LIFE-GIVING MONSOON RAINS FALL ON THE TERRACED RICE PADDIES OF SOUTHEASTERN NEPAL, HIGH IN THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS. IN THE BACKGROUND IS THE KOSI RIVER.
TODAY SAND SWIRLS around the eroded columns and crumbling walls
of Leptis Magna, east of Tripoli on the coast of Libya. Beyond the ruins
lies wasteland-all that remains of one of ancient Rome's most important
supply ports. Two thousand years ago, Leptis Magna was a busy market
and shipping center, with elegant homes and public buildings. Water,
provided by masterful engineers, helped to give life to the thriving city.
Leptis Magna's water supply, however, failed to survive the city's de-
cline. Vandals and Berbers sacked the port in the Fifth and Sixth Cen-
turies, and the apathetic citizens allowed the harbor to fill with silt.
Aqueducts, reservoirs, baths and fountains gradually decayed. Its water-
works gone, Leptis Magna became a forgotten city.
Grander societies than that of Leptis Magna have waxed and waned
with the successes and failures of their water engineers. Without access
to and some degree of control over water, human life at its simplest and
its most complex would be impossible. The record of man's response to
that fact constitutes much of the history of civilization.
From the beginning, water has furnished man with a source of food
and a highway to travel upon. The first civilizations arose where water
was a dominant element in the environment, a challenge to man's in-
genuity. The Egyptians invented the 365-day calendar in response to
the Nile's annual flooding. The Babylonians, among the most famous
lawmakers of antiquity, devised edicts regulating water usage. Water
inspired the Chinese to build a 1,000-mile canal, a complex system that,
after nearly 2,500 years, is still partly in use and still commands the awe
of engineers. But the ancients never found complete solutions to their
water problems. The Hwang Ho, or Yellow River, is also known as
"China's Sorrow"-it is so erratic and dangerous that in a single flood it
has caused a million deaths. Floods harassed the great civilization of the
Indus River valley, and inadequate drainage ruined much of its land. To-
day water dominates man as it always has. Its presence continues to
govern the locations of his homes and cities; its tempestuous variability
can kill him or his herds or his crops; its routes link him to his fellows; its
immense value may add to already dangerous political frictions-for ex-
ample, between the Arab states and Israel, and India and Pakistan in
our own time.
The first attempts to master water-supply problems began during the
Neolithic, or New Stone Age, when men learned to plant crops and set-
tled the valleys of at least four great and widely separated river systems
-the Nile of Egypt, the Tigris-Euphrates of Mesopotamia, the Indus of
northern India and the Hwang Ho, or Yellow River, of China. Each gave
birth to a mighty civilization.
"Egypt," said Herodotus, "is the gift of the Nile," and the, statement
is as true today as it was when the Greek historian uttered it 2,400 years
ago. In late June, with clockwork regularity, the lower Nile, swollen by
the tropical rains and melting mountain snows of its upper reaches, be-
gins to rise. By late September, the whole of its floodplain is a lake of
turbid water. Then, as the waters slowly recede, shrinking back into the
main channel by late October, they spread a rich residue of silt across
the plain. Toward the end of the Fourth Millennium B.C., the Egyptians
had turned their primitive hydraulic-engineering skills to making the
most of the river's generally benign floods; simple canals, dikes and res-
ervoirs helped them husband water and increase their crops.
Menes, legendary founder of the First Dynasty of kings, was famous
for the vast hydraulic works he built in the area of Memphis, his capital,
around 3100 B.C. Under later pharaohs, Menes' systems were extended
until Egyptian waterworks, mainly canals for irrigation and swamp
drainage, became a marvel of the early world.
Not all of the Egyptians' projects succeeded. The oldest known dam
was built between 2700 and 2500 B.C. across a normally dry wadi, or
stream bed, a few miles below Helwan. Its bulk was truly impressive-
370 feet across the top, nearly 270 feet thick and 37 feet high. But the
dam's designer had disastrously underestimated the power of the water
that would one day surge against his immense structure. When, after
heavy rains, a rushing torrent filled the wadi, the dam washed out.
More spectacular than this failure was a success scored by Egypt's
engineers early in the Second Millennium B.C. With dikes and canals,
they so regulated the inflow of water from the Nile to Lake Moeris in
the desert west of Memphis that the lake became a great reservoir. It
stored a portion of the river's overflow for use in irrigating the lush and
fertile district known as the Faiyum.
The twin rivers of Mesopotamia
Even before Egyptian civilization arose out of the jungle-swamps of
the Nile delta, Mesopotamian civilization had emerged from the delta
marshes of the Tigris and Euphrates in what is today Iraq. But the water
problems confronting the Mesopotamians were more difficult to solve
than those of the Egyptians, for the floods of the Tigris and Euphrates,
unlike the regular Nile floods, were unpredictable and variable.
Mesopotamians were concerned not only with flood control and irri-
gation but also with urban water supply and the creation of water high-
ways for boats and barges. They developed a system of canals, dikes,
reservoirs and simple dams that was probably much more complex than
the Egyptians'. As early as 3000 B.C., every major Mesopotamian city
was the center of a canal network reaching to the outermost limits of
the city's authority, and sometimes beyond.
Along the upper reaches of the twin rivers, home of the warlike Assyr-
ians who dominated much of the Near East in the First Millennium
B.C., Mesopotamian engineers encountered a new difficulty-that of
bringing water from distant mountains to supplement the supplies of
their large cities. One of their canals, some 30 miles long, was built
around 700 B.C. by the Assyrian King Sennacherib to supply fresh water
to his capital of Nineveh. Part of its channel crossed a wide gully on one
of the earliest great aqueducts of antiquity: it has been estimated that
two million stone blocks went into its construction.
The most famous man-made waterway in ancient Mesopotamia was
the 400-foot-wide Nahrwan Canal, used chiefly for irrigation. It paralleled
the Tigris for more than 200 miles, from a point between the towns of
Tikrit and Samarra to a little above Kut. Even by modern standards it
was an impressive feat of hydraulic engineering, involving precise con-
trol of gradients over great distances and also the flow of river water
into the dug channel, which may have been accomplished by means of
Life along the Indus
Fifteen hundred miles eastward, a third great river civilization de-
veloped about 2500 B.C. It was geographically larger and, in some re-
spects, more advanced technologically than those of either Egypt or
Mesopotamia. Called the Harappan civilization after one of its cities
unearthed by archeologists, it flourished in the 1,000-mile-long, flood-
washed Indus River valley that stretches from the Himalayas to the
Arabian Sea. The 50 or so known sites, found mostly along the Indus
and its tributaries, indicate that the Harappans depended upon the
river primarily for irrigation but also for communication and trade.
All traces of the ancient Indus Valley irrigation systems have vanished,
but such systems were probably as extensive and sophisticated as those
of Mesopotamia. In addition, around Harappan cities-especially at the
site of Mohenjo-Daro, 200 miles north of Karachi in West Pakistan-
building foundations, dikes and drains have been excavated. From the
frequency with which they seem to have been rebuilt, it is obvious that
the Indus flooded them repeatedly.
Mohenjo-Daro was a mighty capital indeed, and some of its hydraulic
achievements rival those of American cities today. For example, many
private houses were two stories high and had bathrooms, and the house
drains were connected with covered sewers that ran along the streets to
join trunk lines emptying into cesspools.
The history of the fourth great river-nurtured civilization-that of
the Hwang Ho of northern China-is comparatively obscure. The people
who began to settle the lower plains of the river valley around 5000 B.C.
met difficulties even greater than those faced by pioneers in the deltas
of the Indus, Tigris-Euphrates and Nile. Besides having to drain and
clear large marshes and forest-swamps, they had to cope with a far more
unruly river and a severe climate.
THE GARDENS OF NINEVEH, in the
Seventh Century B.C. Assyrian capital, had to
get their water from mountain streams many
miles away, even though the Tigris River ran
right past the city. The river's flow was too
uneven, so the ruler, Sennacherib, ordered the
construction of an extensive system of canals
and aqueducts to carry water from the
mountains. A wall sculpture from an imperial
palace (below) depicts a portion of the gardens.
planted with fruit trees, herbs, vines and flowers
-all flourishing on the transported water.
CHINA'S GRAND CANAL served for nearly
2,000 years as that country's principal
north-south trade route, and also as a vacation
route for emperors, who lined the waterway
with ornate palaces and plantings. Begun in the
Sixth Century B.C., the Grand Canal-like
China's Great Wall-took centuries to complete
and millions of people were employed in
building it. The Canal's primary function was
to link northern political centers with the
rich farmlands of the south, but it was also
used to control floods and to irrigate the land.
The Hwang Ho's mood changes from placid calm to violent rage, and
for months each year the river is unnavigable, either frozen solid or
clogged with floating ice in its lower reaches. Yet the Chinese laced its
inhospitable valley with canals for communication and agriculture.
The Greeks, whose civilization flourished long after those of Egypt
and Asia, left few conspicuous monuments of their hydraulic genius. The
Romans, on the other hand, scattered throughout their vast empire
grandiose works for supplying water to their cities. "If we take into care-
ful consideration the abundant supplies of water in [Rome's] public
buildings, baths, pools, open channels, private houses, gardens and
country estates near the city," wrote Pliny the Elder, the great Roman
naturalist of the First Century A.D., "if we consider the distances trav-
ersed by the water before it arrives, the raising of arches, the tunneling
of mountains and the building of level routes across deep valleys, we
shall readily admit that there has never been anything more remarkable
in the whole world." Remarkable indeed these waterworks were-over
truly imperial aqueducts they brought into Rome some 200 million gal-
lons of water daily. This water was then distributed throughout the
city by a complex system of lead pipes and stone and brick conduits.
Three of ancient Rome's 11 aqueducts continue in use today as part of
that city's water system. The impressive remains of others stand in every
Mediterranean land as testimony to Rome's hydraulic mastery. One,
for example, built in Spain during the Second Century A.D., is almost
perfectly preserved. On tiers of arches rising to a dizzying 90 feet or more
above the street, it strides like some many-legged monster across the
city of Segovia.
The four great civilizations spawned by rivers depended upon water
not only to irrigate crops, but also for trade and communication-with
their own towns and cities via rivers and canals and, by way of the sea,
with foreign lands. Water served to nurture and unify civilization, and
to spread it as well.
The master canal-builders
One of the most far-flung and intricate canal systems of antiquity
was developed by the Chinese. Nearly all of China's rivers flow from
west to east, and most of them were joined by a network of north-south
waterways. The Grand Canal, running southward from Peking to Hang-
chow on the Tsientang River, is about a thousand miles long-the longest
waterway built by the ancients. It was begun in the Sixth Century B.C.
and has been restored to partial use today.
In Egypt canals supplemented the Nile as arteries of travel and
trade. A celebrated canal connected the Nile with the upper end of the
Red Sea, speeding communication between Egypt and countries of west-
ern Asia. Probably first thrust through the desert about 600 B.C., it was
repaired and rebuilt several times, once in 512 B.C. by a conqueror of
Egypt-Persia's Darius the Great-after which it continued to be used
for the next 1,300 years. When it was in full use, this huge ditch was
said to be wide enough to accommodate two galleys rowed side by side.
As early as the Third Millennium B.C., Egyptian ships were sailing
to the Syrian and East African coasts, and Mesopotamians were coasting
Asia to the mouth of the Indus and possibly beyond. In succeeding cen-
turies, merchant vessels launched by Cretans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Ro-
mans and others plied the ocean routes. Down through medieval times,
goods from the East reached Europe largely by sea; within Europe com-
merce was supported by rivers and canals. But with the coming of the
Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th Centuries, waterborne traffic
-particularly on canals-suddenly multiplied. Factories, mills and foun-
dries demanded ever-increasing amounts of fuels and raw materials,
much of which could be supplied only via waterways.
Waterways of industry
In England, focal point of the rising industrial civilization, a great
boom in canal-building began about 1760, when James Brindley, who
became the leading hydraulic engineer of his day, built one seven miles
long to deliver coal from mines at Worsley to the textile-manufactur-
ing town of Manchester. Later, in the 1790s, a "canal mania" swept Eng-
land, Scotland and Ireland, and by 1830 canals in the British Isles totaled
more than 3,000 miles. Canals were being increasingly built to service
America's mushrooming industries by the beginning of the 19th Century.
The most famous of them, the Erie-built between 1817 and 1825 and
now part of the New York State Barge Canal, giving access to industries
of the Great Lakes-stretched over 350 miles of New York State, from
Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie.
Although the rise of the railroads led to a decline in the use of water-
ways, recently that trend has reversed. Shipping by water has always
been cheaper than by rail. And the great postwar expansion of indus-
try in Europe and America has led to a rebirth of inland waterways as
principal routes of commerce.
In Europe many industrial centers are repairing their old canals and
building new ones. One will be a new link between the Rhone River and
the Rhine, bisecting the continent to allow water traffic between the
North Sea and the Mediterranean. Other canals will eventually join most
of the major cities in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and
The United States has 25,600 miles of commercially navigable rivers,
canals and intracoastal waterways and, like Europe, is expanding and
improving them. In 1963, for example, river barges for the first time in
history hauled more Midwestern grain to ports than the railroads. Vast
areas of the nation are now connected by inland waterways. The shel-
tered Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway reaches 1,300 miles, from New
York to Florida. Through the Mississippi and its tributaries unbroken
passage is possible from Pittsburgh west to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and
from Minneapolis south to the Gulf of Mexico. The St. Lawrence Seaway,
shared by the United States and Canada, permits large vessels to pene-
FROM HANGCHOW TO PEKING, the Grand
Canal once stretched 1,000 miles across the
eastern alluvial plains of China, often utilizing
rivers along its course. It was about 100
feet wide at the narrowest point and at its peak
carried more than two million tons of grain per
year, in large wooden vessels. Since the
turn of the century, many sections have fallen
into disrepair and are now impassable (dotted
line). Recently some of the old Canal has
been restored-channels dredged and new
locks installed-and some 680 miles are now
reported navigable during part of the year.
trate the continent from the Atlantic to ports on the Great Lakes, a
distance of more than 2,000 miles. The barges and towboats churning
these waterways are less picturesque but far more practical than their
19th Century horse-drawn counterparts. Equipped with powerful diesel
engines, a modern towboat (which pushes rather than pulls its tow) can
handle a string of barges longer than the liner Queen Mary.
The water that fosters civilization can also disrupt it. Too much or
too little in an inconvenient place or at an inconvenient time can destroy
cities, ruin crops or annihilate populations. Floods, droughts, tidal waves,
blizzards and torrential rains, switching riverbeds, rising or falling wa-
ter tables have ever harassed mankind.
The menace of the river
Of all of nature's rampages, floods are especially destructive because
people most often happen to be in the way. Almost all rivers have
flooded at one time or another, but few have wrought so much havoc as
the Hwang Ho. At least as early as the Eighth Century B.C. the Chinese
were raising dikes to confine the shifting lower river in its channel. When
the dikes gave way, as they have hundreds of times in the past 3,000
years, the damage was appalling.
The Mississippi, mightiest waterway in the United States, sometimes
rises to spread a turbid, debris-littered lake over miles of countryside.
As recently as 1965 it overflowed its banks to submerge 90,000 acres of
cropland in Illinois alone. Thousands of acres more in Missouri, Iowa,
Wisconsin and Minnesota disappeared under a muddy sea. More than
40,000 people were driven from their homes as the waters inched up to
windowsills and even to rooftops. By the time the river subsided, it
had done damage totaling some $200 million.
The great flood that inundates a plain rises gradually. Far more dra-
matic, and much more violent, is the sudden flood that surges through a
mountain valley or a desert gully. Its coming is usually heralded by a
short but heavy burst of rain. This is swiftly followed by the menacing
sound of the flood rushing down the mountainside. Behind a faint dust
cloud, a brown horizontal line takes shape upstream and approaches like
a great rug unrolling. It advances as fast as a man can run, plowing before
it a foam-flecked wave laden with sticks, brush, trees and fence posts. A
second, smaller roaring wave may follow, and sometimes a third. The
whole episode may be over in half an hour.
Such flash floods usually occur only in smaller streams, but they can
cause dreadful damage and loss of life. In 1903, a cloudburst turned Ore-
gon's Willow Creek into a torrent that struck the town of Heppner with
a wall of water 20 feet high. In less than an hour, nearly a third of Hepp-
ner's buildings were washed away and more than 200 people drowned.
Floods are natural to all rivers. A river's channel, though carved by
the river itself, cannot cope with all of the increased flow caused by
exceptionally heavy storms and by great spring thaws. Some water
must spill over-usually onto the floodplain bordering the river channel.
Since man persists in settling and farming this floodable land-it is
usually excellent farmland-he is asking for trouble. The advantages he
obtains he must pay for either as flood losses or as the cost of works to
protect him from the river. These costs total about a billion dollars a
year in the United States alone.
Complete control of floods, like complete control of the weather, is
beyond man's ability, but their havoc can be curbed. The simplest,
most economical and most effective way is to restrict occupation and
use of the floodplain; this method has never been given an adequate
trial because effective zoning restriction must be applied prior to rather
than after urbanization. Flood damage is not easy to visualize until
after it has occurred. Another way, and the one most commonly used,
is to decrease a river's flood peaks by holding excess water temporarily
in storage reservoirs. A third method is to confine floodwaters to the
river's channel by levees, dikes or floodwalls.
Rarely are all flood-control techniques applied to any one river basin.
But in some areas a combination of them has worked successfully.
For example, in 1915 the county of Los Angeles, long at the mercy of
rain-swollen waters from nearby rivers, decided to fight back with a co-
ordinated campaign. Today its vast bulwark against flooding-nearly
completed at a cost of close to $600 million-protects an area of some
325,000 acres. The system includes 14 detention reservoirs in the Los
Angeles and San Gabriel River basins, 60 dams in the mountains to trap
debris that would-otherwise wash down to clog rivers and raise flood
levels, and six major flood-control dams.
The threat of 300-mph waves
Although river floods are the most widespread water disasters that
menace mankind, there are others equally deadly-notably hurricane
floods (high tides reinforced by high winds) and waves caused by seismic
jolts or shifting of the ocean's floor. These last-also known by their
Japanese name, tsunami-are probably the most destructive forces of all.
On April 1, 1946, tsunamis created by an undersea convulsion near the
Aleutians raced southward at speeds up to 300 miles an hour and smashed
without warning into the Hawaiian Islands. One towering wave after an-
other tore away houses, ripped up concrete piers, hurled boats into the
treetops. Damage totaled $25 million; 173 people lost their lives.
Since then, seismographic warning stations have been set up at stra-
tegic points around the Pacific. Their delicate instruments quickly pin-
point an earthshock of tsunami potential so that endangered areas can
be evacuated before the waves strike.
Over the millennia, water has enabled man to irrigate his crops, raise
great civilizations, spread his cultures and commerce over the face of
the earth. But water also remains one of nature's greatest levelers of man
and his works. Advancing science and technology sometimes help to
minimize the hazards of rampaging water-yet, even today, man remains
essentially at the mercy of this capricious element.
8 12 16 20 24
HOW FLOODS BEHAVE depends on how
fast a river can get rid of its excess water.
In the graph above, a flood crest is shown
subsiding quickly as a river spills over onto its
floodplain. By contrast, the diagram below
illustrates a flood wave passing two towns
at practically the same elevation along
the steep-walled channel of Nebraska's North
Platte River, which at this point is not bordered
by an effective floodplain. In this case, after
traveling about 28 miles in 15 hours the flood
has lost very little of its original impact.
JUNE 1, 1935 JUNE2 JUNE3
a Great River
The Ganga River (known as the Ganges before India's inde-
pendence) presents a profile common to all great rivers as it
pours down from its fountainhead in the Himalayas, mean-
ders across hundreds of miles of flat plains, and dumps vast
amounts of silt into a delta. It expends its energy in ways
that affect millions of people. In remote mountains too rug-
ged for roads, it cuts gorges that make travel possible (for
example, they are the only route between India and Nepal).
Near cities it serves both as a sewer and a source of drinking
water. On plains, its floodwaters spread fertile soil without
which crops could not flourish.
But a river's influence on a nation goes beyond the ef-
fects of water or silt. Distinctive cultures have taken shape
along such rivers as the Mississippi, the Nile and the Gan-
ga. Hindus consider the Ganga's water holy: multitudes of
pilgrims bathe in it to wash away their sins; others climb
the breathless heights of the Himalayas to visit the sacred
headwaters. In commerce, in agriculture, in religion, the
Ganga, like every great river, exerts a profound influence
on the land and on the people who dwell along its banks.
A RIVER'S GROWTH
The icy waters of the Ganga rush down a deep large tributaries and hundreds of smaller streams
Himalayan gorge about 25 miles downstream flowing through similar mountain gorges. The
from the river's source in Gangotri Glacier. Along waters which feed the Ganga are gathered over
its first 160 miles, the Ganga is joined by several a total watershed area of 376,000 square miles.
:3; ~ -.~: 'Il~~~-G
THE GANGA'S FOUNTAINHEAD
At the cave called the Cow's Mouth, 12,960
feet above sea level, pilgrims bathe in the Gan-
ga. The river emerges from the bottom of the
ice wall at left. Among the hazards pilgrims face
here are the boulders lodged atop the glacier,
which often tumble down without warning.
A TEMPLE ON THE TORRENT
Gangotri, a temple 15 miles below the Cow's
Mouth, is surrounded by boulders disgorged by
the glacier and washed down by the river (be-
low). About 20,000 pilgrims get this far every
year, but the trek on to the Cow's Mouth is
so grueling that only about 200 try it annually.
of the Ganga
Most rivers are fed by rain, springs
or lakes; some, like the Ganga, origi-
nate in glaciers. High in the Hima-
layas near the Tibetan frontier is
Gangotri Glacier. Far up on the gla-
cier's face, snow melts in the sum-
mer sun and seeps down into deep
fissures in the ice. Rivulets merge
into a torrent that burrows beneath
the glacier through an eerie labyrinth
of hidden cracks and crevices. The
Ganga finally bursts into the open as
a gushing river through the wall of
an ice cave called Gaumukh, a Hindu
word that means "the Cow's Mouth."
Gangotri Glacier stretches through
16 miles of valley, winding between
high Himalayan peaks. At the Cow's
Mouth, 12,960 feet above sea level,
the glacier is about half a mile wide.
Over the last million years the glacier
has receded about 29 miles-it once
terminated at a point only 8,200 feet
above sea level. Survey parties have
tried to ascend the glacier countless
times. Almost all have been driven
back, however, by avalanches, storms,
and impassable crevices in the ice.
RIVERS WITH A COMMON ORIGIN
Three great Himalayan rivers originate within
150 miles of one another, as shown on the
map above. One, the Indus, flows westward
toward the Arabian Sea. The other two, the
Ganga and Brahmaputra. taking separate paths,
finally empty into the Bay of Bengal through
the same broad delta. The course of the Ganga
and its various tributaries is shown in the de-
tail map at left. One tributary, the Jamuna,
also has its headwaters close to the Ganga's.
for Dam Builders
The snowcapped Himalayas, highest
and steepest mountains on earth, are
the birthplace of dozens of rampag-
ing rivers. The Ganga is one of the
largest, and in its swift descent from
its source to the plains it drops more
than 11,000 feet-at an average rate
of about 75 feet per mile.
Crossing the plains, however, the
Ganga is a changed river. In the 1,300
miles from the base of the Himalayas
to the Bay of Bengal it drops only an-
other 1,000 feet. Along its last 200-
mile stretch, it drops only two inches
per mile. Such an abrupt diminution
in descent is characteristic of only a
very few rivers, and it has kept engi-
neers from damming the Ganga any-
where along its course for hydroelec-
tric power or flood control. In the
mountains, where damsites are avail-
able, the terrain is so steep that even
the tallest dam would not back up
enough water to generate power or
stem the Ganga's flow (although 11
dams now hold back its tributaries).
On the plains, the terrain is so flat
that there is almost no place to build
a dam. Even where a dam might be
erected, a deep silt bed makes it im-
practical to sink a proper foundation.
A PRECARIOUS CROSSING
A Himalayan gorge is spanned by a bamboo
bridge which, despite its rickety appearance, is
a masterpiece of primitive engineering. Built
of long poles lashed with vegetable-fiber ropes.
the bridge is constructed as a 60-foot arch and
anchored with piles of boulders at each end.
A ROAD ON A ROCKY WALL
A huge chunk of cliff disappears in a cloud of would be totally impassable. The few roads
smoke and debris as engineers blast a new that exist are narrow, rocky ledges built along
road through a Himalayan pass. If it were not the rock slopes. Even these are closed down by
for such gorges, cut by rivers, the mountains snow and avalanches during most of the year.
A DOMESTICATED RIVER
Indians wash their clothes at the edge of the
Ganga near Benares. The Ganga supplies year-
round water for all the domestic needs of peo-
ple living along its banis. Its flow, however.
varies greatly with the seasons. In the driest
season, water flows at the rate of 60,000 cubic
feet per second. In times of flood, the flow
may swell to 25 million cubic feet per second.
A Watery Clash
As it flows across the plains, the Gan-
ga is so full of silt that its waters are
a muddy yellow or brown. In striking
contrast is the clear-blue Jamuna
River, which originates in the Hima-
layas only 40 miles from the Ganga.
Throughout its 860-mile course, it
never strays more than 75 miles from
the Ganga. But when the two rivers
come together at Allahabad, they
meet with a dramatic clash of colors.
The difference results from the
Hindus row out to drop funeral ashes at the spot where the Ganga meets the Jamuna. Where ashes are cast on the water, petals are also
sort of bed each river has built for
itself. Although both streams drop
from the Himalayas, and each is
tapped near its base to irrigate the
plains (together they irrigate more
than a million acres), the similarities
end there. The Ganga flows over a clear streams that rush from moun-
bed of silt it has deposited during tain gorges. Veering across the plain,
past centuries. The Jamuna flows in it finally empties into the silt-laden
a rocky bed on a higher plateau near Ganga-but even 50 miles down-
the foot of the Vindhya Mountains, stream patches of blue can be seen
and it is replenished along the way by amid the muddy swells of the Ganga.
strewn. On holy days, as many as four million pilgrims have tried to bathe here at once; on one occasion 500 Hindus died in the crush.
.'4 .,.: :.~L
'A i'- -- '"
_m 1 .
1 i :i j
A River Serving
as a Sewer
At Benares the Ganga becomes an
urban sewer. Waste from the city's
650,000 people flushes into the river
through ancient stone drains. Ashes
from funeral pyres also are cast in, as
are the corpses of sacred cows. The
Indians drink and bathe in this wa-
ter; as a result many have acquired
some immunity to infection, but
many others doubtless fall ill from
the polluted water. A modern filtra-
tion and pumping station exists, but
few drink the piped water, feeling
that filtration destroys its holiness.
According to the faithful, "It lies not
in man's power to pollute the Ganga."
PRAYER AND POLLUTION
A pilgrim recites her prayers in the Ganga amid
dancing reflections of Benares at sunrise. Before
departing from the holy city, pilgrims bottle
some of the polluted river water for use at home.
A STAIRWAY TO THE GANGA
Pilgrims bathe near one of the ghats-steps
that lead into the water-that line the Ganga at
Benares. Many elderly people, having come
here to die, are cremated on similar steps. All
of India's 370 million Hindus try to wash in the
river's water at least once during their lives.
Seasons of Flood
The Ganga is a river of extremes. In
the season of the incessant and tor-
rential monsoon rains (one town had
a 46-inch deluge in a single day), the
river overflows its banks near the
mouth and the countryside lies inun-
dated for months. In the season of
the drought, temperatures rise above
108F., and the river retreats within
its banks; over the months the land
becomes a virtual desert.
The severity of the water cycle
along the Ganga is a source of both
the land's prosperity and its troU-
bles. The deep silt deposited by the
river over the centuries is fertile and
easily worked. Farmers on the flood-
plain raise rice, which must be plant-
ed underwater; some harvest two
crops in the three-month wet season.
For the other nine months, raising
crops requires extensive irrigation.
Farming in this fashion has been
called "a gamble in rain." The Gan-
getic plain, which is only twice the
size of Texas, has more inhabitants
than the entire U.S. When the rains
are late, the result is often famine:
in 1957, during an extended drought,
25 million Indians were stricken.
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CROPS IN A SOAKED LAND
Surrounded by green fields of rice and sugar
cane, a village lies drenched by monsoon rains.
On the central plains the Ganga (upper left)
swellsduringthe monsoon but rarely floods. Near
the delta, however, floods are so common that
the towns are built on high earth foundations.
WATER FOR A DRY LAND
A waterwheel, used to irrigate crops planted connected to the wheel. Water is drawn from a
shortly before the monsoon, is powered by a stone well in which rain from the past mon-
camel yoked to a crossbeam and treading in a soon is stored. During droughts, such wells and
circle. The beam runs a set of gears that are the Ganga itself are the only source of water.
The Ganga is northern India's main
artery of trade and travel. Boats of
every description ply its waters: flat-
boats and barges, steamers and
scows, sailboats and skiffs. Thousands
of boatmen spend their lives at the
oars of cargo craft, drawing an aver-
age wage of less than 50 cents a day.
Although railroads and highways
run beside the Ganga, in many places
a boat is the only way to cross the
river. The Gangetic plain is covered
with a blanket of silt (a quarter of a
mile thick in some spots). This makes
it extraordinarily difficult to find sup-
port for heavy bridge pilings. Only
about 12 bridges span the whole river,
although temporary pontoon bridges
are often used. When the 1.1-mile
span of the Ganga bridge near Patna
was erected in 1959, its massive foun-
dations had to be sunk nearly 200
feet deep, requiring about 35,000 tons
of concrete. The chance of spanning
the Ganga has seemed so small that
two railroads built along its opposite
banks use tracks of different gauge.
TRADING BY BARGE
Straining against the current, sweating oars-
men row a barge along the Ganga. They often
travel hundreds of miles upstream, hawking
their merchandise to villagers along the way.
They live on the barge, and sometimes stay out
on the river as long as nine months at a time.
COMMUTING BY FERRY
A side-wheeler carries Indian commuters across
the Ganga near Patna. All boats on the river,
including large steamers like this one, must be
flat-bottomed or shallow-draft vessels because
the Ganga, although two miles wide at some
points, is often no more than a few feet deep.
A straw-laden barge is floated to mills near Patna. The city's moorings often have 20 to 30 such boats lined up waiting to be loaded.
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The Muddy Demise
of a Mighty Stream
About 1,31li miles from its fountain-
head in the Himalaya.s the Ganga fi-
nally strangle; on its own silt. Its main
channel, too shallow for large ships.
flows into East Pakistan. The rest of
the Ganga's muddy waters regroup
into other rivers that wearily inch
southward across an immense delta.
deserting old channels which have
been choked with silt. cutting new
ones. and finally seeping into the Bay
of Bengal through dozens of mouths.
On one of these rivers, the Hooghly.
stands the bustling port of Calcutta.
128 miles in from the sea. Keeping
the Hooghly navigable from port to
sea isan endless operation that keeps
18 dredges at work around the clock.
In 1963 this fleet dredged 9.190.746
tons of silt from the river, working
a total of 5.781 hours at a cost of
$2.300.I.)0i0. The silt is ultimately
dumped at the mouth of the river.
The fleet includes the biggest dredg-
er in the world, a $4.5-million ship
that can suck up 1)O,00i1 cubic feet
of silt 'about 5,0(00 tons every 50
minutes. This dredger alone has a
crew of 18 officers and 92 deckhands.
A PORT IN SACRED WATERS
Hindus lake a rnlual balh beside a d.laDoialeo
Ca3culia pier as commerl:iaI vessels loom in ihe
distance Caluita is ore of Ihe busiesT DorIs in
As.3 in one year (spanning 1963 19641 a to
iai of 1 828 cargo e-sseil entered Ine porl
These ships carried 6 644 764 tonr of ,r.com.
Ing cargo During the same period 5412674
Ion; of exporlE were shopDed out of Calcuila
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