1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Indus
INDUS, one of the three greatest rivers of northern India.
A considerable accession of exact geographical knowledge has been gained of the upper reaches of the river Indus and its tributaries during those military and political movements which have been so constant on the northern In the Himalaya. frontiers of India of recent years. The sources of the Indus are to be traced to the glaciers of the great Kailas group of peaks in 32° 20′ N. and 81° E., which overlook the Mansarowar lake and the sources of the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Gogra to the south-east. Three great affluents, flowing north-west, unite in about 80° E. to form the main stream, all of them, so far as we know at present, derived from the Kailas glaciers. Of these the northern tributary points the road from Ladakh to the Jhalung goldfields, and the southern, or Gar, forms a link in the great Janglam—the Tibetan trade route—which connects Ladakh with Lhasa and Lhasa with China. Gartok (about 50 m. from the source of this southern head of the Indus) is an important point on this trade route, and is now made accessible to Indian traders by treaty with Tibet and China. At Leh, the Ladakh capital, the river has already pursued an almost even north-westerly course for 300 m., except for a remarkable divergence to the south-west which carries it across, or through, the Ladakh range to follow the same course on the southern side that had been maintained on the north. This very remarkable instance of transverse drainage across a main mountain axis occurs in 79° E., about 100 m. above Leh. For another 230 m., in a north-westerly direction, the Indus pursues a comparatively gentle and placid course over its sandy bed between the giant chains of Ladakh to the north and Zaskar (the main “snowy range” of the Himalaya) to the south, amidst an array of mountain scenery which, for the majesty of sheer altitude, is unmatched by any in the world. Then the river takes up the waters of the Shyok from the north (a tributary nearly as great as itself), having already captured the Zasvar from the south, together with innumerable minor glacier-fed streams. The Shyok is an important feature in The Shyok affluent. Trans-Himalayan hydrography. Rising near the southern foot of the well-known Karakoram pass on the high road between Ladakh and Kashgar, it first drains the southern slopes of the Karakoram range, and then breaks across the axis of the Muztagh chain (of which the Karakoram is now recognized as a subsidiary extension northwards) ere bending north-westwards to run a parallel course to the Indus for 150 m. before its junction with that river. The combined streams still hold on their north-westerly trend for another 100 m., deep hidden under the shadow of a vast array of snow-crowned summits, until they arrive within sight of the Rakapushi peak which pierces the north-western sky midway between Gilgit and Hunza. Here the great change of direction to the south-west occurs, which is thereafter maintained till the Indus reaches the ocean. At this point it receives the Gilgit river from the north-west, having dropped The Gilgit affluent. from 15,000 to 4000 ft. (at the junction of the rivers) after about 500 m. of mountain descent through the independent provinces of northern Kashmir. (See Gilgit.) A few miles below the junction it passes Bunji, and from that point to a point beyond Chilas (50 m. below Bunji) it runs within the sphere of British interests. Then once again it resumes its “independent” course through the wild mountains of Kohistan and Hazara, receiving tribute from both sides (the Buner contribution being the most noteworthy) till it emerges into the plains of the Punjab below Darband, in 34° 10′ N. All this part of the river has been mapped in more or less detail of late years. The hidden strongholds of those Hindostani fanatics who had found a refuge on its banks since Mutiny days have been swept clean, and many ancient mysteries have been solved in the course of its surveying.
From its entrance into the plains of India to its disappearance
in the Indian Ocean, the Indus of to-day is the Indus of the ’fifties—modified
only in some interesting particulars. It
has been bridged at several important points. There
the plains. are bridges even in its upper mountain courses. There is a wooden pier bridge at Leh of two spans, and there are native suspension bridges of cane or twig-made rope swaying uneasily across the stream at many points intervening between Leh and Bunji; but the first English-made iron suspension bridge is a little above Bunji, linking up the highroad between Kashmir and Gilgit. Next occurs the iron girder railway bridge at Attock, connecting Rawalpindi with Peshawar, at which point the river narrows almost to a gorge, only 900 ft. above sea-level. Twenty miles below Attock the river has carved out a central trough which is believed to be 180 ft. deep. Forty miles below Attock another great bridge has been constructed at Kushalgarh, which carries the railway to Kohat and the Kurram valley. At Mari, beyond the series of gorges which continue from Kushalgarh to the borders of the Kohat district, on the Sind-Sagar line, a boat-bridge leads to Kalabagh (the Salt city) and northwards to Kohat. Another boat-bridge opposite Dera Ismail Khan connects that place with the railway; but there is nothing new in these southern sections of the Indus valley railway system except the extraordinary development of cultivation in their immediate neighbourhood. The Lansdowne bridge at Sukkur, whose huge cantilevers stand up as a monument of British enterprise visible over the flat plains for many miles around, is one of the greatest triumphs of Indian bridge-making. Kotri has recently been connected with Hyderabad in Sind, and the Indus is now one of the best-bridged rivers in India. The intermittent navigation which was maintained by the survivals of the Indus flotilla as far north as Dera Ismail Khan long after the establishment of the railway system has ceased to exist with the dissolution of the fleet, and the high-sterned flat Indus boats once again have the channels and sandbanks of the river all to themselves.
Within the limits of Sind the vagaries of the Indus channels
have necessitated a fresh survey of the entire riverain. The
results, however, indicate not so much a marked
departure in the general course of the river as a great
delta. variation in the channel beds within what may be termed its outside banks. Collaterally much new information has been obtained about the ancient beds of the river, the sites of ancient cities and the extraordinary developments of the Indus delta. The changing channels of the main stream since those prehistoric days when a branch of it found its way to the Runn of Cutch, through successive stages of its gradual shift westwards—a process of displacement which marked the disappearance of many populous places which were more or less dependent on the river for their water supply—to the last and greatest change of all, when the stream burst its way through the limestone ridges of Sukkur and assumed a course which has been fairly constant for 150 years, have all been traced out with systematic care by modern surveyors till the medieval history of the great river has been fully gathered from the characters written on the delta surface. That such changes of river bed and channel should have occurred within a comparatively limited period of time is the less astonishing if we remember that the Indus, like many of the greatest rivers of the world, carries down sufficient detritus to raise its own bed above the general level of the surrounding plains in an appreciable and measurable degree. At the present time the bed of the Indus is stated to be 70 ft. above the plains of the Sind frontier, some 50 m. to the west of it.
The total length of the Indus, measured directly, is about 1500 m. With its many curves and windings it stretches to about 2000 m., the area of its basin being computed at 372,000 sq. m. Even at its lowest in winter it is 500 ft. wide at Iskardo (near Statistics. the Gilgit junction) and 9 or 10 ft. deep. The temperature of the surface water during the cold season in the plains is found to be 5° below that of the air (64° and 69° F.). At the beginning of the hot season, when the river is bringing down snow water, the difference is 14° (87° and 101° June). At greater depths the difference is still greater. At Attock, where the river narrows between rocky banks, a height of 50 ft. in the flood season above lowest level is common, with a velocity of 13 m. per hour. The record rise (since British occupation of the Punjab) is 80 ft. At its junction with the Panjnad (the combined rivers of the Punjab east of the Indus) the Panjnad is twice the width of the Indus, but its mean depth is less, and its velocity little more than one-third. This discharge of the Panjnad at low season is 69,000 cubic ft. per second, that of the Indus 92,000. Below the junction the united discharge in flood season is 380,000 cubic ft., rising to 460,000 (the record in August). The Indus after receiving the other rivers carries down into Sind, in the high flood season, turbid water containing silt to the amount of 1 part by weight, or 1 by volume—equal to 6480 millions of cubic ft. in the three months of flood. This is rather less than the Ganges carries. The silt is very fine sand and clay. Unusual floods, owing to landslips or other exceptional causes, are not infrequent. The most disastrous flood of this nature occurred in 1858. It was then that the river rose 80 ft. at Attock. The most striking result of the rise was the reversal of the current of the Kabul river, which flowed backwards at the rate of 10 m. per hour, flooding Nowshera and causing immense damage to property. The prosperity of the province of Sind depends almost entirely on the waters of the Indus, as its various systems of canals command over nine million acres out of a cultivable area of twelve and a half million acres.
See Maclagan, Proceedings R.G.S., vol. iii.; Haig, The Indus Delta Country (London, 1894); Godwin-Austen, Proceedings R.G.S., vol. vi. (T. H. H.*)