Indian River System

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Important directions of drainage in the Indian plateau

The main water divide in Peninsular India is ormed by the Western Ghats, which runs from north to south close to the western coast. Most of the major rivers of the Peninsula such as the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri flow eastwards and drain into the Bay of Bengal.

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Drainage basin and classification of Indian drainage pattern

The term drainage describes the river system of an area. The area drained by a single river system is called a drainage basin. The Indian rivers are divided into two major groups - the Himalayan rivers and the Peninsular rivers.

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Himalayan Rivers

The major Himalayan rivers are the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. These rivers are long, and are joined by many large and important tributaries. A river along with its tributaries may be called a river system. 
Major tributaries of Indus: Satluj, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum, Zaskar, Nubra, Shyok and Hunza.
Major tributaries of Ganga: Yamuna, Ghaghara, Gandak, Kosi, Betwa and Son.
Major tributaries of Brahmaputra: Dibang, Lohit and Kenula. 

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Indus river system

The river Indus rises in Tibet, near Lake Mansarowar. Flowing west, it enters India in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. Several tributaries, the Zaskar, the Nubra, the Shyok and the Hunza, join it in the Kashmir region.The Indus flows through Baltistan and Gilgit and emerges from the mountains at Attock. The Satluj, the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab and theJhelum join together to enter the Indus near Mithankot in Pakistan. Beyond this, the Indus flows southwards eventually reaching the Arabian Sea, east of Karachi. With a total length of 2900 km, the Indus is one of the longest rivers of the world. 

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Ganga river system

The headwaters of the Ganga, called the Bhagirathi is fed by the Gangotri Glacier and joined by the Alaknanda at Devaprayag in Uttaranchal. At Haridwar the Ganga emerges from the mountains on to the plains. The Ganga is joined by many tributaries such as Yamuna, Ghaghara, Gandak, Kosi, Chambal, Betwa and Son. The Ganga flows eastwards till Farakka in West Bengal. The river bifurcates here and it further flows as the Bhagirathi-Hooghly to the Bay of Bengal. The mainstream, flows southwards into Bangladesh and is joined by the Brahmaputra. Further downstream, it is known as the Meghna.

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Brahmaputra river system

The Brahmaputra rises in Tibet east of Mansarowar lake. It is slightly longer than the Indus, and most of its course lies outside India. It flows eastwards parallel to the Himalayas. On reaching the Namcha Barwa (7757 m), it takes a U turn and enters India in Arunachal Pradesh through a gorge. Here, it is called the Dihang and it is joined by the Dibang, the Lohit, the Kenula, etc.

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East Flowing Rivers

The rivers falling into Bay of Bengal are called the east flowing rivers. The rivers emptying into Arabian Sea are called as west flowing rivers. Almost all the rivers of India are east flowing rivers except a few including Narmada, Tapti, Mahi and Sabarmati.

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West Flowing Rivers

  1. The west flowing rivers of the Peninsular India are fewer as compared to east flowing rivers.


  2. The major west flowing rivers are NarmadaTapi, Sabarmati, Luni and Mahi.


  3. These rivers didnt form valleys and instead they flow through faults (linear rift, rift valley, trough) created due to the bending of the northern peninsula during the formation process of Himalayas.


  4. These faults run parallel to the Vindhyas and the Satpuras.


  5. Hundreds of small streams originating in the Western Ghats flow swiftly westwards and join the Arabian Sea.


  6. It is interesting to note that the Peninsular rivers which fall into the Arabian Sea do not form deltas, but only estuaries.


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Rivers of Northern and Peninsular India

Himalayan or Northern rivers are perennial in nature whereas peninsular rivers are seasonal and being rain-fed they dry up in summers. Himalayan rivers have created great plains catering to the densely populated areas in the country. Himalayan rivers originate in the Himalayas and are long while peninsular rivers originate in small hills and plateaus and are of shorter course. 

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Peninsular rivers

The main peninsular rivers of India include the Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery, Narmada, Tapti, Narmada, Mahanadi, and Damodar. Most of these rivers originate in the Western Ghats and drain a large part of central and south India. These peninsular rivers are seasonal but carry a great volume of water fed by rainfall. The Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery flow eastwards and drain into the Bay of Bengal. Tapti and Narmada flow westwards and enter the Arabian Sea.