Most of the photos I take and post are what I consider to be beautiful images of where we are. And there is no shortage of beauty in Varansi (or anywhere for that matter). But there was also much more than a fair share of pollution in the air, on the ground, and in the water. I’m just going to talk about the pollution problem in the river now since that is where we spent most of our time in Varanasi. It was extremely concerning and was sad to see.
I absolutely love the spirituality and faith of Varanasi and in no means do I intend to undermine it with this post. I am in awe of the worship and rituals, especially surrounding water….something I feel drawn to myself. However, not coming from a Hindu background, or from India- I have loads of questions and concerns (and shock!) regarding the rituals and practices that continue happen in the very polluted Ganga water.
- According to multiple sources, Ganga is the 5th most polluted river in the world. (What the heck are the first 4 like? I can’t imagine!!)
- 80% of illnesses and 1/3 of deaths can be attributed to water borne illnesses.
- 200 million liters of untreated human sewage funnel into the river every day. As you walk by you see (and smell) the pipes emptying in. And then you see someone next to it bathing, and on the other side-washing their clothes.
- Acceptable fecal bacteria content in water (to swim in…hopefully there is NONE in your drinking water) is 500 parts per liter.
- The Ganga in Varanasi is 1,500,000 parts per liter.
Chills ran up my spine when I saw multiple men swimming, scrubbing themselves/bathing, dunking their head under the water, brushing their teeth with the river water and GARGLING it.
It wasn’t always like this; the pollution has risen exponentially over the years. Our friend, Kailash grew up in Varanasi. He told us that when he was a kid (25 years ago), their family would swim in the river for hours and they used to see dolphins every 5 minutes or so.
What?? Dolphins in the Ganges? I almost didn’t believe him. But when I asked Siri, she confirmed it was true. Now all that’s left are snakes (we saw plenty) and some fish.
Every night, during the aarti ceremony, floating candles/flower petals are lit and float in the river. It’s gorgeous!! But, it’s terrible for the river.
During cremation rituals, corpses are burned along side some of their possessions…all of this goes into the river as well. All of this on a daily basis.
So, how does this continue to happen?? What is the government doing about it? What needs to be implemented to start to change this rapidly increasing problem?? Shane and I have been researching this in our spare time and a lot of what is coming up is lack of government policy and support (sewage treatment plants, water treatment, garbage collection, education, etc)……but we still have a lot to learn. One thing we knew for sure is we would not be taking a dip in the holy river at Varanasi.