I have always found India fascinating and intriguing. I have always been curious about it, even now when I have lived and worked here. I feel drawn to India in a way I can’t understand. There is just something so extreme and addictive about India and it has changed and transformed me profoundly over the last few years.

Paradoxes and contradictions, that is something you will find and see everywhere in India, in every corner of life. One thing that really intrigues me is religion.

“India is a country in which every great religion finds a home.”
__ Annie Besant

Hinduism is the biggest religion in India. And every Hindu knows the Mother River Ganga Named after a goddess, the river is considered sacred and is believed to hold the power of washing away your sins and setting you free from the cycle of life and death. Every Hindu wishes to bath in the Ganges water at least once and many wish to be cremated and their ashes released into the Ganges.

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Along the Ganges river
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People washing, swimming, bathing, etc. in the river

I visited the famous Varanasi and of course did a boat ride along the Ganges river. From the perspective of a traveler, it was mind-blowing. In this holy city, there seems to be a temple/ashram on every street corner, and everyone is a faithful believer. And it was so amazing to observe people’s way of life and how religion influences them.

From the perspective of a development worker, hmmm, not so good. The river is so polluted, bluntly speaking. Along the river, there are lots of trash floating around. Many tourist boats use fuel engines, not only polluting the water but also emitting toxic gasses. Cremation and religious rituals happen on the bank of the river which also contributes to air pollution. Not to mention many people use wood for fire, which means cutting down trees. I was talking to my boat rider and he said cremation service is a lot more expensive now because people have to transport wood from other cities.

Yet, life goes on, which is something I just love (but also hate) about India. Despite the obvious pollution and all, along with the riverside, people take bath, brush their teeth, wash their clothes like there is nothing wrong with it. During my boat ride, I even saw some dogs swimming around and some dead animals floating.

However, having written all that, I also know that the Ganges is more than 2,500 km long and it is not this polluted across all 2,500 km. Many parts of the river are clean and water pure. I once asked an Indian, why mother Ganges is so sacred with Hindus and they are supposed to keep it clean yet people pollute it so much. He said it is sacred but many people also rely on the river. It is true, the lives of millions of people rely on the Ganges. Not only does it provide living water, agricultural water, fishes, but many people also make a living through tourism, transportation, etc. on the river.

I left Varanasi and the Mother Ganges with an inexplicable feeling. I will remember how peaceful it felt to ride the boat on the immense river catching the sunrise, while hustle bustle life went on around me. The Mother River Ganges left me confused and puzzled with questions of life and death, of human and nature, of religion and belief.

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Posted by:Hanh Lam

I am a young Vietnamese woman with a passion for development work and social change, a desire to explore the world and a love for storytelling.

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