Filmed in stunning high definition and coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc, Ganges is a sumptuous series that tells the story of the most extraordinary river in the world. The Ganges runs through the heart of India. For millions of Hindus it is India's sacred river, but they share its banks and waters with a rich variety of wildlife. In a kaleidoscope of color and energy, this amazing series reveals how the Ganges has shaped the wildlife, culture and beliefs of India. The journey begins at the source of the river, high in the cold peaks of the Himalayas. It heads down past tigers, otters, peacocks and wild herds of elephants before reaching Varanasi, one of the oldest and most sacred cities in the world. Arriving at the delta, where the Ganges meets the sea, modern cities such as Calcutta join with the ancient swamps of the Sunderbans. This amazingly diverse wetland, rarely filmed before, is home to giant lizards, man-eating crocodiles, and forests full of monkeys. Here the tiger is still king, and man is on the menu.
Watching Ganges, one might be inclined to hit the pause button every now and then so as to ponder and absorb the images that have just passed by, so breathtakingly beautiful is nearly every frame of this extraordinary film. This is the kind of production that was born to be viewed in High Definition, and one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the groundbreaking Planet Earth. But while both series were made by the BBC, there are notable differences between the two. For one thing, Ganges is considerably shorter (its three parts total about two and a half hours); for another, while its focus is largely on nature and wildlife, it has a much more prominent human presence (no surprise, considering that the river wends its way through India, the world's second most populous nation, and that nearly a tenth of all people on Earth live within the Ganges' basin).
Regarded as a goddess, described as the nexus of the natural and spiritual worlds, and variously known as "The Daughter of the Mountains," "The River of Life," and "Ganga Ma" (Mother Ganges), the river begins in the Himalayas (the exact source is uncertain; four sacred sites are visited by Hindu pilgrims). Fed by numerous streams, snowmelt, glaciers, and rain, it makes its way westward across the plains of the Indian subcontinent, passing through Rishikesh, Varanasi (known as the holiest city on the river), the teeming metropolis of Calcutta, and the forbidding delta forest known as the Sunderbans before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. Along the way, we see an astonishing variety of animals: snow leopards, hawk-like lammergeiers with their ten-foot wingspans, langurs and macaques, mahseer (the world’s largest carp, weighing up to 50 kilograms), peacocks, otters, cranes, tigers, rhinos, and on and on. Meanwhile, the Hindu reverence for nature is constantly apparent--especially in a village where deadly cobras roam freely in the streets, virtually ignored by the residents (who consider themselves virtually immune; bites are frequent, but no one seems to die from them, a strange anomaly in country where twenty thousand people are killed by snakes every year). The cinematography is never less than gorgeous, whether it’s a closeup of a rhododendron or a panoramic mountain vista; frequent use of time-lapse photography only adds to the grandeur (cf. an incredible sequence depicting the arrival of the summer monsoon). Expertly narrated by Sudha Bhuchar, Ganges combines bravura technique and sheer artistry to create a genuinely inspiring viewing experience. Extras include a "making of" mini-doc and deleted scenes. --Sam Graham