Michelle Baran is on the Bengal Ganga, cruising the Ganges River in India. Her first dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle’s first dispatch.
BARANAGAR, India — Quick, list three words that come to mind when you think of the Ganges River. Let me guess, culture, nature and serenity probably didn’t make the list.
The Ganges has a certain reputation, one that allies itself with many of the stereotypes about India in general. I don’t think many people think of the Ganges as very clean. Okay, let’s be honest, I think many people think of the Ganges as a downright filthy river, polluted, full of trash and carcasses.
Yes, it is a very brown river (a color that it derives from the soil). And there are undoubtedly areas of the Ganges, namely alongside bigger cities and towns, where you couldn’t pay me large sums of money to jump in.
But mark my words, as I write this, I am gliding past a stretch of the river where there isn’t a piece of trash in sight, the water looks pristine (I even could be tempted to take a dip in this heat), and only lush, green vegetation line the shores for as far as the eye can see.
An itinerary like the one Haimark is introducing in 2015 — which starts in Kolkata and heads north on the Ganges through West Bengal to Baranagar and back —brings travelers to these more remote and unspoiled stretches of the river.
What they will find here is that as cities are replaced by towns, which are then replaced by villages and eventually small river hamlets, the trash and pollution of urban life fade away and a simpler way of life emerges, complete with pristine landscapes, unique local culture and customs.
They will find ancient Shiva temples and Islamic Imambaras surrounded by immaculate manicured gardens sporadically dotting the shores. They will find crumbling British colonial palaces rising from the dense river foliage. And they will find bustling villages, chock full of produce stands, bicycles, livestock and shrines. They will also see a bounty of nature and wildlife, from a variety of fruit trees and plants to scores of bird species.
In short, they will encounter countless experiences that have nothing to do with the clichés they have seen or heard about the Ganges.
Is the Ganges River a dirty, polluted river? In some areas, certainly. But there are many stretches of the river where you absolutely wouldn’t know it.
Would I jump in? Maybe, as long as I get to pick the spot.
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.