Done by Binaj Gurubacharya
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – On a mountain in the Himalayas, the original drops from the mouth of a tiger statue installed on a stream thought to be the headwaters of the Bagmati River, revered for its power to purify the soul. From there it flows downhill through lush forests and merges with other waterways, irrigating fields for rice, vegetables and other crops that provide livelihoods for many Nepalis.
But as the Bagmati reaches the valley of the capital Kathmandu, its color changes from clear to brown and then black, choked with debris, the contents of which are undrinkable and even unfit for cleaning. During the dry season, a strong stench permeates the area from the coast.
Stained with garbage and raw sewage, dumped directly into the waterway, Nepal’s most sacred river has been so degraded that today it is also the country’s most polluted, dramatically changing how the city of nearly 3 million people interacts with the Bagmati on a daily, cultural and spiritual basis. level
In the capital, Bagmati silt washes away from several sacred sites, including the Pashupatinath Temple, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The sprawling complex has a gold-roofed main temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, surrounded by hundreds of smaller temples. of
Along the banks of the river in Kathmandu, Hindus throng to worship shrines and celebrate festivals. Women take a dip in the river to wash away their sins during Rishipanchami, a day of worship to the seven sages, wise beings who have guided humanity through the ages. Tourists also walk during the Chhath festival by praying to Sun God Surya. During Teej, married women come to pray for the health and prosperity of their husbands and unmarried women come to seek good fortune.
Families have taken the bodies of dead loved ones to this shore to wash their feet on stone slabs and splash their faces with river water. Beliefs hold that it washes away a person’s sins and sends their soul to heaven before their physical remains are cremated on a pile of wood, by a river, and their ashes are scattered in water.
People still bring deceased loved ones to Bagmati, but many no longer dare to approach its contents. While the bodies are still being cremated, they are purified with pure water bought from a nearby store.
“That is no more. The water is very dirty and smelly. People are forced to bring bottled water and perform rituals,” 59-year-old Mithu Lama, who has been working with her husband at the Teku Ghat crematorium since she married him at the age of 15, said recently as she stacks. Wood for cremation.
Grieving families who resort to bottled water for failing to follow holy burial traditions are generally loathe to discuss it openly.
People traditionally collect river water to sprinkle over their houses to purify it. The river is also important to Buddhists, many of whom cremate their bodies on the banks of the Bagmati.
Lamas who were born and raised near Bagmati remember using its water for cooking, bathing, washing and even drinking. Decades of dumping human waste and garbage makes it seem like a long-ago dream today, and she doesn’t expect to see it again anytime soon.
“I now have serious doubts whether it will be cleared in my lifetime,” Lama said. “It is not that there have been no efforts, there have been many clean-up campaigns, but there are more people who pollute. People are the problem. “
Indeed, efforts have been made by both private volunteers and the government to clean the river. Among those activities, every Saturday for the past seven years, hundreds of volunteers have been gathering in Kathmandu to pick up garbage and clear garbage from Bagmati.
There almost every weekend is Mala Kharel, executive member of the government’s high-powered committee for integrated development of Bagmati culture, which was set up to help clean the river. She devotes her time not only to cleaning duties but also to create awareness among people about pollution prevention.
Kharel said the campaign has managed to collect about 80% of the garbage from the riverbanks over the years, from rotting animals to, shockingly, the bodies of dead children dumped there. But frequent interruptions in waste collection services encourage more dumping than they can sustain, making waste collection efforts less complete.
In addition, many thousands of people have illegally built huts, shacks and brick houses along the river and refuse to leave.
Regarding sewage, according to Kharel, the committee is working on several projects including constructing canals and pipes, paralleling the river, connecting sewer lines and preventing their waste from reaching Bagmati. It is also considering a treatment plant, and is working on upstream dams where rainwater can be captured and stored during the monsoons and released into the river during the dry months, moving waste downstream from Kathmandu.
Pipe and canal work began around 2013, but a completion date has not been announced. Two dams are under construction – but completed – while another is in the process of being commissioned. But campaigners have high hopes for the near term.
“In the next 10 years, I hope the river flows clean and the banks are clean and full of trees,” Kharel said. “We are working hard towards this goal.”
This optimism is not shared by everyone. Some environmentalists aren’t convinced that dams, for example, will help much.
“There are a lot of expectations from these dams. The Bagmati is a natural river and not a canal that can be cleaned so easily,” said Madhukar Upadhya, a watershed expert who has closely studied the river and its bed is no longer sandy.
Instead, today it is made of clay and mixed with chemicals dumped by industrial activities such as hand-woven carpet makers, popular in the 1990s but now banned in the capital.
“It has already suffered so much damage,” Upadhya said, “maybe it can be cleaned up to some extent but its past glory cannot be regained.”
Hindu priest Pandit Shivhari Subedi, who has spent three decades performing rituals for devotees on the stone steps between the Bagmati and Pashupatinath temples, sees a similar bleak view of the various cleanliness drives he has witnessed. He believes that divine intervention is necessary.
“A lot of promises have been made by political leaders and seniors, but they have not been fulfilled. …It seems that the glory of Bagmati will not return unless the gods perform some miracle,” Subedi said. “To clean the water naturally, by God’s grace, a great flood of dirty running water is necessary.”
Associated Press religion coverage is supported by funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc., in association with AP’s The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.