Hidden in the Himalayas History & Culture

On the trail of Langchen Khambab, a great Himalayan river

The lake of Manasarovar  

Kangri Karchok, the Kailash Purana of the Tibetans describes the sacred elephant-mouthed river or Langchen Khambab as a long and extensive river that rises from the ‘lake unconquerable’ the Tso Maphan or Manasarovar that flows from the mountainous regions of Tibet. According to this holy book, this cold river with its sands of gold, circles the holy Manasarovar seven times before taking its course to the west.

The Langchen Khambab flows down from the red coloured mountains of the Kanglung Kangri Glacier in the Trans-Himalayan region of Tibet, channelling its way through the earth forests of Tholing and Tsparang of the Gugi Kingdom. These earth forests are full of pillars formed by rocks that collectively appear like a forest from afar — an ‘out of the world’ landscape that was formed by geological movements of the earth and erosion by wind and water, many million years ago. The Khyunglung ruins also lies on the northern bank of the Sutlej river in this valley which was once known as the ‘Garuda Valley” by the ancient Zhangzhung civilisation of western Tibet.

The Sutlej gorge

The Sutlej gorge  

The watercourse

This mighty river then flows north-west for about 260 km before entering Himachal Pradesh through Shipki La (12,894 ft.) cutting across the formidable Himalayan ranges of Zanskar, the Greater Himalaya and the Dhauladhar. Subsequently, the waters meander through the gigantic Kinnaur Kailash-Jorkanden Range at Reckong Peo creating the terrifying Sutlej gorge. Then it streams into Shimla, Kullu, Mandi and Bilaspur and is responsible for the rich cultivation of grapes, apples and apricots all along its banks. After its confluence with the River Spiti at Khab it is known as Sutlej. The Sutlej finally drains into the Indus in Pakistan.

It is 1,448 km in length, making it the longest among the five rivers of Punjab. Extensively used for irrigation, it is topographically divided into the Upper Sutlej Basin and Lower Sutlej Basin. It leaves the Himachal boundary to enter the plains of the Punjab at the Bhakra Dam, the second highest gravity dam and a major point of water supply and electricity generation for the North of India. There are several major Hydroelectric power plants on this perennial river.

This river basin has two National Parks and 32 wildlife sanctuaries. The Harike Bird Sanctuary is India’s largest bird sanctuary located at the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas near the town of Hauike.

(The writers are ace photographers known for their travelogues)

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 11:15:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/on-the-trail-of-a-great-himalayan-river/article28377275.ece

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