Tuesday, September 7

Indus River

In 1997 I experienced the Mighty Indus, which causes suffering and misery for many millions of people in Pakistan as it overflows catastrophically.

Originating in the Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region, the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and then enters Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), flowing through the North in a southerly direction along the entire length of Pakistan, to merge into the Arabian Sea near the port city of Karachi in Sindh. The total length of the river is 3,180 kilometers and it is Pakistan's longest river. The Indus has a total drainage area exceeding 1,165,000 square kilometers. The river's estimated annual flow stands at around 207 cubic kilometers, making it the twenty-first largest river in the world in terms of annual flow. Beginning at the heights of the world with glaciers, the river feeds the ecosystem of temperate forests, plains and arid countryside. Together with the riversChenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Jhelum,Beas and two tributaries from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan, the Indus forms the Sapta Sindhu (Seven Rivers) delta of Pakistan. It is the fastest moving body of water on the planet.

Sonnet, Katie and I+a small group travelled alongside the Indus for 700 kilometers before parting into the Karakoram Mountains and eventually crossing into Western China. During our trip the Karakoram Highway had washed out and, to our luck, opened at our arrival following four months of closure (and even then it was not certain we could proceed). Makeshift rope bridges crossed the river every few miles which caused me to take a deep breath: a slip was certainly the end.

The Tibetan Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, said the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term, but issued a strong warning:

"Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world.... In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows. . . . In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines of the Indus River. Once they vanish, water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril."