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CHAPTER III

RIVERS

The Panjab Rivers.— "Panjab" is a Persian compound word, meaning "five waters," and strictly speaking the word denotes the country between the valley of the Jhelam and that of the Sutlej. The intermediate rivers from west to east are the Chenab, the Ravi, and the Bias. Their combined waters at last flow into the Panjnad or "five rivers" at the south-west corner of the Multan district, and the volume of water which 44 miles lower down the Panjnad carries into the Indus is equal to the discharge of the latter. The first Aryan settlers knew this part of India as the land of the seven rivers (sapta sindhavas), adding to the five mentioned above the Indus and the Sarasvati. The old Vedic name is more appropriate than Panjab if we substitute the Jamna for the Sarasvati or Sarusti, which is now a petty stream.

River Valleys.— The cold weather traveller who is carried from Delhi to Rawalpindi over the great railway bridges at points chosen because there the waters of the rivers are confined by nature, or can be confined by art, within moderate limits, has little idea of what one of these rivers is like in flood time. He sees that, even at such favoured spots, between the low banks there is a stretch of sand far exceeding in width the main channel, where a considerable volume of water is running, and the minor depressions, in which a sluggish and shallow flow may still be found. If, leaving the railway, he crosses a river by some bridge of boats or local ferry, he will find still wider expanses of sand sometimes bare and dry and white, at others moist and dark and covered with dwarf tamarisk. He may notice that, before he

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Fig. 11. Panjáb Rivers.

reaches the sand and the tamarisk scrub, he leaves by a gentle or abrupt descent the dry uplands, and passes into a lower, greener, and perhaps to his inexperienced eye more fertile seeming tract. This is the valley, often miles broad, through which the stream has moved in ever-shifting channels in the course of centuries. He finds it hard to realize that, when the summer heats melt the Himalayan snows, and the monsoon currents, striking against the northern mountain walls, are precipitated in torrents of rain, the rush of water to the plains swells the river 20, 30, 40, or even 50 fold. The sandy bed then becomes full from bank to bank, and the silt laden waters spill over into the cultivated lowlands beyond. Accustomed to the stable streams of his own land, he cannot conceive the risks the riverside farmer in the Panjab runs of having fruitful fields smothered in a night with barren sand, or lands and well and house sucked into the river-bed. So great and sudden are the changes, bad and good, wrought by river action that the loss and gain have to be measured up year by year for revenue purposes. Nor is the visitor likely to imagine that the main channel may in a few seasons become a quite subsidiary or wholly deserted bed. Like all streams, e.g. the Po, which flow from the mountains into a flat terrain, the Panjab rivers are perpetually silting up their beds, and thus, by their own action, becoming diverted into new channels or into existing minor ones, which are scoured out afresh. If our traveller, leaving the railway at Rawalpindi, proceeds by tonga to the capital of Kashmir, he will find between Kohala and Baramula another surprise awaiting him. The noble but sluggish river of the lowlands, which he crossed at the town of Jhelam, is here a swift and deep torrent, flowing over a boulder bed, and swirling round waterworn rocks in a gorge hemmed in by mountains. That is the typical state of the Himalayan rivers, though the same Jhelam above Baramula is an exception, flowing there sluggishly through a very flat valley into a shallow lake.

The Indus Basin.— The river Sindh (Sanskrit, Sindhu), more familiar to us under its classical name of the Indus, must have filled with astonishment every invader from the west, and it is not wonderful that they called after it the country that lay beyond. Its basin covers an area of 373,000 square miles. Confining attention to Asia these figures, large though they seem, are far exceeded by those of the Yangtsze-Kiang. The area of which a description is attempted in this book is, with the exception of a strip along the Jamna and the part of Kashmir lying beyond the Muztagh-Karakoram range, all included in the Indus basin. But it does not embrace the whole of it. Part is in Tibet, part in Afghanistan and Biluchistan, and part in Sindh, through which province the Indus flows for 450 miles, or one-quarter of its whole course of 1800 miles. It seems likely that the Jamna valley was not always an exception, or at least that that river once flowed westwards through Rajputana to the Indian ocean. The five great rivers of the Pan jab all drain into the Indus, and the Ghagar with its tributary, the Sarusti, which now, even when in flood, loses itself in the sands of Bikaner, probably once flowed down the old Hakra bed in Bahawalpur either into the Indus or by an independent bed now represented by an old flood channel of the Indus in Sindh, the Hakro or Nara, which passes through the Rann of Kachh.

The Indus outside British India.— To the north of the Manasarowar lake in Tibet is Kailas, the Hindu Olympus. On the side of this mountain the Indus is said to rise at a height of 17,000 feet. After a course of 200 miles or more it crosses the south-east boundary of the Kashmir State at an elevation of 13,800 feet. From the Kashmir frontier to Mt Haramosh west of Gilgit it flows steadily to the north-west for 350 miles. After 125 miles Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is reached at a height of 10,500 feet, and here the river is crossed by the trade route to Yarkand. A little below Leh the Indus receives the Zanskar, which drains the south-east of Kashmir. After another 150 miles it flows through the basin, in which Skardo, the principal town in Baltistan, is situated. Above Skardo a large tributary, the Shyok, flows in from the east at an elevation of 8000 feet. The Shyok and its affluent, the Nubra, rise in the giant glaciers to the south-west of the Karakoram pass. After the Skardo basin is left behind the descent is rapid. The river rushes down a tremendous gorge, where it appears to break through the western Himalaya, skirts Haramosh, and at a point twenty-five miles east of Gilgit bends abruptly to the south. Shortly after it is joined from the west by the Gilgit river, and here the bed is about 4000 feet above sea level. Continuing to flow south for another twenty miles it resumes its westernly course to the north of Nanga Parvat and persists in it for 100 miles. Our political post of Chilas lies in this section on the south bank. Fifty or sixty miles west of Chilas the Indus turns finally to the south. From Jalkot, where the Kashmir frontier is left, to Palosi below the Mahaban mountain it flows for a hundred miles through territory over which we only exercise political control. Near Palosi, 812 miles from the source, the river enters British India. In Kashmir the Indus and the Shyok in some places flow placidly over alluvial flats, and at others with a rapid and broken current through narrow gorges. At Skardo their united stream is said, even in winter, to be 500 feet wide and nine or ten feet deep. If one of the deep gorges, as sometimes happens, is choked by a landslip, the flood that follows when the barrier finally bursts may spread devastation hundreds of miles away. To the north of the fertile Chach plain in Attock there is a wide stretch of land along the Indus, which still shows in its stony impoverished soil the effects of the great flood of 1841. The Indus in British India.— After reaching British India the Indus soon becomes the boundary dividing Hazara and Peshawar, two districts of the North West Frontier Province. Lower down it parts Peshawar from the Panjab district of Attock. In this section after a time the hills recede on both sides, and the stream is wide and so shallow that it is fordable in places in the cold weather. There are islands, ferry boats and rafts

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Fig. 12. The Indus in Attock

can ply, and the only danger is from sudden freshets. Ohind, where Alexander crossed, is in this section. A more famous passage is at Attock just below the junction of the Kabul river. Here the heights again approach the Indus on either bank. The volume of water is vastly increased by the union of the Kabul river, which brings down the whole drainage of the southern face of the Hindu Kush. From the north it receives near Jalalabad the Kunar river, and near Charsadda in Peshawar the Swat, which with its affluent the Panjkora drains Dir, Bajaur, and Swat. In the cold weather looking northwards from the Attock fort one sees the Kabul or Landai as a blue river quietly mingling with the Indus, and in the angle between them a stretch of white sand. But during floods the junction is the scene of a wild turmoil of waters. At Attock there are a railway bridge, a bridge of boats, and a ferry. The bed of the stream is 2000

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Fig. 13. Indus at Kafirkot, D.I. Khán dt.

feet over sea level. For ninety miles below Attock the river is confined between bare and broken hills, till it finally emerges into the plains from the gorge above Kalabagh, where the Salt Range impinges on the left bank. Between Attock and Kalabagh the right bank is occupied by Peshawar and Kohat and the left by Attock and Mian wall. In this section the Indus is joined by the Haro and Soan torrents, and spanned at Khushalgarh by a railway bridge. This is the only other masonry bridge crossing it in the Panjab. Elsewhere the passage has to be made by ferry boats or by boat bridges, which are taken down in the rainy season. At Kalabagh the height above sea level is less than iooo feet. When it passes the western extremity of the Salt Range the river spreads out into a wide lake-like expanse of waters. It has now performed quite half of its long journey. Henceforth it receives no addition from the east till the Panjnad in the south-west corner of the Muzaffargarh district brings to it the whole tribute of the five rivers of the Panjab. Here, though the Indian ocean is still 500 miles distant, the channel is less than 300 feet above the sea. From the west it receives an important tributary in the Kurram, which, with its affluent the Tochi, rises in Afghanistan. The torrents from the Suliman Range are mostly used up for irrigation before they reach the Indus, but some of them mingle their waters with it in high floods Below Kalabagh the Indus is a typical lowland river of great size, with many sandy islands in the bed and a wide valley subject to its inundations. Opposite Dera Ismail Khan the valley is seventeen miles across. As a plains river the Indus runs at first through the Mianwali district of the Panjab, then divides Mianwali from Dera Ismail Khan, and lastly parts Muzaffargarh and the Bahawalpur State from the Panjab frontier district of Dera Ghazi Khan.

The Jhelam.— The Jhelam, the most westernly of the five rivers of the Panjab, is called the Veth in Kashmir and locally in the Panjab plains the Vehat. These names correspond to the Bihat of the Muhammadan historians and the Hydaspes of the Greeks, and all go back to the Sanskrit Vitasta. Issuing from a deep pool at Vernag to the east of Islamabad in Kashmir it becomes navigable just below that town, and flows north-west in a lazy stream for 102 miles through Srinagar, the summer capital, into the Wular lake, and beyond it to Baramiila. The banks are quite low and often cultivated to the river's edge. But across the flat valley there is on either side a splendid panorama of mountains. From Baramiila the character of the Jhelam suddenly changes, and for the next 70 miles to Kohala, where the traveller crosses by a fine bridge into the Panjab, it rushes down a deep gorge, whose sides are formed by the Kajnag mountains on the right, and the Pir Panjal on the left, bank. Between Baramiila and Kohala there is a drop from 5000 to 2000 feet. At Domel, the stage before Kohala the Jhelam receives from the north the waters of the Kishnganga, and lower down it is joined by the Kunhar, which drains the Kagan glen in Hazara. A little above Kohala it turns sharply to the south, continuing its character as a mountain stream hemmed in by the hills of Rawalpindi on the right bank and of the Punch State on the left. The hills gradually sink lower and lower, but on the left side only disappear a little above the cantonment of Jhelam, where there is a noble railway bridge. From Jhelam onwards the river is of the usual plains' type. After dividing the districts of Jhelam (right bank) and Gujrat (left), it flows through the Shahpur and Jhang districts, falling finally into the Chenab at Trimmu, 450 miles from its source. There is a second railway bridge at Haranpur on the Sind Sagar line, and a bridge of boats at Khushab, in the Shahpur district. The noblest and most varied scenery in the north-west Himalaya is in the catchment area of the Jhelam. The Kashmir valley and the valleys which drain into the Jhelam from the north, the Liddar, the Lolab, the Sind, and the Kagan glen, display a wealth of beauty unequalled elsewhere. Nor does this river wholly lose its association with beauty in the plains. Its very rich silt gives the lands on its banks the green charm of rich crops and pleasant trees. The Chenab.— The Chenab (more properly Chinab or river of China) is the Asikni of the Vedas and the Akesines of the Greek historians. It is formed by the union of the Chandra and Bhaga, both of which rise in Lahul near the Baralacha pass. Having become the Chandrabhaga the river flows through Pangi in Chamba and the south-east of Kashmir. Near Kishtwar it breaks through the Pir Panjal range, and thenceforwards receives the drainage of its southern slopes. At Akhnur it becomes navigable and soon after it enters the Pan jab district of Sialkot. A little later it is joined from the west by the Tawi, the stream above which stands Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir. The Chenab parts Sialkot and Gujranwala on the left bank from Gujrat and Shahpur on the right. At Wazirabad, near the point where Sialkot, Gujrat, and Gujranwala meet, it is crossed by the Alexandra railway bridge. Leaving Shahpur and Gujranwala behind, the Chenab flows through Jhang to its junction with the Jhelam at Trimmu. In this section there is a second railway bridge at Chund Bharwana. The united stream runs on under the name of Chenab to be joined on the north border of the Multan district by the Ravi and on its southern border by the Sutlej. Below its junction with the latter the stream is known as the Panjnad. In the plains the Chenab cannot be called an attractive river, and its silt is far inferior to that of the Jhelam.

The Ravi.— The Ravi was known to the writers of the Vedic hymns as the Parushni, but is called in classical Sanskrit Iravati, whence the Hydraotes of the Greek historians. It rises near the Rotang pass in Kangra, and flows north-west through the southern part of Chamba. Below the town of Chamba, it runs as a swift slaty-blue mountain stream, and here it is spanned by a fine bridge. Passing on to the north of the hill station of Dalhousie it reaches the Kashmir border, and turning to the south-west flows along it to Basoli where Kashmir, Chamba, and the British district of Gurdaspur meet. At this point it is 2000 feet above the sea level. It now forms the boundary of Kashmir and Gurdaspur, and finally near Madhopur, where the head-works of the Ban Doab canal are situated, it passes into the Gurdaspur district. Shortly after it is joined from the north by a large torrent called the Ujh, which rises in the Jammu hills. After

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Fig. 14. Fording the River at Lahore.

reaching the Sialkot border the Ravi parts that district first from Gurdaspur and then from Amritsar, and, passing through the west of Lahore, divides Montgomery and Lyallpur, and flowing through the north of Multan joins the Chenab near the Jhang border. In Multan there is a remarkable straight reach in the channel known as the Sidhnai, which has been utilized for the site of the head-works of a small canal. The Degh, a torrent which rises in the Jammu hills and has a long course through the Sialkot and Gujranwala districts, joins the Ravi when in flood in the north of the Lyallpur district. But its waters will now be diverted into the river higher up in order to safeguard the Upper Chenab canal. Lahore is on the left bank of the Ravi. It is a mile from the cold weather channel, but in high floods the waters have often come almost up to the Fort. At Lahore the North Western Railway and the Grand Trunk Road are carried over the Ravi by masonry bridges. There is a second railway bridge over the Sidhnai reach in Multan. Though the Ravi, like the Jhelam, has a course of 450 miles, it has a far smaller catchment area, and is really a somewhat insignificant stream. In the cold weather the canal takes such a heavy toll from it that below Madhopur the supply of water is mainly drawn from the Ujh, and in Montgomery one may cross the bed dryshod for months together. The valley of the Ravi is far narrower than those of the rivers described in the preceding paragraphs, and the floods are most uncertain, but when they occur are of very great value.

The Bias. — The Bias (Sanskrit, Vipasa; Greek, Hyphasis) rises near the Rotang pass at a height of about 13,000 feet. Its head-waters are divided from those of the Ravi by the Bara Bangahal range. It flows for about sixty miles through the beautiful Kulu valley to Larji (3000 feet). It has at first a rapid course, but before it reaches Sultanpur (4000 feet), the chief village in Kulu, some thirty miles from the source, it has become, at least in the cold weather, a comparatively peaceful stream fringed with alder thickets. Heavy floods, however, sometimes cover fields and orchards with sand and boulders. There is a bridge at Manali (6100 feet), a very lovely spot, another below Nagar, and a third at Larji. Near Larji the river turns to the west down a bold ravine and becomes for a time the boundary between Kulu and the Mandi State. Near the town of Mandi, where it is bridged, it bends again, and winds in a north-west and westerly direction through low hills in the south of Kangra till it meets the Siwaliks on the Hoshyarpur border. In this reach there is a bridge of boats at Dera Gopipur on the main road from Jalandhar and Hoshyarpur to Dharmsala. Elsewhere in the south of Kangra the traveller can cross without difficulty on

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Fig. 15. Biás at Manáli

a small bed supported on inflated skins. Sweeping round the northern end of the Siwaliks the Bias, having after long parting again approached within about fifteen miles of the Ravi, turns definitely to the south, forming henceforth the dividing line between Hoshyarpur and Kapiirthala (left bank) and Gurdaspur and Amritsar (right). Finally above the Harike ferry at a point where Lahore, Amritsar, Ferozepur, and Kapiirthala nearly meet, it falls into the Sutlej. The North Western Railway crosses it by a bridge near the Bias station and at the same place there is a bridge of boats for the traffic on the Grand Trunk Road. The chief affluents are the Chakki, the torrent which travellers to Dharmsala cross by a fine bridge twelve miles from the rail-head at Pathankot, and the Black Bein in Hoshyarpur and Kapurthala. The latter is a winding drainage channel, which starts in a swamp in the north of the Hoshyarpur district. The Bias has a total course of 390 miles. Only for about eighty miles or so is it a true river of the plains, and its floods do not spread far.

The Sutlej.— The Sutlej is the Shatadru of Vedic hymns and the Zaradros of Greek writers. The peasant of the Panjab plains knows it as the Nili or Ghara. After the Indus it is the greatest of Panjab rivers, and for its source we have to go back to the Manasarowar lakes in Tibet. From thence it flows for 200 miles in a north-westerly direction to the British frontier near Shipki. A little beyond the Spiti river brings it the drainage of the large tract of that name in Kangra and of part of Western Tibet. From Shipki it runs for forty miles in deep gorges through Kunawar in the Bashahr State to Chini, a beautiful spot near the Wangtu bridge, where the Hindustan-Tibet road crosses to the left bank. A little below Chini the Baspa flows in from the south-east. The fall between the source and Chini is from 15,000 to 7500 feet. There is magnificent cliff scenery at Rogi in this reach. Forty miles below Chini the capital of Bashahr, Rampur, on the south bank, is only 3300 feet above sea level. There is a second bridge at Rampur, and from about this point the river becomes the boundary of Bashahr and Kulu, the route to which from Simla passes over the Luri bridge (2650 feet) below Narkanda. Beyond Luri the Sutlej runs among low hills through several of the Simla Hill States. It pierces the Siwaliks at the Hoshyarpur border and then turns to the south, maintaining that trend till Rupar and the head-works of the Sirhind canal are reached. For the next hundred miles to the Bias junction the general direction is west. Above the Harike ferry the Sutlej again turns, and flows steadily, though with many windings, to the south-west till it joins the Chenab at the south corner of the Multan district. There are railway bridges at Phillaur, Ferozepur, and Adamwahan. In the plains the Sutlej districts are — on the right bank Hoshyarpur, Jalandhar, Lahore, and Montgomery, and on the left Ambala, Ludhiana and Ferozepur. Below Ferozepur the river divides Montgomery and Multan from Bahawalpur (left bank). The Sutlej has a course of 900 miles, and a large catchment area in the hills. Notwithstanding the heavy toll taken by the Sirhind canal, its floods spread pretty far in Jalandhar and Ludhiana and below the Bias junction many monsoon canals have been dug which inundate a large area in the lowlands of the districts on either bank and of Bahawalpur. The dry bed of the Hakra, which can be traced through Bahawalpur, Bikaner, and Sindh, formerly carried the waters of the Sutlej to the sea.

The Ghagar and the Sarusti.— The Ghagar, once a tributary of the Hakra, rises within the Sirmur State in the hills to the east of Kalka. A few miles south of Kalka it crosses a narrow neck of the Ambala district, and the bridge on the Ambala-Kalka railway is in this section. The rest of its course, till it loses itself in the sands of Bikaner, is chiefly in Patiala and the Karnal and Hissar districts. It is joined by the Umla torrent in Karnal and lower down the Sarusti unites with it in Patiala just beyond the Karnal border. It is hard to believe that the Sarusti of to-day is the famous Sarasvati of the Vedas, though the little ditch-like channel that bears the name certainly passes beside the sacred sites of Thanesar and Pehowa. A small sandy torrent bearing the same name rises in the low hills in the north-east of the Ambala district, but it is doubtful if its waters, which finally disappear into the ground, ever reach the Thanesar channel. That seems rather to originate in the overflow of a rice swamp in the plains, and in the cold weather the bed is usually dry. In fact, till the Sarusti receives above Pehowa the floods of the Markanda torrent, it is a most insignificant stream. The Markanda, when in flood, carries a large volume of water, and below the junction the small channel of the Sarusti cannot carry the tribute received, which spreads out into a shallow lake called the Sainsa jhil. This has been utilized for the supply of the little Sarusti canal, which is intended to do the work formerly effected in a rude way by throwing bands or embankments across the bed of the stream, and forcing the water over the surrounding lands. The same wasteful form of irrigation was used on a large scale on the Ghagar and is still practised on its upper reaches. Lower down earthen bands have been superceded by a masonry weir at Otu in the Hissar district. The northern and southern Ghagar canals, which irrigate lands in Hissar and Bikaner, take off from this weir.

Action of Torrents. — The Ghagar is large enough to exhibit all the three stages which a cho or torrent of intermittent flow passes through. Such a stream begins in the hills with a well-defined boulder-strewn bed, which is never dry. Reaching the plains the bed of a cho becomes a wide expanse of white sand, hardly below the level of the adjoining country, with a thread of water passing down it in the cold weather. But from time to time in the rainy season the channel is full from bank to bank and the waters spill far and wide over the fields. Sudden spates sometimes sweep away men and cattle before they can get across. If, as in Hoshyarpur, the chos flow into a rich plain from hills composed of friable sandstone and largely denuded of tree-growth, they are in their second stage most destructive. After long delay an Act was passed in 1900, which gives the government large powers for the protection of trees in the Siwaliks and the reclamation of torrent beds in the plains. The process of recovery cannot be rapid, but a measure of success has already been attained. It must not be supposed that the action of chos in this second stage is uniformly bad. Some carry silt as well as sand, and the very light loam which the great Markanda cho has spread over the country on its banks is worth much more to the farmer than the stiff clay it has overlaid. Many chos do not pass into the third stage, when all the sand has been dropped, and the bed shrinks into a narrow ditch-like channel with steep clay banks. The inundations of torrents like the Degh and the Ghagar after this stage is reached convert the soil into a stiff impervious clay, where flood-water will lie for weeks without being absorbed into the soil. In Karnal the wretched and fever-stricken tract between the Ghagar and the Sarusti known as the Naili is of this character.

The Jamna.— The Jamna is the Yamuna of Sanskrit writers. Ptolemy's and Pliny's versions, Diamouna and Jomanes, do not deviate much from the original. It rises in the Kumaon Himalaya, and, where it first meets the frontier of the Simla Hill States, receives from the north a large tributary called the Tons. Henceforth, speaking broadly, the Jamna is the boundary of the Panjab and the United Provinces. On the Panjab bank are from north to south the Sirmur State, Ambala, Karnal, Rohtak, Delhi, and Gurgaon. The river leaves the Panjab where Gurgaon and the district of Mathra, which belongs to the United Provinces, meet, and finally falls into the Ganges at Allahabad. North of Mathr'a Delhi is the only important town on its banks. The Jamna is crossed by railway bridges between Delhi and Meerut and between Ambala and Saharanpur.

Changes in Rivers.— Allusion has already been made to the changes which the courses of Panjab rivers are subject to in the plains. The Indus below Kalabagh once ran through the heart of what is now the Thai desert. We know that in 1245 a.d. Multan was in the Sind Sagar Doab between the Indus and the united streams of the Jhelam, Chenab, and Ravi. The Bias had then no connection with the Sutlej, but ran in a bed of its own easily to be traced to-day in the Montgomery and Multan districts, and joined the Indus between Multan and Uch. The Sutlej was still flowing in the Hakra bed. Indeed its junction with the Bias near Harike, which probably led to a complete change in the course of the Bias, seems only to have taken place within the last 150 years[1]


  1. Raverty's "The Mehran of Sind and its Tributaries," in Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1897.