A glimpse of North Korea as presented by: Boston Big Picture

North Korea has long been enigmatic - especially to the West. An elaborate cult of personality created around the ruling Kim family permeates both the cultural and political lives of the nation. The world's most militarized nation, it has been developing nuclear weapons and a space program. In 2002, President George Bush labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil," primarily due to its aggressive military posture but also because of its abysmal human rights record. North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia. In an attempt to ameliorate the loss of investments due to international sanctions over its weapons program, North Korean officials have initiated a tourism push, focused on Chinese visitors. Still, every travel group or individual visitor is constantly accompanied by one or two "guides" who normally speak the mother language of the tourist. While some tourism has increased over the last few years, Western visitors remain scarce. The last several photos in this post are by Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder, who offers rare glimpses of life in the shuttered country. Rolling out the red carpet for tourists is not commonly associated with the reclusive North Korean government, but that is what workers did for the departure ceremony of Mangyongbyong cruise ship in Rason City on Aug. 30. About 130 passengers departed the rundown port of Rajin, near the China-Russia border, for the scenic Mount Kumgang resort near South Korea. North Korea's state tourism bureau has teamed up with a Chinese travel company to run the country's first ever cruise. A member of a marching band has her photo taken with a woman and young boy at an event to mark the birthday of Kim Il Sung at a park in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim is considered the founder of the nation. The regime of his son, Kim Jong Il, has marked 2012, the centenary of Kim Il Sung's birth, a banner year and has been trying to bolster its economy to support festivities. North Koreans pay their respects at a monument to Kim Il Sung at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea.

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