From its source at Yamunotri to its merging with the Ganges at Sangham, the Yamuna is a 1400km-long river. For many years, the river has been irrigating the lands of generations of farmers as well as filling their fishing nets, being the work place of some Hindu castes and supplying water for millions of Indian people. Culturally important, the river has great significance for Hindus. According to the scriptures, the river is closely related to Krishna since the god spent most of his childhood in the historical region of Braj in Uttar Pradesh. On its river bank, cities like Vrindavan and Mathura are important sights of pilgrimage to worship the river as well as Sangam, further east, where the Yamuna joins the invisible Saraswati river and the Ganges. There are the places where devotees, pilgrims and sadhus meditate and bathe in order to purify their body, mind and senses. For some Hindus, it is a daily religious practice while for some others the act of purification is only made on special occasions like religious festivals.
In the last few decades, the water quality of the Yamuna has dramatically decreased. From its source to Gokul, the river is broken up by five barrages decreasing the river flow and lacking the river oxygenation to regenerate itself. Suffocating, the river is also suffering from a high density pollution, especially from dumping, sewage and industrial discharges. An ecological disaster that only the Indian government can solve. Known as a blue river and described as the river of love, nowadays, some Indian people does not hesitate to describe her as a dead river. Looking myself at the thick dark colour of the river at Mathura, Vrindavan, Agra and Delhi, where the river is the most contaminated, it is sadly difficult to disagree and to not be shocked about her state. All along her bank, I haven’t met an Indian person not aware of it. But life goes on. Farmers keep using the water, fishermen keep fishing, dobis keep cleaning linen, faithful pilgrims keep sipping the water and bathing, even if an increasing number of them are giving up this ancestral religious tradition and using purified water instead.
Thanks to the difficult work of some Indian NGOs focusing on environmental issues some projects are taking place along the Yamuna river bank in order to increase ecological awareness amongst the Indian population leaving a glimmer of hope. During my journey along the river, I visited two projects where both organisations collaborate and work with some villages situated along the Yamuna river in order to restore and sustain the river’s environment and educate people. From monitoring the water quality, river plant and fish life cycle, to planting vegetation on the river bank using natural fertilizer, running educational and environmental programs in schools, these are huge but promising projects to help the Yamuna river and its communities.