I have been meaning to write up this story since pretty much the first edition of this newsletter but somehow never got round to it. So, I was 22 (relevant cos I still had that proto-adolescent brain that thinks you are invincible), travelling in India, had been there six months by this stage, was drinking the local water with no ill effects. On my way to Calcutta and Darjeeling in the north east of India I stopped off in Varanasi, one of the holiest spots on the Ganges, where many devout Hindus go to be cremated and have their ashes scattered in the river.
In 2016, the section of the Ganges flowing past Varanasi rated as one of the most polluted bodies of water on the planet. There are 33 drains along the entire length of the city’s 87 ghats, pouring an estimated 250 million litres of untreated sewage into the river daily. A 2006 study counted around 108 cells of faecal coliform per 100ml of water. Basically the river is just diluted sewage. And it wasn’t much cleaner back in the 1980s! So I certainly hadn’t planned to partake of the waters. But I was in a boat with all Indian tourists most of whom were cupping their hands into the river to sip it and who explained to me it was a very holy thing to do. They were quite insistent I should too, and after having refused a few times it just felt too rude to continue in that vein. So, with some trepidation, I too had a small sip. And was I OK afterwards? Yep absolutely I was, though I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it as a good idea and not sure if it did my karma much good.
There’s so much stuff about the Ganges on the internet but I especially liked this in-depth article about the river from its source in Gaumukh in the Himalayan foothills, along its length to its finish in the Bay of Bengal near Kolkata.