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From India's Hindu Center to Heart of Darkness


Eight out of 10 Indians are Hindus, for whom the Ganges is a holy river. And the city of Varanasi, on the river's banks, is the religious capital of the Hindu faith. On any given day in Varanasi, thousands of pilgrims bathe in the river. Immersed, they pray, meditate and feel the power of nature.

Religion and domestic life coexist on the banks of the Ganges, as women wash clothes and children splash and play. Young girls selling candles to tourists are a reminder that India still has at least 35 million child laborers, according to UNICEF.

Farther down the river, the sanctity of Varanasi gives way to crime, corruption and caste prejudice in Bihar, one of the poorest states of India.

The nation's economic boom has largely passed over Bihar, which lacks the necessary infrastructure to benefit from favorable interest rates and investment. In the absence of jobs, some young people turn to crime; gangs that extort and kill plague Bihar.

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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.