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By: Jon Nicholson
168 pages, Col photos, maps
The Ganges River (Gang Ma or Great Mother) is the holiest river in the world. Rising from the pure glacial meltwaters of the Himalaya, it flows down onto India's Northern Plain, then heads eastwards into the swamplands of Bangladesh, finally discharging a 500-km (310-mile) tongue of red silt into the Bay of Bengal. As well as filling wells and irrigating crops to sustain the cities and villages along its banks, it is the spiritual life-blood for India's primary religion, Hinduism. Bathing in the Ganges remains the lifelong ambition of many of India's believing masses, who consider the river to be a living goddess. People gather daily at her banks to murmur prayers, baptise children, wash vibrant coloured saris, drink her waters or simply die - believing such acts help absolve sins and lead the way to Nirvana. For a Hindu, the ultimate place to die is Varanasi, the holiest city along the Ganges. Here the river transports the deceased directly to heaven, freeing them for the cycle of reincarnation.
"Ganges" reveals the source of the river high in the Himalaya - the youngest mountain range in the world - and follows its route as it sharply incises the mountains on its journey south-east. Along the way we discover the Hindu story of the river's creation - the waters had to pass through Goddess Shiva's matted hair at Gangotri to cleanse King Sagar's sons to allow them to enter heaven - and learn about the early exploration attempts by British explorers, including Robert Colebrook who travelled by riverboat up the Ganges but never managed to reach the river's source.
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