It’s hard to say how it happened and who did it. In a way it’s everybody’s fault and so nobody’s fault in particular. It just turned out that way, didn’t it, as we came to enjoy more and more of what’s good for the country – progress, development, modernisation. You underwent change, Bagmati. Used plastic bags, rusty bicycle wheels, torn magazines, and all the pollutants invisible to the naked eye, are now travelling slowly with your current or taking rest along your tainted river banks. Old folks still remember the time when people from all parts of Kathmandu would long for you during the hot-season and come down to your chill flow for a bath or prayer before work. It’s not that long ago, actually – young people in their thirties and forties still remember those days. There is no-longer quiet along your banks either. The noise from the daily traffic congestions have long since drowned the shrieks of the few herons remaining and your stink makes people turn away.
It just happened, Bagmati, and whether you will ever return to your old glamour we don’t know! You are nevertheless still in our hearts. Some name you “sewer” and many avoid you if they can, it’s true. Despite your appearance, however, you are a still the holy river to us: the receiver of our souls – the carrier of spirits and of the divine – the water that purifies us. How much more wonderful and divine it would be if only we could bring you back. There are a million reasons. Are clean rivers not associated with happy children, playing in the currents and enjoying the feeling of freedom that a day along the river bank can arouse? Or is it not priceless to see young couples strolling along as the water glitters, families having a day out under the shade of a tree, the people of Kathmandu coming for a moment of quiet and relaxation along a clean, calm river? We dream, Bagmati, not only because you are holy but also because you could mean so much to so many.
We hope, like people have hoped in so many other parts of the “modern” world, that the tides of pollution can be reversed. Indeed, you are not the only victim of progress, development and modernisation. Once upon a time, the River Thames in England, which had the ill fate of going through the old capital of industrialisation – London – was so polluted that parliament closed down because of the stink! But now it is no-longer as bad as it was in those early days. Once declared a dead river, fish and water fowl have now returned. So, even when a river is at its lowest and most dirtiest, there is still hope. Indeed, not only are you holy, Bagmati, you are also part of Nature, and we know that nothing in the world can heal itself like Nature can! We wish we could help you more at this healing process – to speed it up – and maybe one day we can. To us you are still alive: you are a river that looks like a sewer but carries the primeval force of regeneration that no human can destroy! Until then, dearest Bagmati, we apologise and pray for you, the divine river that you are.
PS: We know, this post wasn’t about local Nepal strictly speaking. But Bagmati is not just a river in Kathmandu. It forks out into the hills to the south where it merges with other rivers, its polluted water running through numerous villages. More than that, we think it’s a symbol and visible reminder of all the other waterways that are undergoing change for the worse in these times. If you want to know more about cleaning up Bagmati River and other rivers in Nepal, check out the “Friends of the Bagmati” association here. If you’d like to tell about your own local river or stream, use the comment form in the sidebar. We’d love to post it!
For a photographer’s experience along Bagmati River, see “Life and Pollution on the Bagmati river bank“.