The river – Indus, which paved the way for one of the oldest civilisations in the world takes its title from the Sanskrit word ‘Sindhu’, implying ‘defender’. However, it was far-famed in ancient Hindu mythology as the Lion River.
Not until 1908 was lion River uncovered – by a European explorer named Swen Hedin. He traced the river back to a small spring 16,500ft (5050m) on a Tibetan cliffside in the Kailash Range, one of the most harrowing parts of the Himalayas.
Bordered on each flank by the Karakoram Range and lofty, snow-capped Himalayan mountains, the Indus River carves across the canopy of the world through extreme, barren valleys, dropping 11,500ft (3500m) in 340 miles (543km).
Underneath the desolate, dizzying inclines of Nanga Parbat (the Naked Mountain), which ascends to 26,560ft (8093m), the river twists and turns and persists through canyons more than 14,900ft (4587m) deep – some so overshadowed that the sunlight can barely reach down into them.
At the southern end of the 1-mile (1.6km) expansive Attock Gorge; at Kalabagh, the Indus eventually breaks out of the cliffs and broadens to about 9 miles (14.7km) as its stretches onto the grasslands of Punjab. Here, converged by five major branches and with numerous canals, it nourishes the grasslands of the world’s most extensive irrigation system.
Temperatures during summer can reach 48 C (118F). It is during this time of the year the monsoon rains and melting snow bring two months of flooding. The downpours may create mayhem, shattering down flood walls and creating a big inland sea. In October 1992, the most destructive floods in some 40 years killed more than 2000 people and totalled about 4.5 million acres (2,040,000 hectares) of crops.
The farmland of ‘Sind’ has been rich for more than 3900 years. In 1921 excavations revealed the city of Mohenjo-Daro by the river. It was a portion of the Indus Valley civilisation that thrived for some 900 years roughly the same time as the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian civilisations is known to have traded with the Middle East and China. The residents lived in brick-built abodes – some with baths, drains and lavatories – and made jars and pots of bronze and copper. Transportation was mainly by elephants (the first known to be tamed and domesticated) or bullock cart.
Alexander the Great cruised down the Indus in 326-325 BC. His military traversed the Khyber Passa and constructed a bridge across the Attock Gorge. And it took them ten months to travel some 690 miles (1103km) to the sea.
As the Indus joins the Arabian Sea at the end of its 1739-mile (2798km) course, it outstretches sluggishly to a wet delta almost the size of Hawaii. Reaching the coast, tamarisk trees streaking streamlets give way to mangroves on the numerous islands. And for about 9 miles (14.7km) from the beachfront, the sea’s rosy hue is formed due to the millions of tons of muck sediments carried by the river.