyrau. A network of run-off canals extended into the desert, the water startlingly limpid despite the unseen chemicals. Ethnic Russians,with limp, sandy hair and sunbaked torsos, lounged among the cattails, drinking vodka and fishing for the kind of small, hardy creatures that seem to thrive amid pollution. The placid scene I replay in my mind recalls the best qualities of Carolyn’s photographs: strange, even toxic oases in which people find pleasure because what else is there to do but celebrate what little the land has given them?

Carolyn Drake began photographing Two Rivers in 2007, traveling frequently from her base in Istanbul. The work was funded in part by a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a finalist for the Santa Fe Prize. With text by Elif Batuman, the book was self-published in June 2013.

Hannah Beech is TIME’s China bureau chief and East Asia correspondent.

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