Posts Tagged ‘ghats’

India’s other filthy river

Friday, December 4th, 2009

I read yesterday that the World Bank is to lend India $1bn to clean up the Ganges River. The Ganges is one of the world’s most polluted waterways and supports perhaps 400 million people. Despite earlier government promises to make its water drinkable by 1989, it flows with industrial effluence and sewerage. As I wrote previously, a solution to the water crisis is crucial to India’s survival and as Sunita Narain (and others) have argued it needs an Indian solution.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been touched by the magic of this river often over the years. I’ve covered two Kumbh Melas (the enormous religious bathing pilgrimage that takes place four times every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna) and visited the extraordinary Varanasi many times. There is something touching, real and honourable about Indian’s reverence and awe at the Ganges; something that speaks about life and its transitory nature. It’s a beautiful thing to see villagers come hundreds of miles just to bathe in the river and feel its coolness at dawn as they submerge themselves. Humbling and puzzling to see the processions of corpse bearers literally running to the cremation grounds on the ghats in Varanasi to burn a body. I shall never forget my first sight of a body (suicides, children and snake bite victims are swallowed by the river whole) bloated, rolling and turning in the gentle waves of my boat one morning at dawn.

Some pictures:

India - Varanasi - A man makes an offering to the Ganges at dawn

India - Varanasi - A man makes an offering to the Ganges at dawn

India - Varanasi - A worker at the Burning or 'Manikarnika' Ghat tends a cremation fire. The men are all from the same low caste called Dons - Dalit's or 'untouchable's' rendered ritually unclean by their work

India - Varanasi - A worker at the Burning or 'Manikarnika' Ghat tends a cremation pyre. The men are all from the same low caste called Dons - Dalit's or 'untouchable's' rendered ritually unclean by their work

India - Allahbad - Pilgrims cross one of the many pontoon bridges erected at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahbad - Pilgrims cross one of the many pontoon bridges erected at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Saddhus dry themselves after a ritual bath at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Saddhus dry themselves after a ritual bath at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Pilgrims ritually bathe at the Ardh Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Pilgrims ritually bathe at the Ardh Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Saddhus in a boat at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - Saddhus in a boat at the Kumbh Mela

India - Allahabad - A pilgrim and his wife get ready to immerse themselves in the Ganges as an act of religious purification

India - Allahabad - A pilgrim and his wife get ready to immerse themselves in the Ganges as an act of religious purification