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The 2013 Dakar Rally

Racers in the 34th annual Dakar Rally are nearing the finish line in Santiago, Chile. The winners are set to arrive on Sunday, January 20, after racing more than 8,500 km (5,280 mi) in 14 stages, across unforgiving territory in Peru, Argentina, and Chile. More than 450 teams are taking part, pitting themselves against the elements, driving specialized off-road cars, trucks, motorcycles, and quadbikes. Below, I've gathered some of the best images I could find of this year's race so far, and some of the challenges brought by recent heavy rainfall. [36 photos]


Kumbh Mela: The Largest Gathering on Earth

Tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims are now descending on Allahabad, India, joining an estimated 8 million already there for the Maha Kumbh Mela. Held every 12 years at one of four places in India, the Kumbh Mela lasts nearly two months and is considered to be an especially auspicious time to bathe in the holy river for purification from sin. In 2001, the last time the festival took place, more than 40 million people gathered in an area smaller than 20 sq km (7.7 sq mi). This year, the predicted number of visitors tops 100 million. Collected here are images from the preparation and first days of the Maha Kumbh Mela, with possibly more to come in the next few weeks. [33 photos]


Summer Down Under

Continuing my recent theme on weather, while those of us in the north are bundling up against the cold these days, Australia is experiencing a historic summer heat wave. Many records have been broken as temperatures climbed as high as 43 degrees C (109.4F) in Sydney, and the city of Eucla, in Western Australia, recorded a temperature of 48.3 C (119F) on January 3. The extreme conditions have triggered dust storms and raging wildfires, burning more than 750,000 acres, and destroying hundreds of homes. Collected here are images of Australia's January heat wave, and people both coping with it and enjoying it. [31 photos]


Wintry Weather: Middle East Edition

Following up on yesterday's essay Wintry Weather, I was struck by photographs of the unusually heavy winter storm that just blanketed many Middle Eastern countries in snow. I discovered a wide range of unique images, from Saudis tossing snowballs to Israelis on sleds to the newly white roofs of Istanbul. Gathered here are a handful of those images, showing that, despite the harshness of the storm, some were able to find a moment of joy in the rare snowfall. [32 photos]


Wintry Weather

The chill of mid-winter has set in around the northern hemisphere, bringing freezing temperatures to much of Asia, and an unusual snowstorm to the Mideast this week. People are coping where they must and playing where they can, from China to Maine, from Minnesota to Austria. Gathered here are a few recent images of the chilly weather across the north. [34 photos]


Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest 2012

The winners have just been announced of this year's National Geographic photo contest. The Society received more than 22,000 entries from over 150 countries. Presented here are the winners from the three categories of People, Places, and Nature, captions provided by the photographers. The Grand Prize Winner receives $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., to participate in the annual National Geographic Photography Seminar in January 2013. [14 photos]


Afghanistan: December 2012

December in Afghanistan is traditionally a quiet period in the country's decades-old war, and coalition troops suffered only 14 deaths last month, half as many as the previous year. Yesterday, General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, submitted a post-2014 plan to the Pentagon, laying out options to keep between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in the country after the official NATO withdrawal. (Current troop levels are around 66,000.) The smaller forces would be mainly focused on counterterrorism operations and engaging members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. These photos show just a glimpse of this conflict over the past month. [38 photos]


A Look Inside North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un assumed his position just over a year ago, following his father's death in late 2011. Under his direction, North Korea has taken some aggressive steps, including launching a rocket despite international condemnation and cracking down even harder on those attempting to flee the country. At the same time, Kim has given a few public indications that the country's "military-first" economy needs to change. And just yesterday, during a New Year's address, he said that "removing confrontation" between North and South Korea was an important step toward reunification. The two nations are still officially at war, having never signed a peace treaty following the end of the Korean War 60 years ago. As South Korea's new president-elect prepares to take office, Kim continues to send mixed messages to the world, declaring 2013 a year of "radical turnabout." The photos of North Korea gathered here were taken recently either by official photographers, or by western photographers under government supervision, their subjects and movement restricted. [38 photos]


New Year's Celebrations Around the World

Last night, as the stroke of midnight rolled across the world's time zones, people gathered in private and took to the streets to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, 2013. Fireworks erupted from Sydney to Moscow, and revelers gathered in London, Dakar, New York, Las Vegas, and thousands of other places, raising a glass, keeping warm, making resolutions, and wishing each other a "Happy New Year!" [33 photos]


Animals in the News

Time for one last look into the animal kingdom this year, and our interactions with the countless other species that share our planet. Today's photos include a car-driving dog, a genetically-engineered neon pink angelfish, horse-logging in Scotland, and diving pigs in China. These images and many others are part of this roundup of animals in the news from recent weeks, seen from the perspectives of their human observers, companions, captors, and caretakers. [37 photos]


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