Photo Story by Nishant Singh Gurung 

Not so long ago, children swam in the clean, cool waters of the Bagmati River. Today, such an act is unfathomable. In the last few decades, the once cherished Bagmati has been transformed into a noxious waterway put under assault by the constant flow of untreated waste from Kathmandu Valley’s three million residents. With solid waste and garbage having been managed relatively well thanks to rigorous awareness campaigns and active participation from all sections of society, the question remains: how has the Bagmati become this polluted?

Photo 1: Residents of Kathmandu Valley travel all the way to Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park to enjoy a swim in the refreshing waters of the Bagmati River far from the pollution that worries residents downstream. With zero wastewater dumped in the national park so far, swimming does not pose a health risk.

Photo 2: The Bagmati enters Kathmandu Valley through Gokarneshwor Municipality. In the distance, urban settlements encroach on the foothills of Sundarijal.

Photo 3: Down the road, a small stream filled with wastewater runoff makes its way to the Bagmati River.

Photo 4: Residential wastewater in Gokarneshwor leaks into the Bagmati River. Wastewater encompasses many different types of gray and contaminated water, including water used for bathing, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Fecal waste mixes in with general wastewater when residents flush their toilets, and the resulting sludge travels through sewer pipes that open into the river.

Photo 5: Tributary rivers join the Bagmati as it travels through Kathmandu Valley. At the confluence of the Manohara and Bagmati Rivers, wastewater from Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, including all the way from the Hanumantey River, mixes with the Bagmati, further polluting the river.

From Jorpati to Guheshwari, wastewater is treated by the Guheshwari Treatment Plant, which reduces the impact on the Bagmati River. Several other treatment plants are under construction in the valley, but until they are operational, there is no real solution to the pollution problem.

Photo 6: Dhobhi Khola, which brings wastewater from residents of Budhanilkantha Municipality and other areas of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, joins the Bagmati at one of many river junctions in the valley.

Photo 7: The Patan area of Lalitpur Metropolitan City is a historic urban settlement that has seen increased population growth in recent years. While some residents manage their household wastewater and fecal sludge with septic tanks, many homes and apartment buildings are connected to sewer lines that dump wastewater directly into the Bagmati River.

Photo 8: Toxic black wastewater from Teku mixes with the already polluted waters of the Bishnumati River, one of the many smaller waterways that eventually joins the Bagmati.

Photo 9: As it meanders to the edge of the valley, the Bagmati River is further contaminated by untreated wastewater from Kirtipur Municipality.

Photo 10: An extremely polluted Bagmati River makes its exit from the urbanised areas of Kathmandu Valley near Chobhar, Kirtipur.