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Ganges Reveals Sublime Luxury, Polluted Wasteland

India has overtaken Japan as home to the most billionaires in Asia. Yet it also has the world's largest number of hungry people.

Take, for example, the Ananda Spa. The resort, one of India's most beautiful, affords breathtaking views of the Ganges River as it leaves the mountains and moves on to the plains of northern India.

Built as a maharajah's palace, the spa now caters to India's top executives, government officials and Bollywood stars, and serves as a reminder that some Indians are doing extremely well as the nation's economy grows briskly.

Here, the waters of the Ganges are clear and filled with fish, but as they move on they become polluted. By the time they pass the industrial city of Kanpur, the waters are oily and dead, fouled by industrial byproducts and raw waste.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian children die from the effects of dirty water every year. Environmentalists are trying to clean up the river in Kanpur, but their efforts are thwarted by corruption and power shortages.

On this stretch of the river, families that used to make a living by fishing the Ganges barely get by now. They are counted among the quarter of a billion Indians who live in abject poverty, with almost no prospect of moving up.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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