Rivers of the World the Ganges River

About the Ganges River, history, length, animal life, and tributaries of India's principle river.



The Ganges, India's principal river, flows 1,560 mi. from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal.

It drains 450,000 sq. mi. and directly serves about 225 million people. The Indians call it the Gangaji--the suffix ji indicates reverence--and Mother Ganges. Hindus consider it a sacred river and travel many miles to bathe in or die beside its waters. Many, in fact, have died because of bathing in its sewage-polluted waters. Its shrines attract millions each year, some of whom come to immerse their dead before burning them on the banks.

The Ganges begins at the junction of two glacier-fed streams 13,000 ft. up in the Himalayas, near Tibet and Nepal. Once it leaves the mountains, the river goes through an alluvial plain 10-100 mi. wide, sometimes changing its course because of the seasonal floods and leaving villages high and dry. This wide floodplain, built up over millennia, provides India with a rich agricultural belt.

The tiger-infested, 250-mi.-wide Ganges delta, largest in the world, covers 30,000 sq. mi. The river splits into two main channels: the Padma (Ganges), which drains into the Bay of Bengal by way of Bangladesh, and the silt-choked Bhagirathi (Hooghly), which has become a spill channel for the Ganges during the June-October monsoon. In 1973 India opened a canal from the Padma to the lower Bhagirathi to flush away some of the silt and thereby keep the port of Calcutta open.

Greek mariners sailed the Bay of Bengal and found the Ganges delta about the time of Christ. Greek geographer Caludius Ptolemy placed the river on his map correctly in 150 A.D. The first Europeans, Portuguese, settled on the banks in 1537.

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