Across India's small towns and villages, local language newspapers are revealing that thousands more are probably dying of the coronavirus each day than the government's data show.

The Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi newspaper popular across India's crowded heartland, fanned 30 of its reporters along the banks of the river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh state. They found – and photographed – more than 2,000 corpses across some 1,140km. That's when the state government claims only about 300 are dying daily.

Their findings make grim reading: The authorities are piling silt over more than 350 bodies lying in shallow graves in Kannauj, the reporters say; they see dogs gnawing at some of the 400 corpses just a short distance from a crematorium in Kanpur; they count 52 corpses floating down the river in Ghazipur, often crossing state borders.

The Revered River probably wants us to share her grief," the report reads. "That's why, the bodies that are sought to be hidden, our Holy Mother Ganga has unearthed." 

Meanwhile, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, the Divya Bhaskar newspaper found that 123,000 death certificates were issued between March 1 and May 10 – about 65,000 more than the same period last year though the state reported 4,218 Covid-19 deaths.

The Gujarat Samachar reported that an average of 200 bodies are being cremated daily using 72 tonnes of wood in Vadodara, compared with an average 60 corpses using 21.6 tonnes of wood before the pandemic.

The work of photojournalists like Arun Sharma have gone viral as Indians grapple with the yawning gap between what the authorities say and what the cameras reveal.