Himalayan Drainage System

The three main Himalayan rivers are the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. These rivers are long and are joined by many tributaries. A river along with its tributaries form a river system.

Evolution of Himalayan Drainage system:

  • There was a mighty river called Shiwalik or Indo-Brahma traversed the entire longitudinal extent of the Himalaya from Assam to Punjab and onwards to Sind, and finally discharged into the Gulf of Sind near lower Punjab during the Miocene period some million years ago.
  • The remarkable continuity of the Shiwalik and its lacustrine origin and alluvial deposits consisting of sands, silt, clay, boulders and conglomerates support this viewpoint.  Himalayan rivers later got dismembered into three major systems.
  • This dismembered was probably due to the Pleistocene upheaval in the western Himalayas, including the uplift of the Potwar Plateau (Delhi Ridge), which acted as the water divide between the Indus and Ganga drainage systems.
  • Likewise, the down-thrusting of the Malda gap (Garo- Rajmahal Gap) area between the Rajmahal hills and the Meghalaya plateau during the mid-Pleistocene period, diverted the Ganga and the Brahmaputra systems to flow towards the Bay of Bengal.

The Indus River System

  • It rises near lake ManSarovar in Tibet from the glaciers of Kailas ranges. It enters India and continues to flow NW between Ladakh and Zanskar ranges.
  • Indus receives from PANJNAD (Panchnad) accumulated waters of five eastern tributaries

The right-bank tributaries of Indus:

    • Shyok
    • Gilgit
    • Hunza
    • Nubra
    • Kabul
    • Khurram
    • Tochi
    • Gomal
    • Sangar
    • Kunar

The left-bank tributaries of Indus:

    • Zaskar
    • ‘Panjnad’ joins Indus a little above Mithankot.
    • The Panjnad is the name given to the five rivers of Punjab, namely:
      • Satluj
      • Beas
      • Ravi
      • Chenab
      • Jhelum

Drainage System


  • The Jhelum, an important tributary of the Indus, rises from a spring at Verinag situated at the foot of the Pir Panjal.
  • The Jhelum flows through Srinagar and the Wular Lake before entering into Pakistan.
  • Jhelum joins the Chenab near Jhang in Pakistan.


  • Formed by two streams i.e. the Chandra and the Bhaga, the Chenab is the largest tributary of the Indus.
  • Chenab is also known as Chandrabhaga.
  • The Chenab flows about 1,180 km before entering into Pakistan.


  • Originating from the Rohtang pass in the Kullu hills of Himachal Pradesh and flowing through the Chamba valley of the state, Ravi is one of the important tributaries of the Indus.


  • Originating from the Beas Kund near the Rohtang Pass at an elevation of 4,000 m above the mean sea level, Beas is also an important tributary of the Indus.
  • Beas enters into the Punjab plains and meets with the Satluj near Harike.
  • Also popular as Langchen Khambab (in Tibet), the Satluj originates from the Rakas lake near Mansarovar at an altitude of 4,555 m in Tibet.
  • The Satluj passes through the Shipki La on the Himalayan ranges and enters into the Punjab plains.
  • The Satluj is the river that feeds the canal system of the Bhakra Nangal project.

Drainage System

The Ganga

  • The Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand.
  • However, the river, when it originates from the Gangotri glacier, is known as the Bhagirathi.
  • At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi merges with another river, i.e., the Alaknanda; and from here, it is known as the Ganga.
  • The Alaknanda originates from the Satopanth glacier above Badrinath.

The concept of Panch Prayag

    • Vishnuprayag: where the river Alaknanda meets river Dhauli Ganga
    • Nandprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Mandakini
    • Karnaprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Pinder
    • Rudraprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Mandakini
    • Devprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Bhagirathi -GANGA
  • The total length of the Ganga in India is 2,525 km, which is shared by Uttarakhand (110 km); Uttar Pradesh (1,450 km); Bihar (445 km); and West Bengal (520 km).
  • The Ganga river system is the largest river system in India.
  • The Son is a major right bank tributary of the Ganga; however, major left bank tributaries are the Ramganga, the Gomati, the Ghaghara, the Gandak, the Kosi, and the Mahananda.
  • Originating from the Yamunotri glacier on the western slopes of Bandarpunch range (6,316 km), the Yamuna is the longest tributary of the Ganga.
  • The Yamuna joins the Ganga at Allahabad (Prayag), Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Chambal, the Sind, the Betwa, and the Kenon are the right bank tributaries of the Yamuna and the Hindan, the Rind, the Sengar, the Varuna, etc. are the left bank tributaries.
  • The Chambal rises near Mhow in the Malwa plateau of Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Chambal is famous for its badland topography, known as the Chambal ravines (as shown in the image given below).

Drainage System

  • Originating from the Nepal Himalayas between the Dhaulagiri and Mount Everest, the Gandak consists of two streams, namely Kaligandak and Trishulganga.
  • The Gandak joins the Ganga at Sonpur near Patna, Bihar.
  • The Ghagra originates from the Mapchachungo glaciers and joins the Ganga at Chhapra, Bihar.
  • The Kosi originates from the north of Mount Everest in Tibet where it is known as the Arun.
  • The Damodar drains the eastern margins of the Chota Nagpur plateau, where it flows through a rift valley and finally joins the Hugli.
  • The Barakar is the main tributary of the Damodar.
  • The Sarda or Saryu River rises from the Milam glacier in the Nepal Himalayas where it is known as the Goriganga. However, along the Indo-Nepal border, it is called Kali or Chauk, where it joins the Ghaghara.
  • Originating from the Darjeeling hills, the Mahananda joins the Ganga as its last left bank tributary in West Bengal.
  • Originating from the Amarkantak plateau, the Son is a large south bank tributary of the Ganga; it joins the Ganga at Arrah, Bihar.

Yamuna River System

  • The Yamuna River is the largest tributary of the Ganga River.
  • It originates from the Yamunotri glacier, at the Bandarpoonch peak in Uttarakhand.
  • The main tributaries joining the river include the Sin, Hindon, Betwa Ken, and Chambal.
  • The Tons is the largest tributary of the Yamuna.
  • The catchment of the river extends to the states of Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

    The Brahmaputra

  • The Brahmaputra originates from the Chemayungdung glacier of the Kailash range near the Mansarovar
  • In Tibet, the Brahmaputra is known as the Tsangpo (means ‘the purifier’).
  • The Rango Tsangpo is the major right bank tributary of the Brahmaputra in Tibet.
  • The Brahmaputra enters into India near the west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Major left bank tributaries of the Brahmaputra are Lohit, Dibang or Sikang, Burhi Dihing, and Dhansari.
  • Major right bank tributaries of the Brahmaputra are the Subansiri, Kameng, Manas, and Sankosh.
  • The Tista joins the Brahmaputra on its right bank in Bangladesh and from here, the river is known as the Yamuna.

Drainage System