Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Indian coin pickers plunge into Ganges

Indian coin pickers plunge into Ganges

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A boy retrieves offerings thrown into India’s sacred Ganges river by pilgrims earlier this month. AFP

Indian coin pickers plunge into Ganges

As a stream of Hindu devotees dip themselves in India’s sacred Ganges river for a ritual believed to purify their souls, a young boy plunges into the water to find his fortune.

Rahul Singh is one of dozens of coin pickers making a living by retrieving offerings thrown into the waterway by pilgrims visiting the northern holy city of Haridwar.

Every day for six hours, the 13-year-old scours the chest-deep water with a magnet attached to a long stick, as hymn-chanting crowds toss in valuables.

“It needs a lot of effort but I enjoy doing it,” Singh said, after fetching 30 rupees (45 US cents) worth of coins.

Watching him closely is Raja Yadav, who was eight when he arrived in the city as a runaway boy after hearing tales of underwater treasures.

Yadav – nicknamed “Jhinga” (shrimp) for his swimming prowess – literally struck gold six years ago when he found a necklace he was told was worth $1,300.

Now 22, he leads a team of 15 picker-boys including Singh.

Last year’s national coronavirus lockdown saw visitors to Haridwar dry up for several months, leaving Yadav’s team struggling to survive on their meagre savings.

But like the pilgrims, Yadav had unflinching faith in the river goddess, and travellers returned this year, undeterred by a recent surge in cases.

“We always believe that Ganga is our mother and she will never let her children sleep hungry,” he said.

“The pilgrims are back and we are happily diving again.”

Finders keepers

Rivers play a central role in Hindu religious rituals, with devotees tossing in offerings of money, clothes and ornaments into the waters to show gratitude for sustaining life.

In the Ganges, some immerse the ashes of deceased relatives to achieve “moksha” – liberation from reincarnation.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Virender poses with a string and magnet, which he uses to fish out coins thrown by Hindu devotees earlier this month. AFP

During the bathing festival of Kumbh Mela, immense crowds throng the Ganges in the world’s largest religious gathering.

This year it is taking place in Haridwar, where more than three million people took part in the ritual during one day in March.

Underwater treasure hunters use their feet to feel out for the precious metals on the riverbed, or dive in and search with their naked eyes.

A one-day haul of coins adds up to 300-400 rupees ($4.15-5.50) for each boy, although that soars up to 1,000 rupees during Kumbh Mela, Yadav said.

Merchants want a 20 per cent commission in exchange for currency notes, while black-market buyers take jewellery at half of retail price, and metal is sold as scrap.

The boys pick up coconuts and religious paraphernalia to resell if there aren’t enough coins.

Coin pickers like Yadav’s team work all year round, braving faster and deeper waters from heavier rainfall during the monsoon season. Seasonal treasure hunters visit in October when water levels are low due to an upstream dam.

Singh says daily discoveries in the river are a source of satisfaction.

He ran away from home in nearby Uttar Pradesh state two years ago and worked several odd jobs before moving to Haridwar, where a friend taught him swimming and coin-picking skills.

The teenager now shares a shanty in a nearby slum with more than a dozen other coin hunters.

“Back home there was a lot of tension and poverty, but I am happy here,” he said.


  • Kep selected for ‘world-class’ 2.7km beach development

    Kep province has been selected as the first site of a new coastal development initiative, with a “world-class” 2.7km beach planned for the near future. The Kep Provincial Administration met with the National Committee for Coastal Management and Development to discuss the development of the

  • 70th Independence Day a reminder of Khmer unity

    As Cambodia celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence on November 9, King Norodom Sihamoni called for national unity while Prime Minister Hun Manet pledged to follow suit to the heroism of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. Manet swore to protect the independence, sovereignty, peace

  • Calls for measures to cut Phnom Penh-S’ville expressway casualties

    Sun Chanthol, deputy prime minister and first vice-president of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), expressed concern over the safety of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which saw 334 road accidents and five fatalities in the past year. Traffic experts have urged stricter road traffic

  • PM endorses expansion of military ties with China

    Prime Minister Hun Manet has expressed his endorsement for the ongoing strengthening and expansion of Cambodia-China military cooperation in various domains, including joint training exercises, human resources development, unit-to-unit collaboration and mine clearance efforts within Cambodia. Manet’s imprimatur came during his meeting with General

  • Central government revenue hits $4.6B year to date

    Cambodia's budgetary central government (BCG) revenue surpassed 19 trillion riel (over $4.6 billion) in the first nine months of 2023, reaching nearly 73% of the financial target for the year. This marks a decline of around 3% compared to the same period in the previous year, as reported by the

  • Aerial exhibition lends insight into the past

    The French embassy in Phnom Penh is holding an outdoor exhibition of aerial and satellite imagery to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence. Curated by the Institute of Research and Development (IRD) the show features a collection of 30 photographs that chronicle Cambodia’s