For two whole days I walked along the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Trash littered the shores and sewage flowed into it from outfall pipes. At the cremation ghats, priests picked hip and chest bones and casually tossed them into the river. Yet every morning at dawn, worshipers flocked to the ghats of Varanasi to bathe in the muddy brown waters of the Ganges. Many immersed entirely, dunking one, two, three times. Some even scooped up vases full of the water and drank it down.
To Hindus, the Ganges River is as an embodiment of the goddess Ganga, who rinses away the sins of mankind and bestows blessings of the highest order. As such, they believe the waters of the Ganges to be pure and sacred, despite all evidence to the contrary. Several places along the Ganges are considered to be exceptionally holy, but perhaps none more so than Varanasi, where hundreds of worshipers gather on a daily basis to participate in the joyful act of bathing in the Mother Ganga. Those who are unable to make the trip often arrange for their loved ones to pour their ashes in the river after they die.