• August 4, 2014

Chasing the Sacred: Down the Ganges From Snow to Sea

Pete McBride

In northern India, there is a river with over a hundred names. It starts in the Garhwal Himalaya and drops over 14,000 feet from the terminus of the Gangotri Glacier before marching some 1,550 miles to the Bay of Bengal. For nearly a billion Hindus in India and beyond, it is more than a river. It is the extension of the divine—Lord Shiva. Not only does it transport the prayers of believers visiting its waters, but it also provides sustenance for hundreds of millions of people, vast industry, agriculture, and endangered wildlife like the Bengal tiger and the susu, a blind freshwater dolphin. For Indians it is most commonly known as Ma Ganga—Mother Ganga. For Westerners, it is the Ganges, one of the most sacred of the world’s rivers.

Picture of Dave Morton and Jake Norton navigating a crevasse in the Indian HImalaya
Dave Morton and Jake Norton navigate crevasses and three feet of fresh snow above 16,000 feet on Gangotri Glacier.

The idea was simple. Follow the holy waters of this river source to sea. Climb to the top of the Ganges watershed and follow its flow through the Himalaya, across the Gangetic plain and through the delta to where it kisses the ocean. It would be the classic, age-old river trip down India’s lifeline—a window into the country’s culture, religion, industry, birth, ritual, and love, even death. The goal would be to document the river and the world around it and even measure water quality en route.

Picture of the Bhagarathi River, India
Winding through the Himalaya, the Bhagarathi River, a source river of the Ganges, winds through the terraced hills and communities of Utterkashi in northern India. Last summer, this region was ravaged by floods due to a glacial outburst that killed over 6,000 people.

Having visited the Ganges years before on another assignment for National Geographic, I knew just enough about this world through which the river flowed to realize an important thing: A source-to-sea mission, on paper, is simple. Doing it would be daunting. The mind-boggling logistics involved in any source-to-sea mission are troublesome. In India, they can be perplexing. Communication near remote headwaters is limited or nonexistent. The permit process can suffocate you in bureaucratic paperwork and take six months to a year. It took nine months to initiate the process of hiring a helicopter for a scouting/filming flight. The actual trip would last six weeks.

Picture of a map of India and the Ganges River
  Maggie Smith, NG Staff

As a visual storyteller, I knew that finding photographic gems and video jewels amid the swarm of beauty, rawness, and messy vitality that makes up India’s tapestry of life would inevitably create a quandary: where and when do you point the lens?

Picture of a street in Rishikesh, India
In the holy city of Rishikesh, upstream from Hardiwar, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world come to visit the Ganges and give offerings. Shops line the streets with spiritual items and colorful toys that captivate a boy’s attention.

Although the Ganges is far from my home and heritage, I grew up on the banks of another famed waterway—the mighty Colorado. Five years ago I followed that river source to sea—by boat, by plane, by foot—to document its beauty and challenges (it no longer reaches the sea). In the process, I learned something obvious to me now but surprising at the time: Few grasp the importance of watersheds and rivers or think of them beyond their own backyard. I, of course, was one of them. I had little awareness of the importance of a river, especially the Colorado, until I chased its waters. Perhaps our Ganges journey could ignite a spark of interest.

Picture of rituals along the Ganges River
In Haridwar, Hindus come to the banks of the holy Ganges daily to perform aarti rituals with song, flames, and prayer.

Our first challenge beyond the logistical minefield of permits, communication, and transportation would be capturing the passion and reverence people exhibit for their beloved waterway, which drains the southern Himalaya. Everyone from pilgrims and politicians to socialites and sadhus flock to the river’s banks to pray, bathe, or merely admire its power. Many rivers worldwide often go unnoticed except for hydroelectric operators and a few recreationalists (boaters and fishermen). But in India, the public embraces the Ganges with open arms. And they do it by praying on the river’s banks daily throughout the entire watershed. In the holy cities of Rishikesh, Haridwar, and Varanasi, formal prayer services with music, fire, and speeches occur every day. They are called aarti—some call it the “Hindu happy hour.”

Picture of people crossing the Yamuna River
People cross a makeshift pier on the Yamuna River, the largest tributary of the Ganges. Overall, the Ganges supports over 400 million people.

This collective, spiritual hug by the hundreds of millions using the river, however, comes with costs. Pollution and a lack of environmental awareness are visibly notable across much of the watershed. And in many areas, the challenges are compounded by a simple mindset flowing through the same people that revere its sacred flow: The river is God, thus it is all powerful and immune to the threats of overuse, contamination, and environmental degradation. In short, people believe the curative powers of the Ganges will not only heal us, but also itself. It is an illogical environmental conundrum—the Ganges paradox, if you will.

Picture of a fisherman on the Ganges River
Below the Ganga Barrage at Kanpur, fishermen test their luck. Fishing is a rare sight through much of the Ganges since Hindus, the religious majority, are vegetarian and don’t allow fishing in many stretches.

For me, this paradox sparks a question: If the physical river dies, what happens to the spiritual power?

Many Indians I asked brush away the question suggesting the Ganges can’t die, but admit they are concerned about pollution. One woman who has lived on the Ganges’ shores for 18 years boldly stated, “If the Ganges dies, we all die. Society dies.” My friend and translator for the trip, Madhav, a Hindu monk who grew up traveling the river, says, “After years of cleaning our sins, now it is time to clean the sins placed upon Ma Ganga.” It appears many agree. India’s new prime minister, Narenda Modi, won the recent election on a platform that included cleaning the Ganges. Earlier in July his administration proposed a 340 million dollar budget to do just that, fueling hope across India.

Picture of garbage along the waterfront in Varanasi, India
In India’s oldest city, Varanasi, infrastructure for garbage and sewage is insufficient. The Indian government has recently promised three million dollars to clean up Varanasi’s waterfront.

In exploring every possible mile of the Ganges, we hoped to better understand the Ganges paradox, maybe even find answers. Joined by professional climbers Jake Norton and Dave Morton we too embraced Ma Ganga, day and night. Madhav would join us downstream as a translator/ guide. Our intended starting point for the journey would be the unclimbed, 22,487-foot Chaukhamba IV summit towering above the Gangotri Glacier like a watchful sentinel.

While questions of this river’s health raced through our minds, I fretted about the miles of hurdles ahead. Could we gain access to the big aarti service in Haridwar? Could we film in the tanneries of Kanpur? How do you capture Varanasi’s crumbling beauty? Would we even make the end at Sagar Island? Could we stay healthy?

Picture of a child on the beach with a pack of dogs on Sagar Island, India
At Sagar Island, the Ganges connects with the sea at the Bay of Bengal. Considered a holy place of worship, people come to give offerings and prayers. A pack of stray dogs await a handout.

Arriving in August 2013 on the heels of a record monsoon that triggered a glacial outburst flood, our first river lesson presented itself: The Ganges gives and takes away. Over 6,000 people died, and thousands more were reported missing. Miles of roads were washed out and complete hillsides scoured naked. Entire villages were swept into oblivion. The communities we traveled through mourned with stoic resilience. And as we plodded north, I wondered if walking eight days beyond civilization to attempt an unclimbed peak was prudent. The river gods—Hindu and otherwise—appeared far from happy.

Nonetheless, we pushed on. Our snow/water samples might add to the story of this challenged, sacred watershed. And documenting the many that live, survive, revere, and even revile this majestic body of water might help unveil some answers to a paradox that plagues it. If nothing else, we would add a chapter to the evolving story of a river called Ma—Mother.

To see more videos, images, and posts about this 45-day journey tracking every mile down the sacred Ganges—by foot, boat, bike, aircraft, rickshaw, bus, train, and even elephant—follow National Geographic’s Proof all week. Next: High in the Himalaya, 36 Avalanches and a Silent Refuge.

The Ganges River expedition was made possible with funding from Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council, Ambuja Cement India, and Hach Hyrdolab. The full expedition team includes photographer and videographer Pete McBride, videographers and professional climbers Jake Norton and Dave Morton, and second camera Ashley Mosher.

There are 130 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Esteban Perales
    August 31, 2016

    It’s incredible how the people of India, still hold strong traditions. The river is sacred, all healing and the gate way to spirituality. Money people relay on the river for most of their needs, yet fail to keep it contamination free. The absence of conservation consciousness is only there because they believe in the magical power of the river and it will eventually heal its self. .

  2. sade
    July 28, 2016

    that’s just sad

  3. Eugene
    June 5, 2016

    Interesting that just lately I found out about Colorado river that never reaches the gulf of California due to overusing it by people. I guess it could be a good example how humans can destroy a river. Even Ganges is much bigger it faces the same challenges. India and Bangladesh population is still growing fast. The River simply can’t keep up with it. Sad but besides much needed money people need to change their minds adding to pollution and knowingly destroying the river by their belief that it can handle damage easily

  4. Victoria Sibelu
    June 4, 2016

    Very interesting article. I do find the paradox quite fascinating. I have never thought about the idea that each step of the process, people are potentially killing the river from the source to the ocean. People believe so strongly that the river is God and yet each year spend several days throwing trash and debris into the waters that provide them life. Very fascinating and intriguing. Thank you for your article.

  5. Dr. Chandrika Sankaran
    April 27, 2016

    I enjoyed reading the article. I was reminded of my trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh. Excellent photos. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Rakeshva Maharaj
    January 22, 2015

    Perhaps representations ought to be made by National Geographic Magazine to Prime Minister Modi on the issue of cleaning up the River Ganga. Afterall he said he would allocate millions of dollars to begin work on a clean-up project for the river.

  7. sanjay rathi
    January 20, 2015


    • arun kottur
      January 22, 2015

      why all existing/future politicians/businessmen/religious people not coming forward to clean GANGA

  8. Tavis Eddy
    October 16, 2014

    Great stuff Pete. I really like how you captured and shared ‘the paradox’. Let’s see if Modi comes through on his word.

    • arun kottur
      October 17, 2014

      Hon Modigi please make public -the information given in Supreme Court

  9. arun kottur
    September 30, 2014

    Those who oppose the clean GANGA
    come forward openly..

  10. Suman Mundkur
    September 29, 2014

    I loved this article and amazing photos. This reminded me of the time when I was about 10 or 12 yrs old, somewhere between 1976-1979, we were staying in Allahabad or Prayag, where river Ganga and river Yamuna join. At that time my father who was in the Army, had met the great Edmund Hilary. Edmund Hilary was on an expedition from Bay of Bengal to Gangotri by boat, if I recollect correctly. It was a huge moment for all of us…we even have a small black and white photo of Edmund Hilary when he reached Allahabad. That expedition was not successfully completed. I think they abandoned it somewhere near Haridwar.

  11. leta rosetree
    September 24, 2014

    Ma Ganga has been my teacher from 1999 – My capacity to love is bounded by limitations I create…

    • arun kottur
      September 25, 2014

      In the supreme court GOVT of INDIA pleaded for 18 years
      Hope they are sincere

  12. Samar Saha
    September 21, 2014

    Nice work.

  13. Peter McBride
    September 9, 2014

    Again – thanks all for the thoughtful comments and stories. I hope to continue documenting the river and plan to finish a film about it by 2015. If interested, you can find info about it soon on: http://www.petemcbride.com

  14. Reeti Sarma Sweetman
    August 31, 2014

    I had only just read a book that described the efforts of people who strove to find the origins of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus (A mountain in Tibet – by Charles Allen) and then chanced to read your superbly written article and pictures that said it all. Reading the article and seeing your fascinating pictures, I too journeyd with you down the Ganges. Many many thanks for such a spiritual experience. A really well balanced view of fascinating article which underlines that for far too long we Indians have messed up our living Godess and what we need to do to clean up Ma Ganga. Thank you Mr Narendra Modi. May you be able to suceed where others have failed. To the brave and gifted team who enabled us to see the truth all I can say is Ma Ganga’s blessings be upon you for such an illuminating piece of truth.

  15. Elizabeth Hott
    August 30, 2014

    Having visited India in 2012 and actually been on the Ganges in Varanasi (placing marigolds on the water at dawn) I loved seeing all the pictures. India is a truly an amazing place, which stays with you – the people, the colors, the food, the aromas etc. In Jaipur within 100 yards I saw camels, elephants, monkeys, wedding horses, cows and wild pigs! India is unforgettable and it warms my heart to remember my visit.

  16. rajma
    August 28, 2014

    The river has been a part of my formative years. It’s vast expanse was before me where I saw the numerous fishing boats and ships sail across. Sometimes I gazed in wonder at the small fishes darting across the water; the numerous crabs of all shapes and sizes amble along the muddy shores leaving behind small footprints; snakes that swam in its muddy grey waters; and the bottle nosed dolphins that just rolled over suddenly-one moment there, the next gone- as the waters closed up, calm and serene, and only the small eddy of a whirlpool remained. The numerous fishing boats remained tethered haphazardly on her shores, their fishing nets adorning her seams like the trimmings of a lace, the huge ships leaving behind the small boats dancing on their wakes. I have seen some of the most beautiful sunsets on the horizon , the sky filled with myriad colors, as if God had embarked on a painting project and the colors on the pallette changed with every stroke of the brush. I have watched the effluents from the industries muddy its waters, the stench overwhelming, pushing it towards its death slowly. Calm and serene mostly, dark , passionate and frothing in tumult, she has showered me with peace, tranquility, passion and above all, love. I keep going back to her in all my waking hours, she is like the Mother, the giver and the carer, forever with me.
    Thank you for the beautiful journey.

    • Carlos
      August 28, 2014

      Thanks for your words Rajma.

  17. Noel
    August 25, 2014

    Your photos are amazing. They made me register for a tour. Thank you for fantastic visuals!

  18. Peter McBride
    August 25, 2014

    Thank you all very much for you kind words and thoughtful comments. Ann I would love to hear your students responses. To see more of our journey, see the following Proof blogs. It was an amazing journey—one that I feel very grateful to have experienced.

    August 24, 2014


  20. Chris
    August 23, 2014

    a very.. interesting .. article to say the least.. though i’m not a Hindu we should ALL look to cleaning the Ganges River as one of the historic projects of our time .. if only to find a path to sustainable development and the preservation of the river for those who live there as well as those who call it holy

  21. Remi de Souza
    August 23, 2014

    Commendable documentation! Thanks for sharing!!

  22. annie swann
    August 22, 2014

    In 1989 I saw a dead body floating down the Ganges at Patna, Bihar, India, and realized what the sacred river means to the people there. It was distressing at first, but then comforting, as it was clear that the body was just a shell of a greater consciousness.

  23. Laura Plumb
    August 21, 2014

    Thank you, Pedro. You are a gift to our world.

  24. Rebecca
    August 21, 2014

    Thanks for sharing your journey. I hope the sacred river can get the help it deserves. My prayer is that we wake up all over sacred mother earth to the destruction humans are doing. Namaste!

  25. Sreehari
    August 20, 2014

    Simply great …no words …hope the government will take actions to clean the mighty Ganga …also need to work on nature awareness …

  26. ma. victoria t. calibara
    August 20, 2014

    Simply awesome and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  27. Carlos MacLean
    August 20, 2014

    Carlos Prado: ¿Cambodia y Vietnam son “islas”?. Shure?.

  28. darimont jacques
    August 20, 2014

    Très bon reportage qui soulève beaucoup de réflexions et questions…! J’en retiens que la majorité de la population n’est pas prête du tout pour la civilisation occidentale….Trop de religion ..! Il va falloir encore beaucoup de temps et d’éducation. Place aux jeunes !!!

  29. liliana
    August 20, 2014

    Gracias! For sharing this journey! Beautifully done!!

  30. Roy Masis
    August 19, 2014

    Realmente excelente vídeo, las imágenes y descripción de lo que significa el río Ganges para los Indues, hace dos años tuve la oportunidad de conocer y compartir su cultura y su gastronomía y estar en Veranase observando os rituales que ellos hace en el río su río sagrado.

  31. carlos prado
    August 19, 2014

    concuerdo con que sería interesante seguir los ríos que nacen en el Himalaya….. pero cambodia y Vietnam son islas y no tienen nada que ver con el Himalaya.

  32. Nishant
    August 19, 2014

    The question that will Ganga die,and along with it the Hindu culture offers yet another chance to dig deeper in the Hindu scriptures. Sages explain that in height of kaliyug or dark ages it only river Narmada which will is blessed to survive and along with it the Indian civilization at seed scale. The contemporary question is how long human effort as expressed in Narendra Modi’s zeal can delay the prophetic fate of a devine river?

  33. bhawana somaaya
    August 19, 2014

    outstanding, you can feel the energy and the ambience

  34. Rakeshva Maharaj
    August 19, 2014

    Thank you for your article and the pictures therein. Here’s a little story which I would like to share….
    Whilst a student of Bangalore University in 1973, I was walking down Brigade Road, in Bangalore one day, when I bought a copy of a National Geographic (Reference Vol.140, No.4, October 1971) from a street vendor selling books, papers and magazines on the pavement.
    The main feature in the magazine was titled “India’s River of Faith, The Ganges” by John J Putman, photography by Raghubir Singh.
    I was especially moved by the beautiful photos, especially of a photo in the article of the late Swami Sharadananda, a Hindu asectic, who for 14 years had lived in a cave at Gangotri, a days walk from the source of Ma Ganga.
    Swamiji was photographed lifting water toward the sun in a Hindu ritual signifying “purity of body and soul”.
    I immediately made up my mind that after completing my university studies and before I returned to my home in the Fiji Islands in the far South Pacific Ocean,I would make a pilgrimage to Gangotri as well as to try and meet Swamji if at all he was still there.
    To cut a long story short, I eventually did reach Gangotri..way back in 1973..and was blessed to finally meet Swami Shradananda at Gangotri.
    After a brief discourse he invited me to stay with him in his little ashram, which I did for almost two weeks.
    I also trekked all the way to the source of Ma Ganga at Gowmukh during my stay there.
    Swamji was a true Vedic Rishi. I learnt all that I could grasp from Swami Shradananda’s lectures and about his days living on the banks of the Ganga and the very important spiritual role Ma Ganga has in the life of not only every Hindu but also every human being!
    “Decrying materialism, he finds spiritual calm in meditation. He reveals his troubles to the river, he says, “like a child sitting in my mother’s lap.. Mother Ganges always answers” (Swami Sharadananda, NGM Vol.140,No.4 October 1971).
    Though today I am many thousands of miles away, and Swamiji, now departed, his teachings have never been forgotten and will forever remain within.. as does the ever-flowing sound of Ma Ganga.
    The photos that I had taken in the 1970’s during my trek to Gowmukh, Gangotri and of all the other places downstream are still very much treasured and revered today!
    So this little story was just a flash back, reminiscent of that time.. thanks to your recent article on the Ganga.
    Lets all hope and chant our mantras so that the powers that be clean Ma Ganga .. our sacred river.

    August 18, 2014

    Kudos to the ‘westerner’ who came up with such an aesthetically, culturally, scientifically and environmentally significant topic. The Herculean efforts have indeed payed off, the set of photographs emerge as self-explanatory portraits of how blind faith, overuse, superstitions and little environmental concern can sully such a pure natural resource. 400 million lives, that’s it!! Human society has reaped off benefits from the womb of Mother Earth, but we still do not possess any steady plan for actual sustainable development. The decadence in overall human society is represented through the set of photographs. We hardly think of a tomorrow, let alone a better one. We have taken the plunge into calling ourselves civilized, but we have actually embarked upon an endless journey of depleting the planet of the last ounce of its resources. The picture documentary has once again inspired many people to be responsible citizens. Thank you!

  36. Khalid Ahmed
    August 18, 2014

    I m from Pakistan we have the same land scap of gorges and ice but its so bad to see the level of polution here.

  37. Francisco de Leon
    August 18, 2014

    Wonderful pictures, but we leave outside sannyasin’s meeting on Wesak’s night. Thank you for share this material I keep forever. Best wishes for you

  38. Carlos MacLean
    August 18, 2014

    Muy buena nota periodistica. Excelentes fotos. Siguiendo esa lìnea , una nota interesante sería ver el origen de los ríos que salen del Himalaya hacia varios países: China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, India, etc., y cómo ha afectado el cambio climático a los glaciares .

  39. B.P.Maiti
    August 18, 2014

    A ritual done to portray a degenerated called Ganga-a holy river,an immortal name even to those breathing last.It an ethos to comprehend -not by scientific aids.

  40. Dave
    August 18, 2014

    I would love to see and hear of community cleanups on the river; HOLY and otherwise. Nice story

  41. V. Balasubramanian
    August 18, 2014

    What a treat. This piece will add o the educational resources for kids in schools. Education of children on our heritage and environment is the only hope to instill the environmental awareness to save our natural resources to save ourselves. Thanks.

  42. arun kottur
    August 18, 2014

    Hon Narendra Modia in election manifesto assured clean Ganga.Supreme court is also interested in knowing GOVT plan.Common man like me continue to spectator.

  43. P. S. Seshadri
    August 18, 2014

    I will be following this journey very keenly since I have been to only Rishikesh and Hardwar when the river has already reached the plains

  44. Arjun Singh Chouhan
    August 18, 2014

    Wonderful article… I’d like to comment upon a question that you’ve asked in your article, Ïf physical river dies what happens to the siritual river?… according to our scriptures the Ganga descended upon the earth for a limited period (about 5,000 years) …. once that is over the Ganga would go back to her heavenly abode… which essentially means that the soul of the river will not be there anymore… what would remain probably be only its physical residue…it appears that has either happened or is about to happen …
    Like the Ganga in the north there is another mughty river that flows through the plains of central India… which is as revered and life line for as many lives around it as is the Ganga and that river is the Narmada… it is one of the very few rivers that flow from east to the west… the majority flow either from the north to south or west to east… the Narmada originates from Amarakantak in the east and meets the Arabian sea in the west

  45. Prof.AALN SARMA
    August 18, 2014

    Highly Informative.

  46. Neenu
    August 18, 2014

    A very well written article. Yes, if the river dies it would be a huge blow to all Hindus. It is not merely a river but “mother” to us.

  47. Mohindra Chadha
    August 18, 2014

    Very nice and expressive pictures. The new government under Mr. Modi as P.M. has launched upon a Herculean task of cleaning up the river Ganges. Wish him success in this daunting task!!
    What is required is to respect cleanliness as a part of a cultural trait.

  48. Thigambaram Chinniah
    August 18, 2014

    Don’t worry guys Lord Siva will clean the Ganga Ma very soon

  49. nana
    August 18, 2014

    I liked these highly professional, beautiful pictures. It is a great ancient country and Indian people are generous and friendly . I visited India in the late 1990s I think that it is one of the most wonderful and interesting countries in the world! I would be delighted to see articles and photos of this kind again! Thank you!

  50. Dr.M. A. Haque
    August 18, 2014

    Ganga is polluted day in and day out. There have been various schemes and projects to clean Ganga. But all of them failed on account of corruption. Entire money was ‘eaten’ by politicians, contractors, engineers, bureaucrats. Most of the time the politicians or their family members turned contractors to make money unlimited. On the one hand people say Ganga is sacred. They will fold their hands and say Namste to Ganga. On the other hand they loot the funds meant for Ganga. What a contradiction and hypocrisy.

  51. Ravindra Rahulkar
    August 18, 2014

    Wonderful journey and information,beautiful images,Great efforts,thanks for sharing…

    August 18, 2014

    The extraordinary video & photos,appreciate the efforts of entire team for highlighting the present status of our Ma Ganga.We are ashamed of playing with environment for past so many decades.It also shows the toughest task ahead of Govt. NGOs & local administration to conduct awareness programs o the people & Pollution control boards along with local administration to take stern action against the industries /businesses who are polluting Ma Ganga, unfortunately in our country very rarely people bother about our National interest.I remember the story of a Hen laying gold egg in this regards.Let every one of us decide to keep our surroundings clean & environment friendly which will save crores of rupees in future.It is not correct to expect all corrective actions from govt. only otherwise our future is very bad.

  53. kate Moss
    August 18, 2014

    great article

  54. Ros Lindley
    August 18, 2014

    Having spent much time in India, and the longest of them at RamGhulam, Rishikesh – these series of photographs depict a true essence of Mother Ganga.. thank you for a wondrous trip down my personal spiritual lane.

  55. Ted Bowles
    August 18, 2014

    nice river. The only problem is the people that treat it as a tip. Holy? don’t make me laugh. Religion poisons EVERYTHING.

    • arun kottur
      August 18, 2014

      In the past Hon Rajiv Gandhi tried to clean Ganga without success.Let us hope Hon Narendra Modi will make it

  56. Arvind
    August 17, 2014

    An eternal journey from heavens to earth!

  57. Viswanathan Seshadri
    August 17, 2014

    A very good article. Let us Indians start cleanse Ganga in earnest.

  58. Gauravmies
    August 17, 2014

    Yes, it looks dirty as it is a live River where millions survive for their livelyhood; it needs regular maintenance just like our back yard pool.It is a matter of cleaning the two shores of the vibrant water flow…..regarding the sanctity & importance of this river, one has to be an Indian, a devout Hindu may be…..

  59. K. Nagu
    August 17, 2014

    An amazing journey which can transform the innerself. Thanks for this.

  60. Smriti
    August 17, 2014

    Thank you for the beautiful pictures and amazing video…your experience and the recount have helped share and explain some of the problems this sacred river of India faces with my children in an educational and thought provoking manner. We look forward to reading about the entire journey.

  61. Ann Coletta Doyle
    August 17, 2014

    I am teaching in Shanghai. My students find a particular fascination with the Ganges River when we study India in Western Asia. Words cannot express my admiration and gratitude for this exceptional picture
    story and commentary on the “whole” Ganges. I will send you feed back from my students.

  62. jay esprit
    August 17, 2014

    Unless the leaders in the socio-economic, political, religious and cultural fabric of India and other third world countries whose major rivers are becoming more and more polluted, and pull in their resources in reviving ecologically their rivers, the life of million human beings and the planet earth is threatened and survival becomes the main preoccupation of the poor and powerless.

  63. Mark Spiegel
    August 17, 2014

    For all you oh so clever trolls who don’t believe a river can be sacred or holy and denigrate those who do, if you are not Hindu and have never been there shut up! You don’t know what you are talking about.

  64. Susana Carrillo
    August 17, 2014

    Great article!

  65. Michele Hensley
    August 17, 2014

    Obviously, many commenters who criticize the pollution of the Ganges didn’t read the entire article. They must have missed the statement that, since the Ganges is holy, it cannot be tarnished by pollution of any type.

    August 17, 2014

    deberían tratar de limpiar el rio ganges espero que el nuevo Ministro Narendra Modi cumpla con lo que ha prometido. limpiar el Ganges.

  67. Verity
    August 17, 2014

    Having been to India I understand the importance of the Ganga to the people of India. However, for the river to be ” cleaned” the attitudes of the people will need to change. The level of pollution throughout India is extreme. Change will take time. Can the Ganga survive that long?

  68. lesincanada
    August 17, 2014

    How “sacred” can it be, if they’re only too willing to crap it up like that? Sort of equivalent to relieving oneself on a church altar.

    August 17, 2014


  70. Dr.sumita
    August 17, 2014

    I hail from Allahabad the city of the “sangam” the confluence of the Ganga,Yamuna, and saraswathy.
    I don’t live there anymore , but I visit every year. Nothing else embodies the Indian ethos mor than the Ganges. While all over the worked rivers , lakes forests and parks have been converted to national monuments and heritage , the Ganges is struggling to stay alive and breathe among the people of this country .
    The state of the river reflects the land it courses through . The most populated, uneducated and politically corrupt regions of the country. How then can the river ave itself …??
    Wishing the modi government all the best .

  71. Jim Buck
    August 17, 2014

    What a tragedy that Hindus come to a polluted river to worship. I pray that they will find salvation in Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

  72. JESUSJAY, the spiritual journalist
    August 17, 2014

    Congratulations to the team and producers of this extraordinary article, the video is truly spectacular and the images wow!, well….It’s National Geographic! …..a comment about cleaning the earth and its waters, if the river is God, if the river is Holy, if we come from the water, why are we so unconscious that we are trashing the earth disrespecting GOD– the Greatest Omnipresent Divinity– who showered us with blessings and gave us a wonderful planet that we so blatantly have destroyed?

    “DO NOT throw trash on the Earth that gave you birth.”TSJ

  73. Arash
    August 17, 2014

    به نظرم اين فقط يك رودخانه نيست در مسير اين رود رخدادهاي اجتماعي فرهنكي فراواني مثل تجمع مردم، دعا كردن و درخواست از خدا، قرباني كردن همه دارايي و ….. راشاهد هستيم كه به بركت وجود اين رودخانه است. از توجه خوب عكاس و عكس هاي خوبش متشكرم.

  74. Dick Hepworth
    August 17, 2014

    The river is sacred, Ganga sits on the head of Shiva and the waters flow down his tangled hair to the sea. Three mighty river originate from the same area, Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra. Many other rivers are sacred, although many of us that are not indigenous don’t realize it. Nice article want to see it all

  75. A. O’tayo Lalude, MD
    August 17, 2014

    Excellent piece. In addition to educating me about Ma Ganga and its importance in Indian life, it gave me a thrill that therapeutically buoyed my mind. Thank you for knowledge transfer to all readers and me.

  76. Robert Evans
    August 17, 2014

    Early in the picture set I was very impresses with the beauty and power of the Rivers flow. Man has disrupted this for his own benefit causing the river to loose the natural protection to keep it healthy, Sacred or not man should be ashamed of themselves for not protecting the river more. I do not blame just the great peoples of India. All over the World Man has and continues doing the same thing to it’s rivers and Oceans. When are we going to smarten up and start caring about our World, it’s streams, rivers, lakes.oceans and all the creatures living in them. WE SHOULD ALL BE ASHAMED AS SOON IT WILL BE TO LATE.

  77. MrsB
    August 17, 2014

    Wow! What a story. It’s amazing what endurance other people are subjected to and it makes me so grateful to live where I do. Payers go out to the many displaced familes in that remote corner of the world.

  78. Francis Pereira
    August 17, 2014

    A beautiful attempt to introduce the complexities of the relationship between a billion Indians and their most sacred river.

  79. Aline Dobbie
    August 17, 2014

    I grew up in India sometimes living very close to Ganga and I adore that sacred river; I have been high up at Rishikesh and Hardwar, then at Unchagaon, then Varanasi, Monghyr in my youth and down at Kolkata on the Hoogly. It is huge heartening that PM Modie is determined to clean up Ganga – the Ganges and not before time. This beautiful life giving river must return to her beauty and by doing that India will signal her maturity as a nation..also the Yamuna another sacred river. I also love the Narmada which is clean and beautiful.

  80. Victor Ramautar
    August 17, 2014

    Your story is as refreshing as the first time I visited India years ago, sailed along the Holy Ganga in Varanasi and took my first mouthful of cold water from the river. Refreshing indeed. Beautifully documented. Thanks

  81. Rohan Das
    August 17, 2014

    I learnd from a show on nat geo that scientist have found radon in ganga so water of ganga are free from many germs and microbes. Even in older timer i.e. during the time of Rabindranath Tagore, people used to store Ganga water for drinking directly !! Its the only river in earth with radon in its water. And for this peculiar property of being free of germ, we Indians consider Ganga as our Ma – Mother.

  82. Jocelyne Aird-Bélanger
    August 17, 2014

    Beautiful pictures…
    What about the ST-Lawrence River- more and more polluted between 2 very advanced countries….???????

  83. Shashi Kassen
    August 17, 2014

    This journey is daunting but adventurous.Going on a Yatra (pilgrimage) to the Ganges is symbolic of going back to our source .Thanks for an insightful description of a (spiritual) sojourn. Shashi.Johannesburg,South Aftrica.

  84. Sujata
    August 17, 2014

    Hindus are not vegetarian. Just the Hindu Brahmins in some parts of the country are. We, for example, are Bengali Hindus numbering several hundred millions and we adore eating fish !

  85. Ana Flores
    August 17, 2014

    Loved this story, and the photos .Didn’t know much about this Sacred beautiful river, hope it gets cleaned up, as well as other waterways in need of conservation!

  86. Syed Zafrul Hafiz
    August 17, 2014

    The sacred Ganges is really becoming polluted because of our carelessness as well as the governments apathy.To clean it needs big budget as well as people’s awareness.

  87. ML Kristian
    August 17, 2014

    Thank you–wonderful story. I have great hopes in restoration of the Ganges. I spent some time in Dharavi and if the massive recycling that they do, did not exist it would be horrific pollution all over Mumbai. They do it there…they will find the way for this..

  88. Michael Grant
    August 17, 2014

    I look forward to buying the book and/or video, and I hope a portion of the proceeds will go towards fighting the pollution. We’ve been to India and witnessed the astonishing contrasts between filth and beauty first-hand — this talented team captured it with clarity and eloquence. Let’s hope it makes an impact.

  89. Suraj Prakash Singh
    August 17, 2014

    Though I have visited Ganga several times at several points this photo article took me as if it is my newest and biggest journey along the holy river. Heartiest thank to Mr. Pete Mcbride and others who made it possible.

  90. Omer Zeki
    August 17, 2014

    The Ganga may be polluted but it represents an enormous slice of the life around it. Beautiful story and images, irrespective of the content. I just wish that the video did not consist of 1-2 second snapshots. In a more relaxed shape and more relaxed editing, this video would be up there with Baraka in its beauty and splendor.

    Thanks for a great piece of art and story-telling.

  91. David Murton
    August 17, 2014

    A timely gift. I am currently sharing with friends a story of the Ganges from The Teaching Company. This is a perfect supplement to the geologic story.

  92. Anna Grace Foster
    August 17, 2014

    I do think that many (most?) westerners have trouble understanding India. I lived there with my young children and husband, teaching at the University of Rajasthan. We loved it, even with all its uncomfortable life. The rivers are veins of the country. Difficult for clean-frantic Americans to understand. We were healthier that year than usual.

  93. Lynne Hazlip
    August 17, 2014

    A beautiful pictorial essay. Thank you!

  94. Dr, M.A. Siddique
    August 17, 2014

    While going through Peter McBride’s article on Down the Ganges From Snow to Sea, I was feeling like traveling from Haridwar to Sagar Island. The picture showing 3 ft of fresh snow above 16,000 ft, and the picture of Bhagarathi river – a source river of the Ganges are amazing. I invite the attention of Peter Mc Bride to cover the other down-stream of Ganges going through Bangladesh both during the rainy and winter seasons.

  95. Daniel
    August 17, 2014

    What it’s so special with this river Holy is unacceptable.

  96. maziel
    August 17, 2014

    If they can clean up NY Harbor enough for whales, dolphins and harbor seals to return – humanity can clean up the Ganges! Start w/a recycling program.

  97. Jacques Lafortune
    August 17, 2014

    I have seen this geat river as well as the thousands who live by its shores, bathe in it, pray to it. One of the many reasons why one would want to visit India, a fantastic country. This photo essay is beautiful and inspiring. Congratulations to all who have made it possible.

  98. Taher Yamani
    August 17, 2014

    It is excellent and eyeopening,Sacred rever who cleanes our sins, what we have done to her?

  99. Dipanjan Mitra
    August 17, 2014

    It is amazing how in the name of religion and religious beliefs, this amazing river is being polluted hopelessly. That is so clearly evident when one goes to the pilgrim sites through which the Ganges flows. These sites all are “religious business hubs”, now.

  100. Noel
    August 17, 2014

    India’s people may learn ‘now is the time to heal the sins placed upon Ma Ganga’ with $ from international patrons. Average education 2nd grade reading level and rampant poverty hold back solutions. I love India and visit with some tourist company every year. A wondrous place and I can’t get enough. Thank you for your intrepid PROOF odyssey – I can’t wait to read every entry!

  101. bharath natarajan
    August 17, 2014

    A beautiful journey .

  102. Ruby Crowe
    August 16, 2014

    that is very beautiful pic .

  103. Rashid Khan
    August 15, 2014

    Beautiful pictures of magnificent and mighty river Ganga running across the breadth of India, covering more than 2500 km. Once the cleanest and fastest flowing river, has now turned into one of the most polluted rivers on the planet earth because of massive damming and diversion of its natural flow in upper reaches thereby reducing its flow drastically on one hand, and enormous discharge of wastewater and garbage at major urban center on the other hand. The river has enormous Hindu religious significance and important ritual are being carried out almost throughout the year, specially at Varanasi, which has further deteriorated its quality. All attempts over last three decades to clean it and restore its original physico-chemical and biological characteristics have miserably failed. Again now the new government has again embarked upon a massive plan to clean it but as long as its natural flow is not restored and sufficient amount of water round the year is not made available, the situation will remain grim. Once sufficient water is made available, it will automatically take care of pollution load downstream as per well known principle of pollution science “solution of riverine pollution lies in dilution”. This appears to be remotest possibility, under the present socio-economic situation. Scientifically, there is not much hope of its ecological restoration. Let us pray for a miracle

  104. Soumen Ganguly
    August 15, 2014

    India is the one of the oldest civilizations of millions and Ma Ganga as we call her is the core of Indians and is the lifeline. Naturally it cleanses so much of darts one can ever think living in a lessly populated European or in American countries.Ganges will flow with the spirit of the Indians. Jai Ho.

  105. Lim Shi Yee
    August 9, 2014

    Absolutely wonderful pictures! Thanks for putting in so much effort in sharing with us all these interesting and educational experiences. Keep up the great job!

  106. Fawaz Ereksousi
    August 8, 2014

    Very nice Pic , Thank You very much

  107. Sperello
    August 7, 2014

    Nice enterprise! It would have been even nicer, if it had cited the fact that most sacred rivers in the area, including Indus and Tsang-Po/Brahmaputra, originate from Mount Kailash (see the map in http://www.arcetri.astro.it/~sperello/KailashRiversMap.jpg ).
    In fact, also the Karnali/Gogra, a main tributary of the Ganges, comes from Kailash.

  108. kaustav
    August 6, 2014

    though ‘ganga ‘ river is unhealthy , the river is holy and it will remain so .

    August 6, 2014

    It was a crystal clear understanding of river Ganga as the waters of Ganga at its source… Beautifully written and captured images of Ganges..

  110. D Kelly
    August 5, 2014

    Went on a Ganga river trip in the early 90’s with Snow Leopard Adventures, rafting the Baghi & the Ganga. By far the most terrifying part of the trip was the drive through the Himalyan foothills to the put in. Fabulously beautiful, peaceful, & serene trip. Unfortunately, was also sicker than a dog near the end of the trip and then again on the flight home. Anti-amoeba meds took care of the first one, so thought I was home free and packed the antibiotics….mistake, big mistake! Keep both handy until you get home!

  111. Renae Yellowhorse
    August 5, 2014

    After this river journey, would you consider a return to the Colorado, specifically to the Confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers in the Grand Canyon… there is a threat to this sacred area by a proposed gondala tram and tourist trap at the East Rim of the Grand Canyon on the ancestral lands of the Dine` (Navajo) ….. see more at http://www.savetheconfluence.com

  112. Dawn Beasley
    August 5, 2014

    What luck that I should find you on the first day of the journey! Wait a moment while I put on my boots to join you 🙂

  113. Kalpagopal
    August 5, 2014

    It definitely needs cleaning up! Life line of India!

  114. Azhar Panni
    August 5, 2014

    Many water flows are just rivers but Ganges is much more. A history, religion, faith, life and death of course in its might . Great job done for educating all the rest. Thank you.

  115. valsa k p karunan
    August 5, 2014

    Salute your dedication to this very challenging mission. Truly appreciate your effort. Thank You!

  116. Haili Li
    August 5, 2014

    The heavy pollution of the River Ma Ganga rings bell. It comes from so pure and so clean from the source and washes people’s sin, eases people’s needs and takes peoples’s desire all the way down. Maybe it will die. So it’s great to have it documented. Beautiful!

  117. Martha Campbell
    August 5, 2014

    Beautiful imagery of the power this arterial watershed holds for such a poor yet vibrant country. I am curious to see the follow through this new administration has in restoring its health. It will take systemic infrastructure changes in India, which to date the country’s leadership has traditionally neglected.

  118. Chris Fletcher
    August 5, 2014

    Absolutely beautiful images and words. It already feels like a great adventure as well as important undertaking. Can’t wait for see this story unfold.

  119. Sandhya Naik
    August 5, 2014

    Beautiful. Hope to see Ganga clean and sacred again. Great effort on your part.

  120. charles larsen
    August 5, 2014

    When in India I was surprised at the high level of pollution. It will take hundreds of millions and education/attitude to change.

  121. Glenn Johnson
    August 5, 2014

    It’s a great experience that people will not be able to view and feel for them selves. Thank You

  122. Ananda Malalatunga
    August 5, 2014

    Greatest Sacred River in the Planet.Happy that many programes are on the card to clean the river down Kanpur and especially Varanasi .and to introduce a Boat Service for Tourism.Excellent idea if they do it early.

  123. Aditi Wadia
    August 4, 2014

    Challenges and charisma.. what a paradox. Thanks for sharing beautiful photographs. All the best for such expeditions.

  124. J. Edwards
    August 4, 2014

    What a nice educational piece and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing experiences many would never be able to see. Although it came with challenges it must have been a pleasure.

  125. Cinne Worthington
    August 4, 2014

    Really beautiful!

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