Photos: The lost world

Soldiers appear shrunken in their oversized hats and military uniforms. In a city where the short and malnourished are reportedly weeded out for the benefit of visiting foreigners, few have enough to eat and black markets operate off the main streets. About a quarter of the North’s 24 million people need food aid, according to The World Food Programme.

The best-fed men in the country seem to be the two who dominate its physical and psychological landscape: founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, a famous epicurean. The tradition continues, if pictures of the family’s grandson and heir, the porky Kim Jong-un, are any indication. Pyongyang watchers wonder if his rise will finally detonate the regime’s downfall.

With few factories, the unpolluted air over Pyongyang is crisp and clear, though at dusk, with power stations struggling to crank out enough electricity to light up the streets, the city turns prison-grey. At night, dim 40-watt bulbs wink from apartments. The brightest-lit structures are the illuminated Kim portraits dotted throughout the city and the560ft Juche Tower, a monument to Kim Il-Sung’s deluded philosophy of self-reliance.