We went swimming in the River Yamuna last month. Not only is the river worshipped as a goddess, it has recently been legally granted human status by Uttarakhand State. As the river flows south into Delhi National Capital Region, it is relatively clean. We swam at Burari, close to the border with Haryana. However, by the time the river passes the centre of Delhi at Okla, it becomes one of the most polluted rivers in the world. By this time, 60% of Delhi’s waste has been dumped in the river. It teems with coliforms and the lack of oxygen suffocates any fish which have survived the toxic effluent.


It was not always like this. A hundred years ago, the Yamuna was noted to have clear blue water, quite unlike the Ganges, which is browny yellow with silt.


The river is the daughter of Surya, the sun god. There is always a dark side; Surya is the sister of Yama, the god of death. Devotees scoop up water in their cupped hands and allow the sun to shine on it as an offering. The sacred water is a “get out of jail” card when it comes to the torments of dying.

Yamuna, the river goddess

We just went for a swim.

We left the apartment at 5:15 and reached the river just after sunrise. The water level was low, so there were limited places to swim. We joined the devotees on the sandy shore.


We saw no dead bodies floating by. Half the beach was a rubbish dump, but the sandy mud of the river bed was safe to walk on. Across the river, in Uttar Pradesh, there were some yellow billed storks and a heron. I didn’t have binoculars so I couldn’t make an accurate identification.

To the north I could see cumulonimbus, and there was sporadic grumbling thunder, but no lightning. The sun kept sneaking behind the clouds and splaying rays of light across the sky.

Our visit was too brief for us to eat breakfast on the shore. We had to get back to start work at the clinic by nine.



By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.


    1. Pathbreakingwriter, I think that mentally they do respect their rivers. But they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to dumping of rubbish, agricultural or industrial effluent, or even dead bodies into the rivers. Like Nehru, they wax lyrical about their sacred rivers, washing their idols of Durga and Ganesh in the water so the idols’ spirits will return to Mount Kailash, but leaving the river polluted and filthy. They see the rubbish, but don’t see it. Selective inattention maybe. Or they can cope with cognitive dissonance.

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