Early birds from my neighbourhood once woke me up pretty early, causing a commotion below my apartment and further afield. I peep through my window and notice each of them holding a broom.

Finally, a clean neighbourhood, I surmised, then got up hurriedly before someone called out to me; I caught hold of a broom and rolled up my sleeves to join the go-getters. When I cottoned on that it was not exactly a 'neighbourhood first' clean-up drive but an appeal to participate in the Bagmati clean-up "mega campaign", I felt a wee bit upset.

Not that I wished to pour cold water on such a holy mission of cleaning up a river that meanders through the charming city I love and live in. I was, all the same, somewhat recalcitrant to readily jump on a strange 'clean-up' bandwagon that was putting the cart before the horse. The general consensus is: a river must be cleaned from upstream to downstream – on the condition that upriver pollution stops right away – and arguably, not the other way round. Furthermore, cleaning sparse spots à la quick-fix, as so many Saturdays since 2013 offer testimony to it, will definitely not make the daunting expedition a tangible reality.

Almost a decade later, the reality is loud and clear: walk upriver and you are greeted by heaps of trash at every oxbow; sewage water pours into the river and the smell is an eternal ordeal; urban growth voraciously encroaches on the riparian areas, thereby not only dirtying further the river but also disturbing her natural flow.

It's the scenario, for example, from the Hanumante-Bagmati confluence all the way up to Sundarijal. Against such a backdrop, cleaning an expanse downriver appeared largely incongruous, when the upriver stretch continued to be blatantly contaminated. Besides, several rivulets not exactly enjoying a similar 'mega clean-up campaign' – from Hanumante to Bishnumati – are even more polluted; they meet a 'holier-than-thou' Bagmati at different points and would consequently set the mission back to square one. After all, clean water does not seem to have any qualms about mingling with her polluted 'sibling' and flowing together.

Meanwhile, how might the Gods along the banks of the Bagmati River have reacted right from the moment the 'mega clean-up campaign' saw the day? Gokarneshwor was definitely on cloud nine when the clean-up drive kick-started, while Jal Vinayak waited for the grand finale of the clean-up.

In-between, Pashupatinathji cannot but hear a routine grievance from his devotees, including my neighbourhood early birds and umpteen others: Pashupatinathji timro Bagmati fohor à la Ram teri Ganga maili!

A version of this article appears in the print on January 4, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.