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River Basin Geology &
Natural History:

This is a mosaic of satellite images of North and North-west India  

which had been drained by the Sarasvati River in ancient times (ca. 3000 B.C.) supporting over 1600 settlements. The area is now sustained principally by the Sindhu, Shatadru, Yamuna and Ganga river systems which are clearly seen in the satellite mosaic.

Sarasvati River Basin is adorned with lotus ponds, peacocks are abundant in the basin; the lotus is a symbol associated with the images of Goddess Sarasvati, the mother goddess of arts and crafts playing the veena.

The natural history of the region may be analysed by three distinct ecological zones in the region:

Projects are ongoing to develop the Sarasvati River Basin:

Rivers (Sindhu-Sarasvati) and canal systems


These are three satellite image mosaics of three river basins in North and North-west India: Sindhu-Shatadru, Yamuna-Ganga and Sarasvati.

Shatadru or Sutlej is a river more ancient than the young Himalayas. Before the Himalayas arose, only three rivers existed in the region: Sindhu, Shatadru and Brahmaputra, all originating from Mansarovar Lan-ka Ts'o (lake) in southwestern Tibet.

The river is called in ancient Greek ZARADROS. It is the longest of the rivers in the Punjab of "Five Rivers". It now flows northwest and west-southwest through Himalayan gorges, crosses Himachal Pradesh state and enters the Punjab in Hoshiarpur district. Flowing southwest in a broad channel, it receives the Beas River and forms 65 mi (105 km) of the Indo-Pakistani border. It enters Pakistan and joins the Chenab River west of Bahawalpur.

The combined rivers then form the Panjnad, and link with the Sindhu or Indus river. Sarasvati (Ghaggar) river, northern India. The Ghaggar rises in the Siwalik Range, northwestern Himachal Pradesh state, and flows about 200 miles (320 km) southwest through Haryana state, where it receives the Saraswati River. It eventually loses itself in the sands of the Thar Desert. Just southwest of Sirsa it feeds two irrigation canals that extend into Rajasthan. The Ghaggar was probably once an affluent of the Indus River. Its seasonal flow is dependent on monsoon rainfall.

Irrigation from Indus waters has provided the basis for successful agriculture since time immemorial. Modern irrigation engineering work commenced around 1850, and large canal systems were constructed by the British administration. In many cases old canals and inundation channels in Sindh and Punjab were revived and modernized; thus the greatest canal irrigation system in the world was created. At partition in 1947, the international boundary between India and West Pakistan cut the irrigation system of the Bari Doab and the Sutlej Valley Project, originally designed as one scheme, into two parts. The headwork fell to India while the canals ran through Pakistan. This led to a disruption in the water supply in some parts of Pakistan. The dispute that thus arose and continued for some years was resolved through the mediation of the World Bank by a treaty between Pakistan and India (1960) known as the Indus Waters Treaty. According to this agreement, the flow of the three western rivers of the Indus basin--the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab (except a small quantity used in Kashmir)--is assigned to Pakistan, whereas the entire flow of the three eastern rivers--the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej--is reserved exclusively for India. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Sirhind canal in Punjab, India, opened in 1882. It consists of an extensive canal system that irrigates more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square km) of farmland. The system's headworks, where it draws its water, are on the Sutlej River at Ropar, near the border of Himachal Pradesh state. From there the canal runs west-southwest to Doraha, where it splits into three branches. One flows west and then northwest to rejoin the Sutlej near the Pakistan border; one runs southwest past Bhatinda to the border of Rajasthan state; and the third flows southeast to Patiala. There are many distributaries, in addition to the three principal branches.

Thar desert

Thar or Marusthali, is also called GREAT INDIAN DESERT. It is a tract of rolling sand hills located in Rajasthan, India and as Cholistan in Bahawalpur province, Pakistan. It covers 77,000 square miles (200,000 square km) of territory, it is bordered by the irrigated Indus plain to the west, the Aravalli Range to the southeast, the Rann of Kutch to the south, and the Punjab plain to the north and northeast.

The dryness of the prevailing monsoon winds, which do not bring sufficient rain to keep the region moist has resulted in the desert. The name Thar is derived from t'hul, connoting the region's sand ridges.
Marusthali is the most populated desert in the world. "Marusthali, the land of sand-dunes and xerophytic vegetation of Western Rajasthan, is a vast region occupying 60 per cent of the area of the state. Development of the means of irrigation specially by the I.G. Canal and the rich aquifers of subterranean water has elated high hopes for a sustainable development in this land of scorching heat. Exploitation of mineral resources in the recent past has added new dimensions to economic development. With all the economic developments in progress, there has been a substantial decline in the ecological realm and it is the main endeavour to strike a balance between the economy and ecology. The two have to coexit and so the book examines the requirements of resources in the framework of ecological restoration which is the need of the hour." (Mathur, H.S., Arid Lands: People and Resources, 1994) .

Rajasthan is a pastoral state and exports food grains and vegetables. Despite a low and erratic rainfall, nearly all types of crops are grown; in the desert area, bajra (millet); in Kota, jowar (sorghum); and in Udaipur, mainly corn (maize). Wheat and barley are fairly well distributed (except in the desert area), as are pulses (the edible seeds of legumes, such as peas, beans, and lentils), sugarcane, and oilseeds. Improved varieties of rice have been introduced, and acreage of this crop has expanded in the areas of the Chambal Valley and Indira Gandhi canal projects. Cotton and tobacco are important cash crops.

Marusthali (Thar Desert), Jaisalmer

This is the satellite (IRS 1-c) image of the ancient channel of Sarasvati River near Suratgarh. The black spots near Suratgarh are representations of salinity caused by waterlogging in the area caused by inadequacies of the drainage system.
Cholistan Desert in Sindh
These are the two natural divisions of Rajasthan. The northwest tract is sandy and unproductive with little water but improves gradually from desert land in the far west and northwest to comparatively fertile and habitable land toward the east. The area includes the Great Indian (Thar) Desert. The Aravali (Aravalli) Range forms a line across the Rajasthan state running     roughly from Guru Peak (Mount Abu), which is 5,650 feet (1,722 metres) high, in the southwest to Khetri in the northeast. About three-fifths of the state lies northwest of this line, leaving    two-fifths in the southeast.

Pokaran is close to Jaisalmer and is the site where India conducted a nuclear test. Around Pokaran, the Sarasvati River ancient course seems to merge with the sands.
      Saraswati once flowed through Thar

(See also BARC Research)


(excerpt from the Times of India, Bombay, 24 July 1992)

JODHPUR, July 23.

The legendary Saraswati once flowed through the Thar desert. Scientist at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) have confirmed this after extensive research on the likely courses of the Saraswati, referred to as the "mother of rivers" in the Rig Veda.

Earlier, the scholars had identified the river with the present dry bed of the Ghaggar in Haryana and Rajasthan and the Raini, the Wahinda and the Nara streams in Pakistan. Though it was agreed that the river frequently shifted its course, it could not be traced from its source in the Shivalik hills in Himalayas to the estuary.

Now through satellite imagery, aerial photographs and field surveys, CAZRI scientists have confirmed that the mighty river first of all ran through the Thar desert.

"It is estimated that the river flowed through the desert between one million and 40,000 years ago and shifted westward. The present Ghaggar valley took shape between when the Saraswati ran through this course," says Dr Amal Kar, senior geomorphologist.

The earliest course of the Saraswati has been constructed through Nohar, Surjansar, Sirsa, Lunkanasar and Bikaner, and Pachpadra where the river was met by the present Luni.

One outlet of the Saraswati into the sea was at Lokpat which was also a major seat of learning and a port. Further downstream was Narayan Sarovar which is mentioned in the Mahabharta as a holy place.

"Then climatic changes and earthquakes ( the Rann of Katchh is prone to tectonic activities) forced the river to change its course and move westward. Climatic changes induced aridity which caused the sand to choke off the river course," says Dr Kar.

Subsequently, the river occupied what is now known as the dry bed of the Ghaggar between Nohar and Anupgarh. "Here pre-Harappan and Harappan flourished at Alibangan and Pilibangan. Later, another civilization thrived at Rangmaha (near the present Hanumangarh)," says Dr Kar.

According to him, beyond Anupgarh the river used to flow through Sakli, Islamgarh(in Pakistan), Ghantial, Shahgarh(in Jaisalmer), and Mahilamungra (in Pakistan) and then through the present course of the Nara. More shifts took place later on and the river identified itself with the Raini, the Ahindi, and the HakraNara in Pakistan. Initially, it ceased to flow through even these courses and joined the Sutlej near Ahmedpur(East) in Pakistan.

"Earlier, the Sutlej known as the Satadru in the Vedic period used to be a tributary of the Saraswati first joining it near Jakhal and later near Hanumangarh and Anupgarh. During the Mahabharata period when the Sutlej moved away from the river (due to tectonic and climatic reasons), the Saraswati was left with its own meagre flow, leaving a dry valley," Dr Kar explains.

In the Mahabharata, the Saraswati or the Sapta Saraswati (system of seven rivers) is referred to as a dying river which went underground near Binasan. "This place is near Sirsa," he says.

Another main tributary of the Saraswati, according to the epic, was the Drishadvati which used to merge with the Saraswati after flowing through Jind, Narnaul, Hissar and Nohar. Scholars have identified it with the present Chautang, carrying the Hansi-Hissar branch of the western Yamuna canal.

The dry bed of the Ghaggar and the buried courses of the Saraswati still yield sub-surface water in the desert. "This is contributed by the Himalayan precipitation flowing subterraneously through the buried courses of the Saraswati as meagre rainfall here(150 mm) cannot contribute substantially to the perennial supply of sub-surface water," says Dr Kar .

Field investigation by the researchers had confirmed the existence of buried courses. It has been found that the areas through which the Saraswati flowed supports lush green vegetation even during the summer months in the desert. Few wells dug along the tract have yielded weet water only at 30 to 40 metres.

Landscape of Sindh

Mohenjodaro: bath and street drain. From north to south, Sind assumes a pattern of three parallel belts. A central stretch of rich alluvial plain bisected by the long, winding, silvery line of the Indus, flanked on the west by the rocky range of the Khirthar Range and bounded on the east by a sandy desert belt.

The Khirthar Range consists of three parallel tiers of ridges. The easternmost section is steep on the west but has a long gradient to the east. The central ridge has flat tops and rounded sides broken by deep ravines and fissures, whereas the westernmost tier consists of a vast plateau or tableland with some beaks rising above 7,000 feet. This mountainous belt has little soil and is mostly dry and barren. The easterly desert region first appears in the north as low dunes and vast flats. Continuing southward, the Achhrro Thar (White Sand Desert) occurs in the middle of the belt and is followed by the Thar Desert (q.v.) in the southeast.

The central riverine belt - 360 miles long and about 20,000 sqare miles in area - constitutes the Valley of the Indus. The fertile plain, gradually sloping down from north to south, in its long gradient forms the three flat regions known as siro (the upper), vichole (the middle), and larr (the lower). The variety of soils includes pakki, or patt, the flat level land of old alluvial forming the northern strips of the Sukkur, Jacobabad, and Larkana districts; reti-wari, the soft reddish rocky soil of the belt skirting the northwesterly rocky range; kacho, the fertile silt alluvial in the narrow inundated belt of the Indus; wariasi, an admixture of soft clay and sand; chiki, the composite fine clay and soft sand on both sides of the inundated belt; and kalar, or alkaline soil, found mostly in the larr region.

Vegetation And Animal Life in Sindh:

Except for the irrigated Indus Valley, the province is arid and has scant vegetation. The dwarf palm, kher (Acacia rupestris), and lohirro (Tecoma undulata) trees are typical of the western hill region. In the central valley, the babul tree is the most dominant and occurs in thick forests along the Indus banks. The nim (Azadirachta indica), ber (Zizyphys vulgaris) or jujuba, lai (Tamarix orientalis) and kirirr (Capparis aphylla) are among the more common trees.

Mango, date palms, and the more recently introduced banana, guava, orange, and chiku are the typical fruit-bearing trees. The coastal strip and the creeks abound in semi-aquatic and aquatic plants, and the inshore Indus deltaic islands have forests of timmer (Avicennia tomentosa) and chaunir (Ceriops candolleana) trees. Water lilies grow in abundance in the numerous lake and ponds, particularly in the lower Sind region.

Among the wild animals, the sareh (Sind ibex), urial or gadh (wild sheep) and black bear are found in the western rocky range, where the leopard is now rare. The pirrang (large tiger cat or fishing cat) of the eastern desert region is also disappearing. Deer occur in the lower rocky plains and in the eastern region, as do the charakh (striped hyena), jackal, fox, porcupine, common gray mongoose, and hedgehog. The Sindhi phekari, red lynx or caracal cat, is encountered in some areas.

Phartho (hog deer) and wild bear occur particularly in the central inundation belt. There is a variety of bats, lizards, and reptiles, including the cobra, lundi (viper), and the mysterious Sind krait of the Thar region, which is supposed to suck the victim's breath in his sleep. Crocodiles are rare and inhabit only the backwaters of the Indus and its eastern Nara channel. Besides a large variety of marine fish, the plumbeous dolphin, the beaked dolphin, rorqual, or blue whale, and a variety of skates frequent the seas along the Sind coast. The Pallo (sable fish), though a marine fish, ascends the Indus annually from February to April to spawn.

Rann of Kutch

A village in the Rann of Kutch.
Kutch also spelled kachchh, KUTCH, CUTCH, or KACHH, saline mudflats, west-central India and southern Pakistan. The Great Rann covers an area of about 7,000 square miles (18,000 square km) and lies almost entirely within Gujarat state, India, along the border with Pakistan. The Little Rann of Kachchh extends northeast from the Gulf of Kachchh and occupies about 2,000 square miles (5,100 square km) in Gujarat state. Originally an extension of the Arabian Sea, the Rann of Kachchh has been closed off by centuries of silting. During the time of Alexander the Great it was a navigable lake, but it is now an extensive mudflat, inundated during monsoon seasons. Settlement is limited to low, isolated hills.

The Rann floods during the rainy season, slight though the rains may be, and Kachchh is converted into an island; in the dry season it is a sandy, salty plain plagued by dust storms. To the south of Kachchh is the large peninsula of Kathiawar (Saurashtra), lying between the Gulf of Kachchh and the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay). It also is arid and rises from the coasts to a low, rolling area of hill land in the centre, covered with scrub or sparse woodland.

Dholavira (Time Magazine Report, Sept. 1, 1997) in the  Rann's wastes on Khadir Bet (see map), is a low plateau surrounded by water during monsoon rains. (More info...) The in-situ image shows a sophisticated system of using ring-stones to support housing structures. Indian archaeologists have uncovered an extensive and remarkably sophisticated water supply system that included finely chiseled reservoirs, wells and rainwater tanks. A third of the city's 50 hectares was devoted to the collection and distribution of fresh water. "In its heyday," says R.S. Bisht, director of excavations at the Archaeological Survey of India (asi), "the whole of Dholavira may have looked like a lake city."  Dholavira traces a parallelogram, encircled by a stone-and-brick wall 5 m thick at its base. Inside, the wall of the citadel is 18.5 m thick, while the so-called "middle town" with spacious homes suggesting occupation by well-off traders, has its own fortification. A developed public space--nearly 300 m by 50 m--edges the citadel; Bisht hypothesizes that it could have served as a multi-purpose sports stadium, assembly arena and occasional bazaar. Farther out, a more densely packed colony of houses adjoins the middle town. Beyond the walls, yet another settlement has been found.

The well-preserved site has offered up a trove of Harappan artifacts--pottery, clay figurines and animals, beads made from lapis lazuli, gold, silver and shell, and the objects most associated with Harappan digs: weights and seals depicting bulls, unicorns and other beasts. When excavations began in 1990, Bisht discovered a 10-character inscription in the citadel's north gate that appeared to have been painted on a wooden board--possibly the world's first sign.  

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