I peered over the edge as Ravinder worked the oars. The surface of the water was a dark gradient of billowing grays interrupted by little bubbles. We coasted into a stretch of water spread with an unfamiliar film, not quite as colorful as a petroleum rainbow, not quite as thick as the skin of milk on a boiling pot of chai. Lumpy black gobbets dotted its surface. We needed only our noses to understand that the water was dark with more than Shiva's grief. We were floating on a great urban outflow, a stream of human sewage that was standing in for the river that had dug the channel.

The Yamuna was full of shit.


India is the place where, long ago, I first caught the pollution tourism bug. India gave me some other bugs, too, but there were antibiotics for those. For pollution tourism, though, there was only one cure: more.

For Visit Sunny Chernobyl's finale, I returned to India to visit the holy river Yamuna. So thoroughly contaminated that even its most ardent defenders call it a "sewage drain," the Yamuna runs from the Himalayas, through Delhi, and on to the sacred homeland of the god Krishna.

Along its banks I found pilgrims, paupers, activists, engineers, lifeguards—and such smells as you cannot imagine. And on its lower reaches, under a credible threat of kidnapping by an idealistic rabble of Hindu holy men, I caught a whiff of what nature-worship can do for humanity… and what it can't.