Major Rivers originating from the Himalayas

The Himalayan River System

This article contains brief description of Major Rivers originating from the Himalayas such as River Ganga, Brahmaputra and Indus.

The rivers of Northern India that originates from the Himalayas are very long. These rivers are perennial as they derive their water from rainfall as well as snow melt. But seasonal variation of water-flow is a common feature of these rivers.

There are three major Himalayan rivers such as:

  1. The Ganga,
  2. The Brahmaputra and
  3. The Indus.

All these three rivers are very important rivers. Many towns and cities have been settled along the bank of these rivers. A brief description of these rivers is given below:

(1) The Ganga (2,530 km)

River Ganga rises from the icy cave of Gomukh of Gangotri Glacier on the Kumaon Himalaya in Uttaranchal. Its head-stream is known as the Bhagirathi. It travels down through a narrow gorge and joins the Alakananda at Devprayag. The Alakananda rises from the Alakapuri glacier behind Badrinath. The Bhagirathi, after its union with the Alakananda, acquires the name, the Ganga. At Rudraprayag the Ganga receives the Mandakini which originates from the Gaurikund. Flowing southwards through the Nagtibba and the Siwaliks range, the Ganga descends on the plain at Haridwar.

During its flow on the plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Ganga receives a large number of tributaries, such as, the Ramganga, Gomati, Sarada, Rapti, Ghaghara, Gandak, Sapt Kosi etc. from the left bank. The main tributaries of the right bank of the Ganga are the Yamuna and Son. The Yamuna is the largest tributary of the Ganga. It rises from the Yomunotri glacier of the Kumaon Himalayas and flows parallel to the river Ganga till its confluence with the Ganga at Allahabad. The Yamuna is about 1,300 km long. The Chambal, Betwa and Ken are its main tributaries.

After crossing the Rajmahal Hill in Bihar, the Ganga enters in West Bengal. Near Dhullian in Murshidabad it divides and flows into two branches. One of its branches flows towards south-east Padma and enters into Bangladesh; there it joins the Brahamaputra and Meghna and finally drains into the Bay of Bengal. The other branch turns southwards and flows as the Bhagirathi at first and then as the Hugli River; it flows into the Bay of Bengal forming a huge delta on its mouth. The Ganga-­Brahmaputra Delta is the largest delta in the world. Its major portion is occupied by Bangladesh. The Bhagirathi-Hugli, the branch of the Ganga, receives many tributaries such as the Mayurakshi, Ajay, Damodar, Rupnarayan and Kangsabati.

The Ganga basin covers an area of 9,51,600 sq. km. The plain, from Haridwar to the mouth of the Ganga, is formed by fertile alluvial soil. It is the most important agricultural land of the world. A large number of great cities and towns are found on its bank; the important ones are Haridwar, Varanasi, Patna, Kanpur, Allahabad, Munger and Bhagalpur. The important cities on the Yamuna River are Delhi, Agra and Mathura. Kolkata, the important city and port of India, stands on the bank of the river Hugli. From the mouth to 1600 km upstream, the Ganga is navigable. The port of Kolkata, the greatest port of the eastern India, is situated at a distance of about 180 km upstream from the Bay of Bengal.

(2) The Brahmaputra (2,900 km)

The Brahmaputra rises from the Chemaung-Dung glacier near Manas sarowar in Tibet. It flows along the northern slope parallel to the Himalayas towards the east for about 1,200 km as Tsangpo River. After making a sharp bend towards the south, it enters into India through a deep nar­row gorge in the east of Namcha Barwa in Arunachal Pradesh as the Dihang. The Dihang, after its union with Dibang and Lohit, acquires the name Brahmaputra.

The Brahmaputra flows through the Assam Valley from the east near Sadiya to the west up to Dhubri. The Subarnsiri, Manas, Bhareli, Buridihang, Kopili, Lohit and Dhansiri are the main tribu­taries of the Brahmaputra.

After a few kilometers westwards from the Dhubri, the Brahmaputra takes again a sharp bend towards the south and enters into Bangladesh as Jamuna river; it joins the Padma and finally drains into the Bay of Bengal forming a great delta on its mouth.

Descending on the plain, the Brahmaputra gets a gentle slope and receives innumerable tributaries; they bring a lot of sediments and debris which fill up the river-bed. Thus innumerable sand bars and islands are found on the river. The Majuli Island is such an island on the river Brahmaputra and is famous for its great size which covers an area of 1,260 sq. km; it is the largest river-island in the world. Due to heavy siltation river-bed is getting shallow; it cannot hold excess water of the rainy season; consequently devastating floods occur.

The Brahmaputra is navigable up to 1,250 km upstream from the mouth. Though it is 2,900 km long, its small length comprising 800 km is in India and the rest goes to China and Bangladesh. In Assam Valley Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Guwahati, Goalpara and Dhubri are the important towns on the Brahmaputra River.

(3) The Indus (2,900 km)

The Indus originates from the springs of Sengge Khabal near Lake Manas sarowar and enters in India in Ladakh. It cuts through the Himalayas in a deep gorge near Nanga Parbat and then leaves Kashmir to enter Pakistan. It finally drains into the Arabian Sea.

The mighty five tributaries on the left bank of the Indus are:

  • The Satluj (Satadru),
  • The Beas (Bipasha),
  • The Ravi (iravati),
  • The Chenab (Chandrabhaga) and
  • The Jhelum (Vitasta).

All these tributaries have their sources in the snowy regions of the Himalayas. These five rivers have made the fertile plains of the Punjab. Only about 700 km of the Indus flows through the Indian territory. Srinagar, the Capital of Jammu and Kashmir, stands on the bank of the Jhelum River. The Bhakra-Nangal Project on the Satluj supplies water for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation.

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