Indus

A Project Himank announces the distance from Upshi to various destinations in the Indus Valley. Upshi is the first port of call on the Manali-Leh highway where it meets the River Indus.

The Indus is the lifeline of Ladakh and its waters are used to irrigate vast expanses of agricultural land along its flat banks.

The monastery of Thiksey is the first major monastery along the Indus's route and looks down upon a green valley from a mountain top ridge. Thiksey is one of the largest Gompas in Ladakh but is dwarfed in scale to the mighty mountain ranges in its backdrop.

The largest Gompa in central ladakh, Thiksey is famous for its Maitreya (future Buddha) Temple which was installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970. A 15 metres (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two storeys of the building.

In India, the Indus is still called by its original Sanskrit name Sindhu. The Greeks called the river Indus and later the whole western world adopted that name. The river is of primary importance in India's history because the country itself gets its name from Indus. India is the land across the Indus. Here the Indus cuts through a fantastic landscape of barren peaks and fertile plains at Shey, the once ancient capital of Ladakh.

View of the Indus as it flows along the Shey Fort. The palace, mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal. It was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh.

Shey has Ladakh’s biggest chorten fields with hundreds of whitewashed shrines of varying sizes scattered across the desert landscape. Unlike the rest of Ladakh's geology, the soil here is alluvial, deposited by the Indus over thousands of years. Many of the early monasteries and chortens were constructed from this mud. Later more durable material like stone was used.

Historically important, Shey monastery is home to a 12 metres (39 ft) Shakyamuni Buddha statue covering two floors of the monastery. On the upper floor of monastery, a number of beautiful wall paintings are displayed. The lower floor has a library with a large number of neatly preserved manuscripts and is decorated with murals of Buddha figures in various mudras (hand gestures).

The Indus system is largely fed by the snows and glaciers of the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindu Kush ranges of Tibet, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northern Areas of Pakistan respectively. Here the river flows past the Spituk Gompa in Ladakh.

A huge Mani wheel in the Spituk Gompa.

Moonrise over Tsemo Fort in Leh. Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, and now of the Leh District. The largest town in Ladakh, strategically located Leh was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China for centuries.

The major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, such as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, date back to around 3300 BC, and represent some of the largest human habitations of the ancient world. The Indus Valley Civilization extended from across Pakistan and northwest India, with an upward reach from east of Jhelum River to Ropar on the upper Sutlej.

Indus has a total drainage area exceeding 1,165,000 km2 making it the twenty-first largest river in the world in terms of annual flow. Zanskar is its left bank tributary in Ladakh. In the plains the Indus is joined by Chenab which itself has four major tributaries, namely, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas and Satluj. Its principal right bank tributaries are Shyok, Gilgit, Kabul, Gomal and Kurram. Here, the Zanskar meets the Indus at Nimmo.

A whitewater rafting team struggles against the strong currents at the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers. The deeper colored water is Indus and the lighter colored is Zanskar. The difference in coors is due to the different mineral dissolved in different mountain ranges along their routes. While the Indus comes down from Tibet, the Zanskar originates in Kashmir.

Further downstream the Basgo Fort was built the Namgyal rulers in 1680.The in Basgo is situated on top of the hill towering over the ruins of the ancient town and the Indus River and is noted for its Buddha statue and murals.

The north bank of the Indus also serves as the National Highway 1 (NH 1), that connects Kashmir's capital Srinagar to Ladakh's capital Leh. Extremely important strategically, the road is heavily guarded by the Indian Army and is kept serviceable throughout the year by the Border Roads Organisation, forming a lifeline for Ladakh in the harsh frozen winter months.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the road was only a track, impassable even with ponies. Goods, mainly pashmina wool, were carried by porters from Yarkand and Tibet for Kashmir shawl industry. In the 19th century, the route was improved, allowing pony caravans to pass. Even in the present era, heavy snowfall at high passes often block traffic for days. Here a Ladakhi woman sells locally grown apricots at one of the many checkpoints on the road.

Hemmed by fantastic mushroom shaped cliffs, a chorten marks a vantage point as the Indus cuts through the Ladakh Valley near Alchi.

Like a Russian Matryoshka doll, a Chorten is constructed inside a larger chorten at Alchi Gompa. Located on the indus, Alchi is famous for the Alchi Monastery and its well-preserved 11th or 12th century wall paintings. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings

Beyond Alchi, the Indus enters Pak-occupied-Kashmir cutting through multicolored scree slopes.