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States and territories of India

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The annual monsoon rains have come heavy and early to India, swelling the Ganges, India's longest river, sweeping away houses, stranding thousands, and and killing more than 100 so far. Record downpours fell in Uttarakhand state, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, causing mudslides and flooding mountain villages. The high water is now reaching the capital of New Delhi, where nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated to government-run camps on higher ground. Authorities there said the situation would ease as the level of the Yamuna River was expected to start receding Thursday afternoon. [23 photos]

A submerged idol of Hindu Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, on June 18, 2013. Torrential monsoon rains have cause havoc in northern India leading to flash floods, cloudbursts and landslides as the death toll continues to climb and more than 1,000 pilgrims bound for Himalayan shrines remain stranded. (AP Photo)     

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The northern Indian city of Varanasi, perched on the banks of the Ganges river, is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, a site that has drawn pilgrims literally for millennia. It’s famed for its burning ghats—the sloped-approaches to the waterfront where for centuries devotees have brought their deceased loved ones for cremation, then floating the ashes into the mighty, holy Ganges. Some Hindus still believe it’s auspicious to pass away on these steps. In Varanasi’s morning fogs and along its shrine-lined streets, visitors can feel an ancient, intangible power, a sense of place that is defined more by ritual and time than geography.

Varanasi’s burning grounds drew critically-acclaimed photographer Fazal Sheikh, whose latest project, Ether, on exhibit at Pace/MacGill gallery in New York City till Oct. 20, is the product of his own nocturnal wanderings in the old town. New York-born Sheikh’s two earlier India-based projects—Moksha (2005), of a community of widows, and Ladli (2007), portraits of young women in orphanages, hospitals, brothels—had a decidedly engaged, political edge. Ether is less so. “Other documentary pieces of mine are much clearer in the pointed nature of what I wanted to say,” says Sheikh, who first came to prominence with his work from refugee camps in Kenya. “This project is a bit more open and broad. It’s an exploration of a mood.”

Sheikh’s vigil would begin at nightfall and end at dawn. “Ether” itself is that mysterious, unfathomable fifth element of the universe—the others being water, air, fire and earth—and is a property Sheikh attempts to articulate in his work. He makes elemental gestures throughout: The embers of a fire glow with an almost cosmic intensity. The stars wink and gleam in a night sky. Four dun-colored city strays curl into the trammeled earth.

Sheikh describes working in Varanasi as “a sort of nurturing experience. The whole place was calming; there was a kind of quiet.” In Ether, there is a dreamy, contemplative quality to the pictures, but it rarely feels overly sentimental. Departing from Sheikh’s earlier portraiture, many of Ether’s images are of bodies—both those of sleepers and the dead—who don’t directly engage the camera. The inability of a photograph to fully penetrate its subject fascinates Sheikh: “There are some things that a person holds for themselves, some things that will remain inaccessible.” But if there are visions of a world beyond our world, its traces are in the ether.

Fazal Sheikh is a photographer based in Zurich, New York City and Kenya. His latest project Ether, is on display on exhibit at Pace/MacGill gallery in New York City till Oct. 20.

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FLOUR ON FRANÇOIS
FLOUR ON FRANÇOIS: A woman, unseen, threw flour on leading Socialist Party French presidential candidate François Hollande at an event in Paris Wednesday. Mr. Hollande was about to sign a ‘social contract’ in favor of housing for all. (Associated Press)

IN SENEGAL’S STREETS
IN SENEGAL’S STREETS: Men tried to overturn a bus in Dakar, Senegal, Wednesday. Security forces used tear gas and flash grenades to disperse hundreds of rock-throwing youths in the capital a day after a student was killed in antigovernment protests. The clashes come as President Abdoulaye Wade seeks a third term. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

DRAGON DANCE
DRAGON DANCE: People participated in a ‘dragon dance’ Wednesday in Xianju, Zhejiang Province, China, as part of a festival. (Xu Yu/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

SHELTER FROM THE COLD
SHELTER FROM THE COLD: An angler sipped a hot drink in a small tent as he took a break from ice fishing on the frozen Dnipro River outside Cherkasy, Ukraine, Wednesday. The death toll from severe cold weather in Eastern Europe rose to at least 71 Wednesday. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

UNDERGROUND
UNDERGROUND: Men worked underground on the North-South metro line in Amsterdam Wednesday. (Lex van Lieshout/European Pressphoto Agency)

READY TO DANCE
READY TO DANCE: A dancer from the Congo stood in front of art that depicts a historic battle before she performed at the opening of the Surajkund Fair in Faridabad, India, Wednesday. The fair features cultural events and crafts from all of India’s states and other countries. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Dancers rehearsed at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow Monday. Around 100 foreigners from all over the world are enrolled at the academy, which will see its first American graduate this year. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

PRAWNS AT A PORT
PRAWNS AT A PORT: A boy sorted prawns with his mother at a sea port on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday. (Athar Hussain/Reuters)

SAINT REMEMBERED
SAINT REMEMBERED: Muslims gathered at the shrine of St. Mian Mir to celebrate his life in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday. (Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

SAND FOR SALE
SAND FOR SALE: A man carried a bucket of sand from a river in Franceville, Gabon, Tuesday. The sand will be sold for use as building materials, according to the men. (Louafi Larbi/Reuters)

CHAOTIC SCENE
CHAOTIC SCENE: A police officer wielded a baton at Samajwadi Party activists during an election rally that was attended by party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in Allahabad, India, Tuesday. Uttar Pradesh state, where Allahabad is located, will choose Assembly members next week. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press)

BRIGHT SPOTS
BRIGHT SPOTS: Thousands of fish floated near the surface of the water at the Divor Dam in Arraiolos, Portugal, Tuesday. The water level is low due to a lack of rain. (Nuno Veiga/European Pressphoto Agency)

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 Men Feed Birds
Men feed birds from a boat on the River of Yamuna as it is enveloped by winter morning fog in New Delhi, India. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) Click image to zoom.

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diversity is everywhere in India, from its religions and languages to its economy, and climates. The second-most populous nation in the world, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people. Most are Hindu, but seven other religions -- including Islam, Christianity and Sikhism -- make up nearly 20 percent of the population. January 26 will be India's 62nd Republic Day, marking the date in 1950 when the country's constitution came into force. Collected here are recent photos from across the vast nation, offering only a small glimpse of the people and diversity of India. [41 photos]

Indian soldiers from the Border Security Forces atop camels stand at attention in front of the Presidential Palace during a ceremony in preparation for the annual Beating Retreat in New Delhi, India, on January 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

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Sri Lankan prisoners prepare to perform a traditional dance at the main Welikada prison in Colombo November 17, 2011. The cultural event is organized by the prisons department as part of the rehabilitation program for convicts, according to officials. Occupy Los Angeles protesters march through downtown during a rally Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Occupy Wall [...]

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