India’s holy Ganges begins as a crystal clear river high in the icy Himalayas but pollution and excessive usage transforms it into toxic sludge on its journey through burgeoning cities, industrial hubs and past millions of devotees.
Worshipped by a billion Hindus and a water source for 400 million, “Mother Ganga” is dying, despite decades of government efforts to save it.
Lokesh Sharma, a 19-year-old priest in Devprayag, a small hill town where two rivers converge to form the Ganges, is his family’s fourth generation to lead riverbank prayers.
“I never thought of going somewhere else and settling. Devprayag is a heaven for me. I feel blessed to be born next to Mother Ganges,” Sharma said, as chanting priests and devotees, some bottling the water, dunk themselves in the fast-flowing river.