To the ancient Hindus the Indus River flowed from the mouth of a lion, Sinh-ka-Bab. They described the river in Sanskrit as the Sindus. The Greeks called it Sinthus, the Romans Sindus, the Chinese Sintow and the Persians Abisindh. It was Pliny who first called it Indus and the name stuck.
In turn the Indus gave its name to India and through accidents of navigation, to Indonesia and the West Indies, to the Red Indian and now to the world’s, single water development programme. The entire basin cover an area of about 901,320 square kilometers (348,000 square miles)of which 528,360 square kilometers (204,000 square miles) lie in Pakistan.
Rising in western Tibet, the Indus River at first runs across a high plateau at the start of its 3,180 kilometers long (1,980-miles) journey, and then drops rapidly. Gathering momentum, it cuts its way north-west between the Karakoram and the Himalaya in the Roof of the world.
In Kashmir it crossed the United Nations ceasefire line and enters Pakistan in Baltistan. The first won on the upper Indus River, Skardu, at 2,288 meters (7,500 feet) above sea level, stands on a bluff near the junction of the Indus and one of its great right-bank tributaries, the Shigar.
Below Skardu, the Karakoram and Himalaya close in and the Indus becomes a deep, relentless, dark-grey torrent, hurling itself through ravines of naked rock. In a brief widening of its valley, the clear, jade-green Gilgit River foams down to meet it from the Hindi Kush. Standing across the Indus River, these mountains force the river south-Indus; these mountains force the river south-west where the Astor joins it from the east.
Thus reinforced, it now twists and swirls along a trough between the Hindu Kush to the west and the huge rampart of Nanga Parbat to the east. All along these upper reaches, narrow alluvial fans spill down occasional cracks in the mountain rock and sometimes, in the high mountain, a glacier slides across a tributary river holding it back to form a lake.
When the ice-dam breaks, it releases a great tidal wave reaching high up the cliffs in the Indus gorge, sweeping all before it. When the implacable river eventually forces its way through, the destruction downstream is catastrophic. At last, just above a village called Tarbela, where the Indus breaks free of the Hindu Kush, one of the largest dams in the world has been built to hold and control water for irrigation and generate electricity.
For a short breathing-space the river runs wide and shallow from Tarbela across the Potwar Plateau. Then, at Attock, under the walls of the fort that Akbar built in 1586, the Indus River gather itself together again to force yet another mountain obstacle in its path, the Salt range. But this is last. At Kalabagh, still 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) from its source, with roughly the same distance still to cover to the sea, the Indus emerges on the plains of Punjab.