Life and pollution on the Bagmati river bank, Kathmandu, Nepal
April 9th, 2011
I am looking over the Bagmati river, a river worshipped both by Hindus and Buddhists. It is polluted with plastic bags and rubbish slowing down its flow. It is heartless and sad to see a holy river in such a state. I am off for a walk on the Bagmati river bank. I have always been curious to know what life is like next to the Bagmati river, especially outside the Hindu site of Pashupatinath. A few hours earlier as I was looking at the Kathmandu map in my room, I decided to get to the closest point of the river on foot. I am on my own. As I am going down the river bank, I’ve got no idea what to expect. I’ve got a feeling of desolation keeping in mind this image of pollution when I was looking over the river on the bridge earlier. To be honest, I was not surprised. I knew it. This is not the first time I have seen something like this. One of its tributaries, the Bishnumati river has the same destiny. Anyway, I am aware that today, what I may see is just a small slice of the Bagmati life but I want to see a part of its reality, witness it and record it if I’ve got the chance to get some shots.
As I am walking along the river, a father is busy cleaning his children. Some shepherdesses are with their goats. A sadhu is proud to show me his amazing long dreadlocks and seems to relax looking at the flow of the sacred river. Baba Mola lives by the Bagmati river bank within a sadhu community. We don’t speak the same language. It is frustrating. There is nobody around me to translate what could be an interesting and friendly conversation. It’s a shame. I immortalize this encounter by taking two portraits.
I am now back on the river bank. The smell is sometimes strong but not unbearable. Some Nepalese women fill buckets with water. As I am entering an ancient temple to look at its architecture, there are obvious signs that some people are squatting the temple* but no one is in there right now. Near by other temples are used as warehouses to recycle plastic. I am walking towards a couple of men. One of them is busy cutting some wood with a massive axe. I want to take a picture of the environment surrounding the Bagmati including both men. I am not that sure about it and the picture is not great.
The man with the axe spotted me. He is walking toward me with no expression in his face. He makes me understand that he wants a portrait of him. He seems to be happy with it but still no expression in his face. This will be the last picture of my walk along the river.
As the sun is going down, I am heading to my hotel. I feel disconcerted and frustrated. Poverty, abandoned temples, pollution seem to be the reality of this part of the Bagmati. Although the river should be just joy, here it is just a miserable place. There is still some poetry to be found in the river bank though. It comes from the people living around, using the water, passers by or sadhus. They give the place life. Life is hope. But the hope to save this river from pollution has little chance to come from these people. It will come from the governement, the Kathmandu council with probably the help of international organisations. Very little seems to be done considering the state of some of the places. Meanwhile people still using the river as a source of water at their own risk.
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* I will be told by a Nepalese friend, that they are poor people coming from outside Kathmandu in a hope of finding jobs.