KATHMANDU (AFP) - Dressed all in white and with their heads shaved, survivors of a Nepalese earthquake that killed more than 7,800 people ended 13 days of mourning Thursday as the broken capital began picking up the pieces.
As authorities released figures showing nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed by the quake nationwide, mourners gathered around a Hindu temple in Kathmandu for a series of ceremonies that would conclude at dusk.
Groups of mourners dressed in white, the men with their heads shaved and women with uncombed hair, drew religious symbols in the sand before building small fires at the famous Pashupatinath complex on the banks of the Bagmati river.
In a corner of the temple complex, where hundreds of cremations have been performed in the past fortnight, Hindu priests recited chants and threw petals over offerings of rice and other foods.
The mourners took ritual baths in the river, offering prayers for their departed loved ones and making donations of bedding, mats, umbrellas, clothing and fruit for temple workers.
"The loss is unbearable. We can only pray they find a home in heaven," said Chuda Bhakta Shrestha, who lost his 61-year-old wife, 32-year-old daughter and granddaughter, aged four, when their Kathmandu home crumbled.
"We have to find a way to continue our lives and find the courage to start anew... There is no alternative other than to carry on," said the 61-year-old.
- Coping with grief -
According to Hindu tradition, Nepalis mourn their dead for 13 days after which loved ones begin the painful task of trying to get on with their lives.
Anita Subedi, who lost her house in the quake and whose mother-in-law was crushed to death while attending a religious service, was struggling to come to terms with her grief.
"She was so good and kind - she was like a mother to me... If she were alive, we would find it easier to carry on and wouldn't feel so devastated," said the 25-year-old.
"We performed her last rites today and I think she can see us from heaven."
The earthquake which ripped through vast swathes of the impoverished Himalayan nation on April 25 was Nepal's deadliest in more than 80 years.
With relief teams only just beginning to reach some of the worst-hit areas, which have been accessible only by foot, the number of dead is still climbing.
In its latest update, the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) put the death toll at 7,760 and the number of injured at 16,432. More than 100 were also killed in India and China.
The vast majority of injuries were either fractures or spinal injuries sustained when buildings, often badly built, collapsed on top of them.
Kashi Sharma, an officer at the NEOC, said that 288,798 houses were completely destroyed in the quake while a further 254,112 houses had been partially damaged.
The cost of reconstruction in one of Asia's poorest countries could run to US$5 billion (S$6.66 billion), according to estimates, setting the economy back years, just as it was emerging from a decade-long civil war.
Hundreds of thousands of people left Kathmandu in the days immediately after the tragedy, scared of the continuous aftershocks and desperate to check on their families living in ancestral villages.
There were signs Thursday that the city was limping back to life, with a growing number of shops and restaurants reopening for business and the capital's roads slowly filling up once more.