The Ganges is like no other river on Earth. It brings life to hundreds of millions of people across India. For a billion Hindus, it’s the immortal Mother Goddess who will wash away a lifetime of sins.
But India is changing, taking its place as one of the world’s great superpowers and the future of the Ganges hangs in the balance.
In this ambitious, entertaining and illuminating three-part series, Sue Perkins goes on an extraordinary journey, spanning over 1,500 miles, from the Ganges source high in the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. She travels through some of the most extraordinary, chaotic and exciting places on earth exploring the lives and landscapes of modern India at this crucial point in its history. For the story of the Ganges is the story of modern India.
In this first episode, Sue begins her epic journey in the highest mountains on earth. She treks to the source of the Ganges River, meeting hermits and the wise and wandering holy people that call this sacred landscape home.
It’s been a tough year for Sue since her father died, and walking where millions of pilgrims have walked before has a profound effect on her.
As winter approaches and the pilgrim season ends, Sue moves 20km downstream to the little town of Gangotri, joining the local pageantry festivities.
One hundred and sixty miles downstream Sue arrives in Rishikesh, a town that has long been the gateway to the land of the gods and drawn holy men and seekers of truth since time immemorial. Now it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of eastern mysticism.
Fifty years after the Beatles passed through, there are dozens of Ashrams now in Rishikesh. They’re a sort of health spa for the soul, places where you can meditate, receive spiritual guidance and detox from the modern world. More and more Westerners are being drawn to these quiet places and Sue books a short stay to try and understand why.
Sue then arrives at the holy city of Haridwar, where the Ganges finally leaves the mountains and flows into the plains. Sue meets a Holy Man turned business guru who now runs one of India’s fastest growing consumer goods companies – packaging Hinduism for the masses. Together they tour his compound on an armed golf buggy and Sue discovers what happens to spirituality when it enters the commercial world.
To complete this first leg of her journey Sue attends the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar. There are no tourists here, just normal, everyday people, who come to praise a sacred river and the Goddess that lives in her.
The Ganges With Sue Perkins Episode 1 (of 3) airs on Thursday 19 October 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC ONE.