Archive for Jalalabad

River of Life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2012 by stevemccurry



“Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers,
barbers and bunnias,pilgrims -and potters -all the world going and coming.
It is to me as a river from which I am
withdrawn like a log after a flood.
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle.
Such a river of life as no where else exists in the world.”
– Rudyard Kipling, Kim


Howrah Bridge

For more than 20 centuries, travelers have walked, ridden, prayed, traded, invaded, escaped,
fought, and died along the 1,500 miles of the Grand Trunk Road which stretches from Kolkata to Kabul.

On the GTR in Bihar State, India

Here are some pictures of people and places I have taken along the route of the Grand Trunk Road during the past thirty years.

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India

Agra, India

Near Agra, India

 Red Fort, Delhi

Allahabad, India

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

 Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism all developed along the route,
and Muslims proclaimed their beliefs on their journeys along the road.

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

Amritsar, India

Amritsar, India

Sikh Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

 The Grand Trunk Road served as the two way escape route for
75 million refugees caught between Indian and Pakistan during Partition.

Lahore, Pakistan

Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Peshawar, Pakistan

Peshawar, Pakistan
Peshawar has been a haven for Afghan refugees during decades of war.

Outside of Peshawar, Pakistan

Peshawar is strategically located at the crossroads of Central and South Asia.

Landi-Kotal, Pakistan
Near the border with Afghanistan

 Khyber Pass connects Pakistan and Afghanistan

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

This ribbon of humanity stretching Northwest from Kolkata, the city of culture and joy, to Kabul, the city of conflict,
has been moving merchants, buyers, conquerors, refugees, prophets, nomads and pilgrims through what is today
India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

On the road to Sarobi

Along this road, forged by conquerors and invaders,
the GT facilitated some of the most significant historical developments which affect us today.

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul is over 3,500 years old; many empires have  invaded the valley for its
strategic location along the trade routes of Central and South Asia.

 Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Along the route of the GT there is a  struggle between secular modernity and the conservatism of ancient religions.

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

Afghanistan: A Look Back

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by stevemccurry

Early Days | The Soviet Invasion

1979, 1980


Nuristan, Afghanistan

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.

A photograph I made of a helicopter that had been sabotaged by the Mujahadeen.
This was near an army garrison which had defected en masse. New York Times, December 27, 1979

Two government collaborators executed by Mujahadeen near Jalalabad

Two government collaborators executed by Mujahadeen near Jalalabad

 My naiveté was breathtaking, yet my Afghan guides protected me and treated me as their guest.
It was my first experience with the legendary Afghan hospitality.

Fathers and sons fought side by side

Fathers and sons fought side by side


Evening Prayers

Evening Prayers


Planting land mines in Logar Province to thwart the government troops' advance

Planting land mines in Logar Province to thwart the government troops’ advance


Young boy joins guerilla movement in Nuristan

Young boy joins guerilla movement in Nuristan


 Praying along the Kunar River

Praying along the Kunar River

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.


Mujahadeen mourn loss of their brother-in-arms

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.


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.


Fighters carry a disassembled Russian anti-aircraft gun to move it to a
position overlooking the valley



   I visited a government garrison at Asmar District, Kunar Province,  where three hundred soldiers defected to the Mujahadeen.  New York Times, December 29, 1979

I visited a government garrison at Asmar District, Kunar Province, where three hundred soldiers defected to the Mujahadeen.
New York Times, December 29, 1979

Christian Science Monitor, January, 1980

Christian Science Monitor, January, 1980


TIME Magazine, April, 1980 I took these pictures in Nangahar Province. My coverage over several trips for TIME, was the basis for winning the Robert Capa Gold Medal award.

TIME Magazine, April, 1980
I took these pictures in Nangahar Province.
My coverage over several trips for TIME, was the basis for
winning the Robert Capa Gold Medal award.

AFGHN-13202; Afghanistan; 1980

Strategy session in Kunar Province

Stern Magazine, 1980 Mujahadeen using goat skins to cross rivers

Stern Magazine, 1980
Mujahadeen using goat skins to cross rivers

International Herald Tribune, 1980

International Herald Tribune, 1980


Commanders meet with tribal elders in Nangahar Province

Paris Match, 1980. I made this photograph of government soldiers in Kunar Province.

Paris Match, 1980.
I made this photograph of government soldiers in Kunar Province.


Men used weapons from swords and axes to ancient guns and rocket propelled grenades

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.


AFGHN-13198; Afghanistan; 1980. A young girl holds her sibling.

Many families left their destroyed villages to live with relatives
in other regions of the country



Nari District, Kunar Province


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  is that the people trying to change it,  change more than the country
does even after Herculean efforts of  governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.


00829_01, Afghanistan, 1980, AFGHN-13342


This village was destroyed by government forces in the Spring of 1979 because they had
given refuge to Mujahadeen.

The viciousness of the Soviet attacks forced millions to flee their homes for Pakistan and Iran, and
contributed to what the Afghanistan scholar, Louis Dupree, called “Migratory Genocide.”
By 1986, five million Afghans had left their country.


Forty-six percent of all casualties were caused by bombings from airplanes or helicopters.

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Between Darkness and Light

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2011 by stevemccurry

UGANDA-10002 Kampala, Uganda

 Shadows:  The places between darkness and light

Young Cambodian boys play in the ruins of Preah Khan near Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  Preah Khan, surrounded by jungle, is named for a sacred sword Jayavarman II left to his successor, is still guarded by his descendants.  Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia, 1999.Cambodia

“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 lovliest things in life are but shadows, and they come and go, and change and fade away…”

– Charles Dickens 

AFGHN-10156Kabul, Afghanistan

War's toll on the psyche is etched on faces at Marastun, a shelter for the mentally ill in Kabul.  Afghans tell of relatives gone made from years of dodging bombs or being forced to fight alongside Soviets against the mujahidin.Kabul, Afghanistan

00230_ 008, Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, 2002, AFGHN-10133Afghanistan

Burma, 2010Burma/Myanmar


INDIA-10298nsBodh Gaya, India

00246_01 An Indian girl peers out of a train window, 1983.Girl peeks out a train window, India

Mud mosque, Djenne, Mali, 1986. MALI-10012NF7 Unguarded Moment_BookMud Mosque, Mali

DSC_4269; japan; 05/2011; may; 2011, JAPAN-10101NF2After the earthquake and tsunami, Japan, 2011 

PHILIPPINES-10048; Philippines, 03/1986Philippines



YUGOSLAVIA-10032, Yugoslavia, 1989Croatia

USA-10294Grand Central Terminal, New York

Train Station, Old Delhi, India 

 “The Sun never knew how wonderful it was until it fell on the wall of a building.”

Louis Kahn, Architect
quoted in the forward of  the book,
In Praise of Shadows,  Junichiro Tanizaki


FRANCE-10028, France, 1989  Marseilles, France

AFGHN-10225Jalalabad, Afghanistan 

Ways of Seeing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by stevemccurry

Windows, Mirrors, and Reflections

Tibetans, Tibet, 2001Tibet

I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis.
All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for.
But what there is time for is looking out the window.
– Alice Munro


 BURMA-10214Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma/Myanmar


“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”   – John Berger

BURMA-10166NF, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma, February 2010Burma/Myanmar

Hazara Boy, Kabul, Afghanistan

THAILAND-10025, Thailand; 2007Thailand


Sauna, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002Kabul, Afghanistan

 Mirrors have been the subject of ancient myths, folktales, literature, and superstitions for centuries.
They are often used as a metaphor for insight into one’s self.   

Restaurant, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2002, final book_iconicKunduz, Afghanistan

Lebanon-10045, Lebanon, 03/1982Beirut, Lebanon

00202_ 20, Woman in Photography Studio in Lhasa, Tibet, Tibetans, 09/2001, 2001Tibet

 Yangon, Burma, February 2010Yangon, Burma/Myanmar

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
– Sylvia Plath

AFGHN-12590, Jalalabad, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, 1989Jalalabad,  Afghanistan

_SM18082_adj; Cuba; 2010, LATIN_AMERICA-10142 Havana, Cuba

PAKISTAN-10030NF2, Pakistan, 1981,Pakistan

BURMA-10372NF2, Burma/Myanmar, 02/2011 Burma/Myanmar

 In Greek mythology, Narcissus, looking into a pool of water, did not understand that
he saw his own reflection, and fell in love with himself.

INDIA-10754-(1)Agra, India


“I became startled by the extraordinary difference between something whose surface is completely invisible which only makes itself present by virtue of what it reflects, and a window, which doesn’t make itself apparent at all…”
–  Jonathan Miller
India, Kumbh Mela

Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2011 by stevemccurry

AFGHN-10225 Jalalabad 

If literacy rates were measured by a nation’s proverbs and poetry, Afghanistan would be one of the most literate countries on earth.  These two forms of the oral tradition have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of the Afghan people.


Proverbs are part of every culture and have been for thousands of years.  Francis Bacon said that the wit, genius, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs.  Here are some common Afghan proverbs which provide unique insights into the ancient culture.


There is a path to even the tallest mountain.

AFGHN-10010NFHindu Kush Mountains 

The mountains are our people.

AFGHN-12819 The harsh land is integral to this nomadic herder culture with deep roots in high pastures. “Koh-o mar-domon moya,” a saying goes: “The mountains are our people.” Qala-e Sabzi.

A warm fire is better than a delicious meal.

AFGHN-10124-(1)Refugees return to their bombed out neighborhood in Herat

If there is only bread and onions, still have a happy face.


In a ditch where water has flowed, it will flow again.

AFGHN-12258Irrigation channel, Kandahar 

Many drops make a river.

AFGHN-10064NFBetween Sarobi and Kabul 

A real friend is one who takes the hand of his friend in times of distress and helplessness.



Not even the five fingers of our hands are alike.

AFGHN-10090Textile Dyer, Kabul

There is blessing in action.

AFGHN-10146Bakery run by Afghan widows

AFGHN-12998Brick Workers, Bamiyan Province

First a friend then a brother.



In Afghanistan, the tradition of poetry writing and recitation dates back a thousand years.  To lend credibility to an argument, the preface,  “The poet says…”   denies the listener the opportunity to disagree.  Although many do not read or write, they can recite long passages of both classic and modern poetry.


If leadership rests inside the lion’s jaw,
So be it. Go snatch it from his jaws.
Your lot shall be greatness, prestige, honor and glory.
If all fails, face death like a man.

Hanzala of Badghis – 9th century poet

Wounded Afghan fighter outside of Jalalabad


Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her,  for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls …

 – Saib-e-Tabrizi, 17th century poet 


AFGHN-10130 Nomads at prayer at sunrise


The earth opens her warm arms
to embrace me
The earth is my mother
She understands the sorrow
of my wandering

My wandering
is an old crow
that conquers
the very top of an aspen
a thousand times a day

Perhaps life is a crow
that each dawn
dips its blackened beak
in the holy well of the sun

Perhaps life is the grief-stricken earth
who has opened up her bloodied arms to me

And here I give thanks
on the brink of ‘victory’

–  Partaw Naderi

July, 2002 

A Third of Our Lives

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2010 by stevemccurry

Calcutta, India



Tonle Sap, Cambodia


Recently, I have been reviewing the pictures in my archive for a new book project.    I have been looking for activities that are shared by people in every culture and tradition. My blog on reading generated over 25,000 views, and it has been great to read many comments from people who are passionate about reading and literature, and the impact that they have on our lives. I discovered that I have a very large collection of people who are in some form of sleep.  It may be a nap or a snooze, a siesta or a deep slumber, but it is something we all need, but something many of us don’t get enough of.


Angkor, Cambodia


We sleep as much as a third of our lives, so it is clear that we are actually doing some important “work” during that time.  From consolidating memory and learning,  to repair of our bodies, sleep isn’t so much a luxury as a necessity.


Chiang Mai, Thailand


For Shakespeare, sleep was the balm of hurt minds.  He wrote in Macbeth:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”


Bombay, India



Beijing, China



Paris, France



Outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan



Bangkok, Thailand


Bangkok, Thailand


“Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!   It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even. ”
-Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605


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