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Through his Vanishing Cultures Project photographer Taylor Weidman documents threatened ways of life. Regular readers of The Big Picture will recognize his distinctive work from his previous entry here on the Mustang region of Nepal. Weidman writes of the threatened nomadic culture in Mongolia: "Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world's largest remaining nomadic cultures. For millennia they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on the lush grasslands. But today, their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts. Alongside a rapidly changing economic landscape, climate change and desertification are also threatening nomadic life, killing both herds and grazing land. Due to severe winters and poor pasture, many thousands of herders have traded in their centuries-old way of life for employment in mining towns and urban areas. The ger (yurt) camps that ring the capital city Ulaanbaatar house a permanent population of displaced nomads. There, they live without running water or a tangible use for the skills and crafts that were practiced on the steppes. The younger generation is no longer learning these essential aspects of their nomadic heritage." -- Lane Turner (29 photos total)
A young nomad herds his animals by motorcycle after an early spring snowstorm. Mongolian herders adopt technology quickly and it is not uncommon to see trucks and motorcycles replacing work animals. (Taylor Weidman/The Vanishing Cultures Project)

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Nepal-based photographer Navesh Chitrakar documents almost all the country’s religious festivals. In this interview, Navesh discusses the art of photography and reflects on the state of the nation’s festivals.

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I realized I had seen the two sides of Sambeg Shakya, known as the Living God Ganesh; one without the crown and one with the crown. From deep inside I enjoyed being with Sambeg Shakya but not the...

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The Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is one of Nepal’s holiest sites. Until the country was transformed into a secular republic in 2008, the temple’s deity — an iteration of the Hindu god Shiva — served for nearly three hundred years as the patron spirit of this Himalayan kingdom. Generations of Nepalese monarchs derived legitimacy from its shrines and pilgrims from across South Asia continue to flock to its stone steps.

Those living in its environs include a clutch of elderly people, “orphaned” and destitute, the sort of folk that temples across the region gave shelter and sustenance to for centuries. But on his explorations by the outskirts of Pashupatinath in December 2010, photographer Dan Giannopoulos found many of these elderly living in dire conditions. His pictures — stark and grim — capture a desperate scene. He says, “I found a number of residents on different occasions had been left immobile and agitated on the floors of communal areas, sometimes in the bright sunlight, dehydrated, sometimes in their own excrement, often covered in flies.

The elderly orphanage is nominally run by the government, which speaks volumes for why it’s in such a miserable state. Nepal, an impoverished country of 40 million, suffers from some of the world’s most dysfunctional politics. An internationally-monitored peace process started in 2006 with the aim of reconciling the country after a decade-long civil war that saw some 13,000 deaths. The authority of the Nepali monarchy was dissolved and Maoist guerrillas who had once lurked in hills and jungles entered the political process as one of the country’s biggest democratic parties. But political sparring, infighting and inertia have crippled Nepal. Three years after it was elected, the country’s legislature has yet to even agree upon a Constitution for the new secular republic. Coalitions and ruling governments continue to splinter and fall—the latest Prime Minister resigned his post Aug. 13.

All the while, the country’s economy lurches in the doldrums, propped up by aid handouts from increasingly exasperated foreign donors. Power and fuel shortages routinely grip Kathmandu, bringing daily life to a halt. Nepal’s growth rate remains middling, while countless Nepalese are forced to abandon their country for jobs in the Gulf states, India, and further afield in Southeast Asia. In 2010, over a fifth of Nepal’s GDP came from remittances sent back home by hundreds of thousands toiling abroad.

In this context, the plight of these forsaken elderly seems almost an afterthought. But, says Giannopoulos: “At the very least, on the most basic humanitarian level, the international community needs to ask questions of the current healthcare funding situation in Nepal.” The photographer intends to do his part, and is seeking avenues for funds and partnerships with NGOs to improve the lot of these marooned elderly, so the twilight of their years can be lived out with more grace than their circumstances provide.

Dan Giannopoulos is a member of Aletheia Photo Collective, an independent cooperative of photojournalists covering underreported socioeconomic and humanitarian issues. He is currently working on a long term project that focuses on the differences in the treatment of society’s elderly with particular emphasis on geographical and social divides in diagnosis and understanding of the degeneration in the mental faculties of the elderly.

Ishaan Tharoor is a writer-reporter for TIME and editor of Global Spin. You can find him on Twitter at ishaantharoor. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEWorld.

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At least 40 people have been killed by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck northeastern India, Nepal and Tibet on Sunday. Rescue efforts were hampered by rain, landslides and severed communications. Near the epicenter, in India’s northeastern Sikkim state, officials expect the death toll to rise after emergency workers reach isolated communities.

Read the full story.

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