The Ganges is the holiest river of India. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India. By discharge it ranks among the world’s top 20 rivers. The Ganges basin is the most heavily populated river basin in the world, with over 400 million people and a population density of about 1,000 inhabitants per square mile.
The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus and is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism.
The Ganges was ranked among the five most polluted rivers of the world in 2007, with fecal coliform levels in the river near Varanasi more than hundred times the official Indian government limits. Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far due to corruption and lack of technical expertise, lack of good environmental planning, Indian traditions and beliefs, and lack of support from religious authorities.
During festival seasons, over 70 million people take bath in the Ganges over a few weeks to cleanse themselves from their sins. Some materials like food or leaves are left in the Ganges for ritualistic reasons. There is a huge daily inflow of flowers, religious offerings and other organic waste that ends up in the river every day.