National Geographic : 1984 Jun
On Assignment PHOTOGRAPHSBY STEVEMCCURRY(ABOVE)AND LAURENSTOCKBOWER THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD still can, best-selling author Paul Theroux finds as he interviews employees of the "toy train" that climbs Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling on a century-old narrow-gauge railway (above). "Every passenger was either a Buddhist monk, a schoolchild, or a little old lady with a chicken going to market," he recalls. In Darjeeling's heady ethnic maelstrom he found Tibetan artifacts carved from yak vertebrae "but I drew the line at buying others made from a human tibia." Riding the rails from Pakistan's Khyber Pass across India to Bangladesh was vintage Theroux. Massachusetts-born, he joined the Peace Corps to teach in Africa. His 20 books include The Great RailwayBazaar, which chronicles a pan-Asian train trip; The Mos quito Coast, set in Honduras; and The Kingdom by the Sea, about Great Britain, where he now makes his home. Keeping his camera dry and his hands free in a downpour, Steve McCurry dons a shield of straw popular in parts of India and Ne pal (right). A Pennsylvania native, Steve's free-lance images often reflect a passion for the Middle East and Asia. His work in Afghan istan won the Overseas Press Club's gold medal in 1980. Aboard Indian trains, suffocating crowds sometimes forced him to join riders on car tops. "Once I was photographing and didn't see some low electrical lines," he says. "One hit me in the back of the head and knocked me down, but fortunately not off the car."