The Ganges, also known as Ganga is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. The 2,525 km (1,569 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge.
The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. It is worshipped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically, with many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Kannauj, Kampilya, Kara, Prayag or Allahabad, Kashi, Pataliputra or Patna, Hajipur, Munger, Bhagalpur, Murshidabad, Baharampur, Nabadwip, Saptagram, Kolkata and Dhaka) located on its banks.
The Ganges was ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world in 2007. Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. The levels of fecal coliform from human waste in the waters of the river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.
The Himalayan headwaters of the Ganges river in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India. The headstreams and rivers are labelled in italics; the heights of the mountains, lakes, and towns are displayed in parentheses in metres.
The main stem of the Ganges begins at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers in the town of Devprayag in the Garhwal division of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The Bhagirathi is considered to be the source in Hindu culture and mythology, although the Alaknanda is longer, and, therefore, hydrologically the source stream. The headwaters of the Alakananda are formed by snowmelt from peaks such as Nanda Devi, Trisul, and Kamet. The Bhagirathi rises at the foot of Gangotri Glacier, at Gomukh, at an elevation of 3,892 m (12,769 ft), being mythologically referred to as, residing in the matted locks of Shiva, symbolically Tapovan, being a meadow of ethereal beauty at the feet of Mount Shivling, just 5 km (3.1 mi) away.