The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as Indus-Ganga and the North Indian River Plain, is a large and fertile plain encompassing most of northern and eastern India, the most populous parts of Pakistan, parts of southern Nepal and virtually all of Bangladesh. The region is named after the Indus and the Ganga, the twin river systems that drain it.
The plain's population density is very high due to the fertile soil for farming. The plains support one of the most populous areas on Earth, being home to nearly 1 billion people (or around 1/7 of the world's population) on 700,000 km² (270,000 mile²). Among the largest cities of the Indo-Gangetic plain are Karachi, Hyderabad, Multan, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Lahore, Amritsar, Bathinda, Jammu, Jalandhar, Pathankot, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jaipur, Kanpur, Unnao, Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Kolkata, Guwahati and Dhaka.
The Indus-Ganga plain is bound on the north by the abruptly rising Himalayas, which feed its numerous rivers and are the source of the fertile alluvium deposited across the region by the two river systems. The southern edge of the plain is marked by the Vindhya- and Satpura Range, and the Chota Nagpur Plateau. On the west rises the Iranian Plateau.
Some geographers subdivide the Indo-Gangetic Plain into several parts: the Indus Valley Plain, the Punjab Plain, the Haryana Plain, and the middle and lower Ganges Plains. These regional distinctions are based primarily on the availability of water.
By another definition, the Indus-Ganga Plain is divided into two drainage basins by the Delhi Ridge; the western part consists of the Punjab Plain and the Haryana Plain, and the eastern part consists of the Ganga–Bramaputra drainage systems. This divide is only 300 metres above sea level, causing the perception that the Indus-Ganga Plain appears to be continuous between the two drainage basins.
Both the Punjab and Haryana plains are irrigated with water from the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers. The irrigation projects in progress on these rivers have led to a decrease in the flow of water, which reaches the lower drainage areas in the state of Punjab in India and the Indus Valley in Pakistan. The benefits that the increased irrigation has brought to Haryana farmers are controversial due to the effects that irrigation has had on agricultural life in the Punjab areas of both India and Pakistan.
As a large plain, the exact extent can vary from source to source. Roughly, the Indo-Gangetic Plain stretches across:
- Kashmir in the north;
- the Punjab (Pakistan) a provincial region of Pakistan and the Aravalli Range;
- Sindh in the west;
- the Himalayan foothills of Assam and Bangladesh in the east; and
- the Vindhya and Satpura Range, and the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the south.
The fertile Terai region is the Nepalese extension of the Plain. The rivers encompassed are the Beas, the Chambal, the Chenab, the Ganga, the Gomti, the Indus, the Ravi, the Sutlej and the Yamuna. The soil is rich in silt, making the plain one of the most intensely farmed areas of the world. Even rural areas here are densely populated.
The Indus-Ganga plains, also known as the "Great Plains," are large floodplains of the Indus and the Ganga–Brahmaputra river systems. They run parallel to the Himalaya mountains, from Jammu and Kashmir in the west to Assam in the east and draining most of northern and eastern India. The plains encompass an area of 700,000 km² (270,000 mile²) and vary in width through their length by several hundred kilometres. The major rivers of this system are the Ganga and the Indus along with their tributaries; Beas, Yamuna, Gomti, Ravi, Chambal, Sutlej and Chenab.
Extent of the Indo-Gangetic plain across South Asia.The great plains are sometimes classified into four divisions:
- The Bhabhar belt — is adjacent to the foothills of the Himalayas and consists of boulders and pebbles which have been carried down by the river streams. As the porosity of this belt is very high, the streams flow underground. The bhabar is generally narrow about 7–15 km wide.
- The Terai belt — lies next to the Bhabar region and is composed of newer alluvium. The underground streams reappear in this region. The region is excessively moist and thickly forested. It also receives heavy rainfall throughout the year and is populated with a variety of wildlife.
- The Bangar belt — consists of older alluvium and forms the alluvial terrace of the flood plains. In the Gangetic plains, it has a low upland covered by laterite deposits.
- The Khadir belt — lies in lowland areas after the Bangar belt. It is made up of fresh newer alluvium which is deposited by the rivers flowing down the plain.
The Indus-Ganga belt is the world's most extensive expanse of uninterrupted alluvium formed by the deposition of silt by the numerous rivers. The plains are flat and mostly treeless, making it conducive for irrigation through canals. The area is also rich in ground water sources.
The plains are the world's most intensely farmed areas. The main crops grown are rice and wheat, which are grown in rotation. Others include maize, sugarcane and cotton. The Indo-Gangetic plains rank among the world's most densely populated areas.
Until recent history, the open grasslands of the Indus-Ganga Plain were inhabited by several large species of animal. The open plains were home to large numbers of herbivores which included all three of the Asian rhinoceros (Indian rhinoceros, Javan rhinoceros, Sumatran rhinoceros). The open grasslands were in many ways similar to the landscape of modern Africa. Gazelle, buffalo, rhinos, elephants, lions, and hippo roamed the grasslands, the same way as they do in Africa today. Large herds of elephants, gazelles, antelopes and horses lived alongside several species of wild cattle including the now-extinct Aurochs. In the forested areas there were several species of wild pig, deer and muntjac. In the wetter regions close to the Ganga there would have been large herds of Water Buffalo grazing on the riverbanks along with extinct species of hippopotamus.
So many large animals would have supported a large population of predators as well. Wolf, Dhole, Striped Hyena, Indian cheetah and Asiatic Lion would have hunted large game on the open plains, while tigers and leopards would stalk prey in the surrounding woods and sloth bears hunt for termites in both of these areas. In the Ganges there were large concentrations of gharial, mugger crocodile and river dolphin controlling fish stocks and the occasional migrating herd crossing the river.
The main source of rainfall is the southwest monsoon which is normally sufficient for general agriculture. The many rivers flowing out of the Himalayas provide water for major irrigation works.
Due to a rapidly growing population (as well as other factors), this area is considered at high risk for water shortages in the future.
The region is known for the Indus Valley Civilization, which was responsible for the birth of ancient South Asian culture. The flat and fertile terrain has facilitated the repeated rise and expansion of various empires, including the Gupta empire, Kanauj, Magadha, the Maurya Empire, the Mughal Empire and the Sultanate of Delhi – all of which had their demographic and political centers in the Indo-Gangetic plain. During the Vedic and Epic eras of Indian history, this region was referred to as "Aryavarta" (Land of the Aryans) which was bordered on the west by the Indus river, on the east by Anga region of present day easternmost part of Bihar and doorstep of Bengal and on the south by the Vindhya Mountain range. During the Islamic period, the Turkish, Afghan and Iranian rulers referred to this region as "Hindustan" (Land of the Hindus), deriving from the Persian term for the Indus River. This term was later used to refer to the whole of India but even into the modern era, the dialect of Hindi-Urdu spoken in this region is called Hindustani, a term which is also used for the local music and culture.
Both British and independent India also had their demographic and political centers here (first in Calcutta and then Delhi). Many of the pillars (surveys of maurya dynasty) are present there in these plains.
Among the largest cities of the Indo-Gangetic plain are -
Because it is not fully possible to define the boundaries of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, it is also difficult to give an exact list of which administrative areas are part of the plain.
The areas that are completely or more than halfway on the plain are:
- Bangladesh (almost the whole country)
Small parts of the following administrative areas may also be part of the plain: