Archive for Hindu Kush

Grief, Grind, and Glory of Work

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2013 by stevemccurry

Last month the world heard the tragic news
that more than a thousand people working at a clothing factory in Bangladesh,
were killed when 
the factory they were working in collapsed.

Myanmar, Burma, 1994, final book_iconicBurma

The appetite for cheap clothing in the West is insatiable.
The people making the clothing  often pay the true cost of these items.
The scale of this factory in Burma is vast.
The sense that these workers are just part of an immense machine is
accentuated by 
the pink shirts they are obliged to wear.

BURMA-10221NF, Myanmar (Burma), 07/1994Burma

Labor disgraces no man;
unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor.  

– Ulysses S. Grant


Whether it is men fishing,  nuns washing dishes, miners digging beneath the earth, or 
working in the heat of a steel mill, work is universal, yet intensely personal. Millions work in order to survive, and for them,
is no debate about how to achieve a life/work balance.  

INDONESIA-10006Woman working in a field devastated by volcanic debris and flood waters.  Java, Indonesia

INDIA-10330NFShoe repair shop in India

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.
– Horace



Your life is a journey, not a rest.
You are travelling to the promised land, from the cradle to the grave.
The Sunday at Home, December 7th 1854

INDIA-11144, India, Bombay, 1997Mumbai, India

Gujarat, India

The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

YUGOSLAVIA-10068MKS Steelworks, Serbia


Working for long periods under extreme stressful work conditions can lead to
sudden death, a phenomenon the Japanese call karoshi. The word in China is guolaosi.

PAKISTAN-10006NFLandi Kotal, Pakistan

AFGHN-10146Bakery run by Afghan widows, Kabul, Afghanistan

Dubrovnik, Croatia, 1989Croatia

Many find their identity in the work they do. Some enjoy intense satisfaction in their work.
For others, the line between work and play is hard to find.

Tibetans, 07/2001, final book_iconicIndia

INDIA-10679NF2, Bombay, India, 09/1993. Textiles,
           Mumbai, India

A suger cane farmer stand in his field in Luzon, Philippines, 1985Sugar cane farmer, Philippines

Everything yields to diligence.
– Thomas Jefferson

BRAZIL-10044NF8, Brazil, Latin America, Lavazza, 08/2010Drying coffee beans, Brazil

If a man is called a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or
Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of
heaven and Earth will pause to say, Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.  
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

KASHMIR-10016Flower Seller, Dal Lake, Kashmir

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Silhouettes and Shadows

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2012 by stevemccurry

Bodh Gaya, India

 The Sun never knew how wonderful it was
until it fell on the wall of a building.
Louis Kahn, Architect

quoted in forward of In Praise of Shadows,  Junichiro Tanizaki

Mud Mosque, Mali

Look round and round upon this bare bleak plain,
and see even here, upon a winter’s day,
how beautiful the shadows are.

  Alas!  It is the nature of their kind to be so.
The loveliest things in life are but shadows,
and they come and go, and change and fade away…

– Charles Dickens


Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows,
the light and dark which that thing provides.
– Junichiro Tanizaki

Kabul, Afghanistan

We are but dust and shadow.
– Horace

Preah Khan, Cambodia

You can only come to the morning through the shadows.
– J.R. R. Tolkien





Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.
– T. S. Eliot


Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.
The shadow is what we think of it.  The tree is the real thing.
– Abraham Lincoln

New York

Kandze, Tibet


Kabul, Afghanistan




Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan

Ancient Catacombs, Rome, Italy

A shadow on the wall
boughs stirred by the noonday wind
that’s enough earth
and for the eye
enough celestial participation.
– Gottfried Benn
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann

The Longest War

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by stevemccurry

Kabul Cemetery

As hard as outsiders have tried to subdue and “re-create” the country in their own image,
Afghanistan has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and
remain essentially the same.


The interesting thing is that the people trying to change it,

change more than the country does even after
Herculean efforts of governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.

Burning School, Kabul

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty and naive
assumptions are doomed to failure.

Mujahadeen head toward Kabul as Russians leave

In spite of the failed attempt by the powerful Soviet army
to bring the country under its control,

the “deciders” still had the fantasy that we could do what
hadn’t been done before.

 Those “deciders” did not have even the basic
understanding of the country, the history, the people,

the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.

Mujahadeen holds up decapitated head of Afghan Army soldier

Lieut. Col. Daniel Davis, in an analysis of the situation in Afghanistan titled, “Truth, Lies,
and Afghanistan” published in The Armed Forces Journal in February, 2012, wrote,
“I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level”
in his rebuttal to the military’s assertion that the war was going well and that the Coalition
was making progress.  He charged the military leadership with misleading
the American public.

Red Cross Hospital

Davis reported that he had repeatedly seen top commanders
falsely dress up dismal situations including
General Petreus in testimony to Congress.

Red Cross Hospital, Kabul

During the months I traveled with the Mujahadeen, I witnessed a deep camaraderie
amongst the fighters who were on the greatest mission of their lives.
They weren’t looking at the calendar.

They didn’t even worry much about casualty numbers.
The harder the fight was, the stronger they became.

Mujahadeen with family members cross into Pakistan

Walking in the snow without boots high up in the Hindu Kush was commonplace.

Those men were as tough as it gets.



Military Hospital in Kabul

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies,
in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers,
the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.
Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
– Dwight David Eisenhower

Former Soldier in Makeshift Mental Hospital

The Grit, Grind, and Glory of Work

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by stevemccurry


TIBET-10013NF2 Tibet




Whether it is men fishing from poles in Sri Lanka, nuns washing dishes, miners digging beneath the earth in Afghanistan, or Dalits cleaning the streets of India, work is universal, yet  intensely personal. Many work in order to survive another day.

KASHMIR-10023Srinagar, Kashmir



USA-10205NFNew York City

INDONESIA-10006Java, Indonesia

BURMA-10044 Yangon, Myanmar

Many find their identity in the work they do. Some enjoy intense satisfaction in their work.  For others, the line between work and play is hard to find.


SRILANKA-10072Sri Lanka

SRILANKA-10006Weligama, Sri Lanka

PARAGUAY-10019Filadelfia, Paraguay

“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”

–  Kahlil Gibran



PAKISTAN-10032Between Peshawar and Lahore, Pakistan




KASHMIR-10004Saffron Harvest, Srinagar, Kashmir



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


Blood and Smoke in Hazarajat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by stevemccurry

Danger for the Taliban’s Favorite Victims

As the Taliban fights to make a comeback in Afghanistan, no group is in more danger than the Hazaras.  The Taliban’s favorite victims, hundreds of Hazara families froze to death while fleeing  their villages during winter attacks by the Taliban.


Hazaras work in a candy factory in Kabul, 2006


Farmers work in front of empty Buddha niches where the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas that had stood for over a thousand years in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2002

During its reign, the Taliban wreaked destruction and  on as many Hazara communities as they could. Scores of Hazara villages were totally destroyed and their people killed or left to search for shelter from the harsh environment of the Hindu Kush Mountains.


Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006

Persecuted for centuries, the Hazaras, Shiite Muslims, and protectors of the Buddhist treasures in Bamiyan for a thousand years, have been persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered, but the ravages of the Taliban are only one chapter in the long history of discrimination and abuse.


Hazara Girl, Kabul, 2002

A local official commented that their history has been characterized by “blood and smoke.”   He said that the pain is still in his heart because of the thousands that were slaughtered or died trying to escape.


Hazara School Boys, Bamiyan, 2002

Although most Hazaras live in central Afghanistan, the land they refer to as Hazarajat, the Hazaras who migrated to Kabul looking for work make up a large underclass, which takes jobs that other groups refuse – as bearers, street sweepers and other common laborers, the jobs that are referred to as “Hazara occupations.”  They are seen and insulted as “donkeys.”


Hazara man pulling cart past a burning house, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1985


Bamiyan, Afghanistan. 2007

His family is poor, his clothes used. But 15-year-old Ali Aqa isn’t deterred: He plans to be a lawyer. Childhood memories include Taliban occupation of his village in Bamiyan. “They burned everything, even my school,” he says. “I pray to God no regime comes like that again.

This fascinating and resilient people hopes to have a place at the table of Afghanistan’s government, but whatever happens in the central government in Kabul, these brave and independent people will continue to struggle for survival and dignity.

The Afghanistan Dilemma

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by stevemccurry

Nuristan, Afghanistan, 1979

 I slipped into Afghanistan across the border with Pakistan in 1979. I went with a couple of guides who did not speak English; I certainly didn’t speak Dari or Pashto so our only form of communication was improvised sign language. I was woefully unprepared. Among my belongings were a plastic cup, a Swiss Army knife, two camera bodies, four lenses, a bag of film and a few bags of airline peanuts. My naiveté was breathtaking, yet my Afghan guides protected me and treated me as their guest. That was my first experience with the legendary Afghan hospitality.


Village in the Hindu Kush, 1980

I went back when the Russians invaded.   I traveled with many different mujahadeen and militia groups. We mainly traveled at night to avoid being spotted by the Soviet helicopters. Most of the time we walked, but a few times we were able to borrow horses. I was always astonished at the continual pipeline of weapons and supplies going into Afghanistan from Pakistan around the clock. Rockets, mortar rounds, ammunition, were carried in by camels, donkeys, and fighters. It was only later that we found out the staggering amount of money supplied by the U.S. to make it happen.


Jalalabad, 1988

There was a deep camaraderie amongst the fighters who were on the greatest mission of their lives.  They weren’t looking at the calendar, waiting to go back home on R & R to see friends, family, girlfriends.  They didn’t worry much about casualty numbers. The harder the fight was, the stronger they became. Walking in the snow without boots high up in the Hindu Kush was commonplace. Those men were as tough as it gets, yet they could be gentle and tender with children.


When I went back over the border into Pakistan, I had blisters, saddle sores, and filthy clothing into which I had sewn rolls of film, which were among the first images of the conflict. Over the years, I went back more than dozens of times on assignment for National Geographic, Time Magazine, ABC News, and other news outlets.  I have spent time in Afghanistan during invasions, retreats, truces, and relative peace. Almost every time I returned, the power centers had shifted. In a great game of musical chairs, elders, warlords, criminals, and mullahs’ power grows and diminishes as predictably as the phases of the moon.. Whole groups change sides when the terms are right.


Ahmed Shah Massoud, 1992 

Afghans have to be versatile; they are survivors who are wily, clever, smart. They are the original survivors. They outwit, outplay, and outlast their adversaries.


Kandahar, 1989

As much as outsiders have tried to “re-form” the country in their own image, Afghanistan  has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and remain essentially the same. The interesting thing to me is that the people trying to change it,  change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of well-meaning governments, NGO’s, and coalitions. Look at the Soviet misadventure for evidence.


Road to Kabul, 1992

Maybe one definition of hell is that is the place where more effort produces fewer results. Five years ago, I could drive from Kabul over mountain passes in safety to the central highlands town of Bamiyan. Today, the only recommended way is to fly – if you can get a flight with the United Nations Assistance Mission. Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that we do not understand the country, the people, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.


Chitral Valley, 1988

We are in their country, but many times we are not behaving as guests should. The recent story of the contractors responsible for the embassy security in Kabul having drunken sex orgies adds fuel to the Taliban fire. It was embarrassing to see American troops trying to do good by distributing gift to refugees during Eid, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.   Well-meaning troops  gave a trash bag full of stuffed animals to one refugee  family, when what the family needed was food and basic necessities.


Near Pakistan border, 1984

Everyone wants Afghans to live their lives in a peaceful country where families can thrive, but our ideas to achieve that goal are often built on faulty assumptions.   The president will be damned if he agrees to send more troops, and he will be damned if he doesn’t. He may be a one-term president if the war goes badly, and who will decide if and when we “win.”  The concept of winning is dangerous. Do we win, or do the Afghans win, and do they even want that victory as we define it?  The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty assumptions are doomed to failure.


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