The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
The RiverBlue team began their amazing experience in India in the capital territory, Delhi. They were prepared with 23 cases of equipment and a large scale of shooting to accomplish over the course of a month. In Delhi, the team met with Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, who had great insight into the challenges facing India, most importantly, it’s water supply. The two main points the team had pinpointed for India’s role in the RiverBlue story were the tanneries of Kanpur and the festival of Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.
The Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in the sacred and holy river Ganges. It is the largest gathering of mankind anywhere in the world and only happens every 12 years in Allahabad. As predicted, 120 million people visited this event over 55 days, which is the largest number of any Kumbh in Allahabad to date. The RiverBlue team had to book their accommodations a year in advance. This religious events around Kumbh Mela are considered one of the holiest of holy days in the Hindu culture. The team was struck by the density of the crowds, with about 30 million people in an area the size of New York city.
In Allahabad the team met with Avikal Somvanshi, who is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Science and Environment. Avikal shared his perspective on the Kumbh Mela, growing up in Allahabad and having a large amount of pride for this holy gathering to occur in his hometown, but also an understanding of the pollution in the River Ganges and the aspirations to make a change in order to maintain the natural beauty of this holy river.
From Allahabad the RiverBlue team travelled to Kanpur, the heart of the tannery industry for the region. Kanpur is one of the dirtiest industrial cities the team had experienced thus far. Research prior to their visit had illustrated the industrial waste water from these industries was running directly into the Ganges, upriver from Allahabad, and the Kumbh Mela. Upon arrival in Kanpur, the team directly witnessed the waste water pollution problems in the area. Environmentalist and journalist, Rakesh Jaiswal from Eco Friends, was able to give the team a firsthand experience of the water pollution into the Ganges River and provided point/ counter-point arguments to this issue.
When asked about the Yamuna, without hesitation she told us, “the river is dead, it just has not been officially cremated.”
Overall, the team was mesmerized by their experience in India. The contrast of devout religious reverence for the River Ganges at the Kumbh Mela juxtaposed with the pollution and waste water from the tannery industry upstream was incredible. On one hand the people seem to think their water is pure and clean and has these magical, self-cleansing properties, and on the other hand, you have people like Sunita and Avikal who truly understand the devastating nature of the threats to the River Ganges and consider the river biologically dead.