Blue Planet Expedition: Alexandra Cousteau’s Study of Water Issues Around the River Ganges in India

This is the the second post in a six post series that follows Alexandra Cousteau’s Blue Planet Expedition, a 100 day journey to 5 continents to study the interconnectivity of water.

River Ganges at Varanasi (Source:
River Ganges at Varanasi (Source:

Cousteau started her journey in India, upon the banks of the holy river Ganges (aka Ganga). The Hindus refer to the river as “Gange Mata,” (the Mother Ganges), as for them it is the embodiment of the Mother Goddess. Cousteau’s purpose was to investigate the impact of climate change, pollution, population growth, a proposed superhighway, and other critical factors on India’s holiest river. Never having been to India before, she was amazed to witness first-hand, the confluence between water and religion.

“The Hindu people consider the river to be a living goddess. They pray to it everyday because it purifies the soul and gives good karma. This river is not just a source of water but an opportunity for Hindus to practice their faith.”

Alexandra could not believe how a single water body could literally bind together the lives of 1.2 billion people. The river is a living testament to one of the oldest religions on the planet. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit the river every day to as they believe that bathing in it will purify them of their sins.

But everyone in India has their own agenda when it comes to this sacred water body. With the Himalayan glaciers melting faster than any other in a few years, this river could turn into a seasonal stream very soon. It is a source of contention for India’s spiritual leaders, community members and activists alike. The prospect of a seasonal river Ganges is very scary. It could negatively impact agriculture, deepen the food crisis, and become yet another massive source of conflict for India’s Hindu community.

Watch this video that chronicles Cousteau’s stop at Varanasi, an ancient Hindu pligrmage town on the River Ganges, and her impactful discussion with Holy leader and activist, Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra of the Sankat Mochan Foundation.


But further upstream, Cousteau was shocked to find the same holy river used as a dumping ground for toxic tanneries in the city of Kanpur. The Ganges at Kanpur is under threat. It is a dirty receptacle for industrial and city wastewater. Environmentalists often cite Kanpur, one of the most polluted cities in the world, as living proof of the Indian government’s failure to clean up the river.

According to Cousteau’s blog,

“The Ganges here is unrecognizable as a nation’s great provider and Hindu goddess. Water bubbles along the shore, thick black like liquid asphalt and stinking of sewage. 20 million liters of toxic effluent consisting of skin rash, stomach ulcer, and cancer-generating chromium along with other heavy metals and dyes pour into the river from nearby tanneries every day.”

Watch this video which chronicles Cousteau’s discussion with Rakesh Jaiswal, an environmental scientist and the founder of Eco-Friends, a non-profit organization.


Written by Reenita Malhotra

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