The River rises in the Indian state of Uttrakhand. Its source is the Gangotri glacier which feeds the river that hurtles down from the Himalayas. It then flows across the plains of North India before it joins up with the Brahmaputra and forms a Delta before flowing into the Bay of Bengal. This vast delta encompasses the countries of Bangladesh and India and when in flood is the second largest drainage system in terms of volume in the world, second only to the Amazon.
The Ganges is the most sacred river of India and is named after the goddess Ganga. It is held in high esteem by Hindus who worship and bathe in it for purity. Unfortunately this reverence is the cause of it slowly dying away and in real terms making it the most polluted waterway in the world.
The Ganga enters the plains at Rishikesh, one of the holiest places in Hinduism. Its tryst with pollution commences from here as pilgrims bathe and dirty it. This place also holds vast Kumbh Melas (Religious Congregations) where lakhs gather and dirty it. Many Hindus also come to Rishikesh to immerse the ashes of the dead adding to its woe.
The Ganges now flows across the plains of North India. This area houses 400 million Indians (mostly Hindus) who subsist on it for water, food and washing. This adds its own dimension to the problem. The river also is the discharge point for effluents of all industries along its banks. It’s particularly bad at Kanpur, where it's heavily polluted with effluents from Industries and has endangered 180 species of fish and aquatic life. At this point the its like one vast choked waterway.
The real problem is at Varanasi a city of one million people and one of the oldest and holiest cities of India. Here Hindus from all over the country come to cremate their dead and the ashes are immersed . Sometimes poor people who cannot afford a cremation just wrap the dead body in a cloth and immerse it . The body slowly decays polluting everything further. The sad part is that thousands of dead bodies are immersed here.
The World Bank and the Indian government have started a project called the ‘Save Ganga’ project. Almost a billion dollars is spent but the results are negligible as the religious authorities are not prepared to stop the immersion of the dead bodies.
For the first time since independence the present Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started a program to cleanse the Ganga and Varanasi city. There is optimism now as Modi has roped in the Japanese and made Kyoto a sister city of Varanasi. One has to see how much he will succeed.