Monday, February 18, 2008

Mystery Factor Gives Ganges a Clean Reputation

DELHI, INDIA, FEBRUARY 17, 2008: Hindus have always believed that water from India's Ganges River has extraordinary powers. The Indian emperor Akbar called it the "water of immortality" and always traveled with a supply. The British East India Co. used only Ganges water on its ships during the three-month journey back to England, because it stayed "sweet and fresh."

Indians have always claimed it prevents diseases, but are the claims wives' tales or do they have scientific substance?

Independent producer Julian Crandall Hollick searched for the "mysterious X factor" that gives Ganges water its mythical reputation.

He starts his investigation looking for the water's special properties at the river's source in the Himalayas. There, wild plants, radioactive rocks, and unusually cold, fast-running water combine to form the river. But since 1854, almost all of the Ganges' water has been siphoned off for irrigation as it leaves the Himalayas.

Hollick speaks with DS Bhargava, a retired professor of hydrology, who has spent a lifetime performing experiments up and down Ganges in the plains of India. In most rivers, Bhargava says, organic material usually exhausts a river's available oxygen and starts putrefying. But in the Ganges, an unknown substance acts on organic materials and bacteria and kills them. Bhargava says that the Ganges' self-purifying quality leads to oxygen levels higher than any other river in the world.

The best answer for the Ganges' mysterious substance may come from Jay Ramachandran, a molecular biologist and entrepreneur in Bangalore. In a short science lesson, Ramachandran explains that benign microorganisms fight the harmful bacteria found in the water. But even the scholar can't, however, explain why the river alone has this extraordinary ability to retain oxygen.

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