The Sindhu (Indus) River

One of the Longest in the World

Indus River with mountains in the background

Aliraza Khatri's Photography / Getty Images

The Sindhu River, also commonly referred to as the Indus River, is a major waterway in South Asia. One of the longest rivers in the world, the Sindhu has a total length of over 2,000 miles and runs south from the Kailash Mountain in Tibet all the way to the Arabian Sea in Karachi, Pakistan. It is the longest river in Pakistan, also passing through northwestern India, in addition to the Tibetan region of China and Pakistan.

The Sindhu is a large part of the river system of the Punjab, which means "land of five rivers." Those five rivers—the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej—eventually flow into the Indus.

History of the Sindhu River

The Indus Valley is located on the fertile floodplains along the river. This region was home to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, which was one of the oldest known civilizations. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of religious practices starting in about 5500 BCE, and farming began by around 4000 BCE. Towns and cities grew up in the area by about 2500 BCE, and the civilization was at its peak between 2500 and 2000 BCE, coinciding with the civilizations of the Babylonians and Egyptians. 

When at its peak, the Indus Valley Civilization boasted houses with wells and bathrooms, underground drainage systems, a fully developed writing system, impressive architecture, and a well-planned urban center. Two major cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, have been excavated and explored. Remains including elegant jewelry, weights, and other items. Many items have writing on them, but to date, the writing has not been translated.

The Indus Valley Civilization began to decline around 1800 BCE. Trade ceased, and some cities were abandoned. Reasons for this decline are unclear, but some theories include flood or drought.

Around 1500 BCE, invasions by the Aryans began to erode what was left of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Aryan people settled in their place, and their language and culture have helped to shape the language and culture of today's India and Pakistan. Hindu religious practices may also have their roots in Aryan beliefs.

The Sindhu River's Significance Today

Today, the Sindhu River serves as a key water supply to Pakistan and is central to the country’s economy. In addition to drinking water, the river enables and sustains the country’s agriculture. 

Fish from the river provide a major source of food to communities along the river’s banks. The Sindhu River is also used as a major transportation route for commerce.

Physical Attributes of the Sindhu River

The Sindhu River follows a complex path from its origin at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas near Lake Mapam. It flows northwest for roughly 200 miles before crossing into the disputed territory of Kashmir in India and then into Pakistan. It eventually exits the mountainous region and flows into the sandy plains of the Punjab, where its most significant tributaries feed the river.

During July, August, and September when the river floods, the Sindhu stretches to several miles wide in the plains. The snow-fed Sindhu River system is subject to flash floods, too. While the river moves quickly through the mountain passes, it moves very slowly through the plains, depositing silt and raising the level of these sandy plains.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The Sindhu (Indus) River." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). The Sindhu (Indus) River. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Sindhu (Indus) River." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).