- While there is no consensus among geologists regarding the origin of the Himalayan rivers, it is believed that during the Miocene period, a powerful river named Shiwalik or Indo-Brahma flowed westward from Assam to Sind and eventually discharged into the Gulf of Sind.
- The presence of the Shiwalik, its lacustrine origin, and the alluvial deposits comprising sands, silt, clay, boulders, and conglomerates provide substantial evidence supporting this perspective.
- The mighty Shiwalik river gradually split into three main systems, now recognized as the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra systems.
- This division is attributed to upheavals in the Western Himalayas, including the uplift of the Potwar Plateau (or Delhi Ridge), which acts as a water divide between the Indus and Ganga river systems.
- The downward movement along the Malda fault (located between the Rajmahal Hills and the Meghalaya Plateau) caused the Ganga and Brahmaputra systems to flow towards the Bay of Bengal.
- The presence of massive gorges, sudden bends towards the south, and other similar features provide evidence that these rivers are older than the Himalayas themselves.
- Currently, the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra rivers, along with their respective tributaries, form the major drainage systems of the Himalayas.
- These rivers are perennial as they receive water from both snowmelt and precipitation.
Landforms of Himalayan Rivers:
- The Himalayan rivers are in their youthful stage, actively shaping various erosional landforms. These rivers have carved out impressive gorges through simultaneous erosional activity and the uplift of the Himalayas.
- Notable examples include the Sutlej and Indus rivers, which form great gorges near Gilgit and Sukkur, respectively.
- Besides deep gorges, these rivers also create V-shaped valleys, rapids, and waterfalls as they flow through the mountainous terrain.
- Upon entering the plains, they contribute to the formation of depositional features such as flat valleys, ox-bow lakes, floodplains, braided channels, and deltas near their river mouths.
- While their courses in the Himalayan reaches are highly meandering and tortuous, they display a strong tendency for meandering over the plains, often shifting their courses.
The Indus System:
- The Indus (Sindhu) is one of the most significant drainage systems in the Indian subcontinent and one of the largest in the world.
- It covers an area of 11,65,000 sq. km, with a length of 2,880 km, out of which 321,289 sq. km and 1,114 km fall within India.
- Originating from a glacier near Bokar Chu in the Kailash Mountain range in Tibet, China, the river is known as ‘Singi Khamban’ or Lion’s mouth in that region.
- It follows a long, nearly straight course between the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, receiving the Zanskar River below Leh town.
- The river cuts across the Ladakh range, creating a spectacular gorge near Gilgit, which reaches a height of 5200m.
- Transverse glaciers and landslides occasionally block the river in this region. The river then flows southwest, passing Nanga Parbat, and enters Pakistan near Chillar in the Dardistan region.
- In Jammu and Kashmir, the Indus receives several Himalayan tributaries such as the Shyok, Gilgit, Hunza, Nubra, Shigar, Gasting, and Dras.
- On the right bank, tributaries like the Khurram and Tochi originate from the Sulaiman ranges. In the Punjab province of Pakistan, the Indus merges with the ‘Panjnad,’ which comprises the five rivers of Punjab: Satluj, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum.
- The Indus River drains into the Arabian Sea east of Karachi.
- It is important to note that these rivers do not meet the Indus separately; they combine to form a single river.
Other Rivers in the Indus System:
- The Jhelum (Vitasta) rises from Verinag Spring at the foot of the Pir Panjal range. It flows through Srinagar and the Wular lake before entering Pakistan through a deep narrow gorge. It joins the Chenab River in Pakistan and is considered the most important river in Kashmir.
- The Chenab (Asikni) flows in India for approximately 1180 km, draining an area of around 26,755 sq. km. It is the largest tributary of the Indus. The Chenab is formed by two streams, the Chandra and the Bhaga, which meet at Tandi near Keylong in Himachal Pradesh. Hence, it is also known as Chandrabhaga. Major hydroelectric power plants on the Chenab include Salal, Baglihar, and Dulhasti.
- The Ravi (Parushni) river flows for about 725 km, draining an area of 6000 sq. km in India. It originates near the Rohtang Pass in the Kullu hills of Himachal Pradesh, close to the source of the Beas river. It flows through the famous Chamba valley, draining the region between the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar ranges. It also cuts through a gorge in the Dhauladhar range. In the plains of Punjab, it runs along the Indo-Pak border and joins the Chenab near Sarai Sidhu in Pakistan.
- The Beas (Vipasa) river originates from the Beas Kund near the Rohtang Pass at an elevation of 4,000 m. It flows through the Kullu valley and forms gorges at Kati and Largi in the Dhauladhar range. Further downstream, it passes through the Kangra valley. In the Punjab plains, it meets the Satluj near Harike in Punjab, India. The Indira Gandhi Canal, which supplies western Rajasthan with water, originates at Harike, the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers.
- The Satluj (Satadru) river rises from the Rakas Lake near Mansarovar in Tibet at an elevation of 4,555 m. It flows parallel to the Indus for about 400 km before entering India, cutting across the Great Himalayas through a gorge. It passes through the Shipki La (4300 m) on the India-China border. The Satluj traverses the Zaskar ranges, Dhauladhar range, Shiwalik, and finally enters the plains of Punjab. It plays a crucial role in supplying water to the canal system of the Bhakra Nangal project.
- The Ghaggar (Saraswati) is an inland drainage river that rises near Ambala, Haryana, in the talus fan of the Shiwalik range. After entering the plains, it disappears but reappears at Karnal. Further downstream, the stream disappears near Hanumangarh in Bikaner. It is believed to be an old tributary of the Indus River.
The Ganga System:
- Stretching for a length of 2,525 km, it boasts the largest river basin in the country, covering approximately one-fourth of the nation’s area. The journey of the Ganga begins at the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh (3,900 m) in Uttarakhand, where it is known as the Bhagirathi.
- At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi merges with the Alaknanda to form the Ganga. The Alaknanda consists of the Dhauli and Vishnu Ganga, which meet at Vishnuprayag.
- The Pindar River joins the Alaknanda at Karnaprayag, while the Mandakini meets it at Rudraprayag.
- After entering the plains at Haridwar, the Ganga flows in a west-east direction, eventually splitting into two distributaries, namely the Bhagirathi and the Hugli, in Bengal. Along with the Brahmaputra, it forms the largest delta in the world.
- The Ganga River comprises both perennial and non-perennial rivers. The perennial rivers originate in the Himalayas in the north, while the non-perennial rivers have their sources in the Peninsular plateau in the south. The Ganga passes through major cities of India, including Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna, and Kolkata.
Other Rivers in the Ganga System:
- The Yamuna River, the longest and westernmost tributary of the Ganga, originates from the Yamunotri glacier on the western slopes of the Bandarpunch range (6,316 m). It flows parallel to the Ganga and eventually meets it at Allahabad (Prayag). The right bank tributaries of the Yamuna include the Chambal, Sind, Betwa, and Ken, which originate in the Peninsular plateau, while the Hindan, Rind, Sengar, Varuna, and others join it on the left bank. The Yamuna River serves as a major water source for the canals of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It flows through cities such as Karnal, Delhi, and Agra.
- The Gandak River consists of two streams, namely the Kaligandak and Trishulganga. It originates in the Nepal Himalayas between Dhaulagiri and Mt. Everest. After entering the Ganga Plains of India in Champaran, Bihar, it joins the Ganga at Sonpur near Patna. This river frequently changes its course.
- The Ghaghara River originates in the glaciers of Mapchachungo. It emerges from the mountains, cutting a deep gorge at Shishapani. Before meeting the Ganga at Chhapra, the Sarda River joins it in the plains. The Ghaghara River flows through the famous town of Ayodhya.
- The Ramganga River is the first major left bank tributary to join the Ganga near Kannauj. It rises in the Garhwal hills near Gairsain. A significant dam has been constructed on this river near Kalagarh.
- The Damodar River drains the eastern parts of the Chotanagpur Plateau. It flows through a rift valley and eventually joins the Hugli at Falta. Its main tributary is the Barakar. Once known as the “sorrow of Bengal,” the Damodar River has been tamed by the Damodar Valley Corporation, a multipurpose project.
- The Chambal River originates near Mhow in the Malwa plateau from the Vindhyan range. It flows northwards through a gorge, passing Kota in Rajasthan. From Kota, it continues to Bundi, Sawai Madhopur, and Dholpur before finally joining the Yamuna at Etawah. The Chambal River is renowned for its badland topography, known as the Chambal ravines, which are being reclaimed for agricultural and pastoral activities. The Banas River is its main tributary. Key dams across the river include Gandhi Sagar (Kota), Rana Pratap Sagar, and Jawahar Sagar.
- The Son River originates from the Amarkantak plateau. It spans a length of 780 km and drains an area of around 54,000 sq km. After forming a series of waterfalls at the edge of the plateau, it reaches Arrah, west of Patna, where it joins the Ganga.
- The Sarda or Saryu River rises in the Milan glacier in the Nepal Himalayas, where it is known as the Goriganga. Along the Indo-Nepal border, it is called Kali or Chauk, and it merges with the Ghaghara. Another significant tributary of the Ganga is the Mahananda, which rises in the Darjeeling hills. It joins the Ganga as its last left bank tributary in West Bengal.
The Brahmaputra System:
- The Brahmaputra River, one of the largest rivers in the world, holds immense significance not only for India but also globally.
- It stretches for a total length of 2,900 km and covers a vast basin area of 580,000 sq km (916 km and 187,000 sq km in India).
- The river originates from the Chemayungdung glacier in the Kailash range near Mansarovar lake. Initially, it flows parallel to the Greater Himalayas in the dry and flat Tibetan region, where it is known as the Tsangpo.
- As it carves through the Central Himalayas near Namcha Barwa (7,755 m), it transforms into a dynamic and turbulent river, forming a deep gorge.
- Emerging from the foothills, it takes on the name Siang or Dihang and enters India west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
- It receives its main left bank tributaries, such as Dibang or Sikang and Lohit, and is then referred to as the Brahmaputra.
- Within the Assam valley, the Brahmaputra is joined by major left bank tributaries like Burhi Dihing, Dhansari (South), and Kalang, while important right bank tributaries include Subansiri, Kameng, Manas, and Sankosh. Near Dhubri, the river enters Bangladesh and flows southward.
- In Bangladesh, it is joined by the Tista on its right bank, after which it is known as the Yamuna. The Brahmaputra is notorious for its floods, frequent channel shifting, and bank erosion. These phenomena occur due to the presence of large tributaries that bring a substantial amount of sediment as a result of heavy rainfall in the region.
Q1. Where can I find a map of the Himalayan River System?
Ans. You can find a comprehensive map of the Himalayan River System online on various geographical and educational websites. Additionally, many atlases and geography books feature detailed maps of the rivers in the Himalayan region.
Q2. What are the three main river systems in the Himalayan region?
Ans. The three primary river systems in the Himalayas are the Indus River system, the Ganges River system, and the Brahmaputra River system. These river systems play a crucial role in the geographical, ecological, and cultural aspects of the Himalayan region.
Q3. Can you provide a description of the Himalayan River System?
Ans. The Himalayan River System comprises a network of rivers originating from the Himalayan mountain range. These rivers contribute significantly to the water resources, biodiversity, and agricultural productivity of the Indian subcontinent. They are known for their perennial flow, which sustains the livelihoods of millions of people living in the region.
Q4. What should I know about the Himalayan River System?
Ans. The Himalayan River System is a vital source of water for various ecosystems and human populations in the Indian subcontinent. It influences the geography, climate, and agriculture of the region, and its significance extends to cultural, religious, and historical contexts as well. Understanding its dynamics is crucial for comprehending the broader environmental and societal landscape of South Asia.
Q5. What are the names of the three major river systems originating in the Himalayas?
Ans. The three prominent Himalayan river systems are the Indus River system, which flows through India and Pakistan, the Ganges River system, which runs through India and Bangladesh, and the Brahmaputra River system, which traverses through India, China, and Bangladesh.
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