Archive for British

Riding the Indian Railways

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by stevemccurry



Dusty and monumental, India’s trains often seem as ancient as India itself. – Paul Theroux





Ever since the British built the railroads in India that stitched that vast subcontinent together, the trains have connected all of its disparate parts.




When I was on assignment shooting a story on the Indian Railways,  I would go to the station every day and wander around the platform each time a train would roll in, carefully stepping over bodies and around huge mountains of luggage, and would start to photograph the swirl of life that assaults and saturates the senses.




Anything and everything takes place in a station; there is nothing that the depot hasn’t observed. The train station is a theater and everything imaginable happens on its stage. People endlessly wait, they camp out in the stations, and many call it home.




Travelers must share it with the occasional cow or even monkeys foraging for scraps, tolerate ever-present shouts from vendors trying frantically to attract business, and demonstrate patience with the endless queues.



When the train pulls into the station there is a mad dash of humanity as though it is the last train out of hell. People push through the doors and climb through the windows to capture an elusive seat in order to avoid the punishment of having to stand for an entire trip that could take six hours or more. Often the trains are so crowded, the aisles so packed with bodies pressed up against each other, that you cannot even lift an arm to scratch the back of your head.




One day I came across a solitary figure eating lunch — not an unusual sight in many places, but in the bazaar that is an Indian railway station, something that captured my attention. He had carved out a quiet refuge in that chaotic universe and seemed to be lost in a quiet contemplation that was the perfect foil for the rowdy universe that surrounded him.



India is peculiarly visible from a railway train.  I have the idea that much of Indian life is lived within sight of the tracks or the station, and often next to the tracks, or inside the station.  It is not only part of Indian culture, but it is an ingredient in Indian life; it is dynamic, energetic, powerful. It is impossible to imagine India without the railway, or to think what could conceivably replace it.”  -Paul Theroux, The Imperial Way

The Great Game Changer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by stevemccurry


Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 2006

The “Great Game” a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, to characterize the intense rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over dominance in Afghanistan and Central Asia,  seems particularly appropriate now that it has been revealed by the Pentagon that a trillion dollars worth of rare and valuable minerals deposits are in Afghanistan. But, this has not been a secret to many.  


Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan

Miners search for emeralds Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan, 1992

In January 1984 a report was published by the chief engineer of the Afghan Geological Survey Department about Soviet uranium mining in Afghanistan. It revealed that uranium production had begun after the discovery of deposits in 1983.

Soviet engineers were also said to be mining uranium  between Herat and Shindand, and also in  Kandahar province. The uranium projects were restricted to Soviet personnel in order to maintain secrecy and security. It is believed that all production was sent to the Soviet Union.

By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980’s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country’s large iron and copper reserves.

The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world’s largest, are located almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush,  in Bamiyan Province.

Source:  Illinois Institute of Technology

Charikar, Afghanistan, 2002, NYC65502, MCS2002002 K296final print_milan

Charikar, Afghaistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

A 2007  report by the USGS said most of the data on Afghanistan’s mineral resources was produced between the early 1950’s and 1985. The timing of the Pentagon’s announcement is interesting because  the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007.



Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines has information on this website about mineral deposits in the country  .


Coal Miner, Pul-i-Kumri, Afghanistan, 2002

Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

There is little doubt that the new version of the Great Game will include all the players during Kipling’s time, plus the U.S., China, India, and any other country who seeks an advantage in obtaining a slice of the Afghan pie.  There will be “invaders” waiting to pounce on any opportunity that presents itself.

We can only hope that the Afghan people who have suffered for decades, will get the benefits they so richly deserve.


Steve  McCurry with Coal Miners, Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002



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