India’s daunting challenge: There’s water everywhere, and nowhere

A 2,400-mile trek across India reveals the allure of its sacred rivers—and a crisis that threatens a way of life.

A man bathes away sin in the Ganges—amid a swirl of marigold offerings, plastic trash, and fecal waste. The river, sacred to Hindus and a vital resource to areas with large populations and little infrastructure, is one of the most polluted on Earth.

‘Do you do magic tricks?’

It is the villagers of Rajasthan. They watch us pass in the hot light of the Thar Desert. We are unwashed, covered in coarse dust, darkened by sun: charred scarecrows trudging across India with a cargo donkey. Local people mistake us for vagabond performers, traveling quacks, circus nomads. They believe we are sorcerers. The answer to their question is: Yes, of course. We carry magic. But then, so does everyone.

It lies in water.

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