The Northern Plains of India- Frontier IAS
Baljit Dhaka
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The Northern Plains of India- Frontier IAS

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Physiographic Divisions of India-Northern Plains

India has a unique culture and is one of the oldest and greatest civilizations in the world. In this article, we have provided a summary of the Physiographic Divisions of India-Northern Plains as a quick revision, which can be helpful in the preparation of various competitive examinations.

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Formation of Northern Plains:

  • The formation of Northern Plains is closely related to the formation of Himalayas.
  • The raising of Himalayas and subsequent formation of glaciers gave rise to many new rivers. 
  • These rivers along with glacial erosion, supplied more alluvium which intensified the filling of the depression caused by collision of Indian Plate and Eurasian plate.

  • With the accumulation of more and more sediments in the depression, the Tethys sea started receding.
  • Gradually, the depression was completely filled with alluvium, gravel, rock debris and the Tethys completely disappeared leaving behind a monotonous aggradational plain formed due to deposition.       
  • Since few million years, depositional work of three major river systems viz., the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra have become predominant.
  • Hence this arcuate (curved) plain is also known as Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra Plain.

Features of Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plain:

  • Formed of alluvial soil.
  • It spreads over an area of 7 lakh sq. km.
  • 3,200 km from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth of the Ganga. Indian sector of the plain accounts for 2,400 km.
  • Agriculturally a very productive part of India.
  • Rivers coming from Northern Mountains are involved in deposition.

  • Northern border: Shiwaliks 
  • Southern border: wavy irregular line along the northern edge of the Peninsular India.
  • Western border: Sulaiman and Kirthar ranges
  • Eastern border: Purvanchal hills.
  • The width of the plain varies from region to region. 
  • West : widest where it stretches for about 500 km.
  • East : Its width decreases

  • Extreme horizontality of this monotonous plain is its chief characteristic.
  • Maximum depth of the alluvium up to the basement rocks= 6,100 m .
  • Average elevation=200 m above mean sea level,
  • Highest elevation being 291 m above mean sea level near Ambala (This elevation forms the drainage divide or watershed between Indus system and Ganga system).

Divisions of Northern Plain:

Three main divisions 

  1. Punjab plains
  2. Ganga plains
  3. Brahmputra plains

1. Punjab plains:

  • Punjab literally means “(The Land of) Five Waters” referring to the following rivers: the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas.
  • This plain is formed by five important rivers of Indus system.
  • This section of plains is dominated by ‘Doabs’
  • “Doab” is made of two words-’domeaning ‘two’ and ‘ab’ meaning   ‘water’ 
  • The depositional process by the rivers has united these doabs giving an homogenous appearance.
  • The total area of this plain is about 1.75 lakh sq km.
  • The average elevation of the plain is about 250 m above mean sea level.
  • The eastern boundary of Punjab Haryana plain is marked by subsurface Delhi-Aravali ridge.

2. Ganga Plains:

  • Largest unit of the Great Plain of India.
  • Stretching from Delhi to Kolkata (about 3.75 lakh sq km).
  • Has been build by the alluvium deposition of Ganga and its tributaries originating in Himalayas.
  • The peninsular rivers such as Chambal, Betwa, Ken, Son, etc. joining the Ganga river system have also contributed to the formation of this plain.    
  • The general slope of the entire plain is to the East and South east.
  • Almost all the rivers in this plain keep on shifting their courses making this area prone to frequent floods. The Kosi river is very notorious in this respect. It has long been called the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’.

3. Brahmaputra plains:

Also known as the Brahmaputra valley or Assam Valley or Assam Plain because most of the Brahmaputra valley is situated in Assam.

  • Western boundary = Indo-Bangladesh border as well as the boundary of the lower Ganga Plain. 
  • Eastern boundary=Purvanchal hills.
  • Aggradational plain built up by the depositional work of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

There are large marshy tracts in this area. The alluvial fans formed by the coarse alluvial debris have led to the formation of Terai or Semi-Terai conditions.

Physiographic Divisions of India: The Himalaya- Geography- Frontier IAS

Ganga Brahmaputra Delta:

  • Largest delta in the world.
  • Large part of the coastal delta is covered tidal forests. These are called the Sundarbans because of the predominance of Sundri tree here.

Geomorphological Features of Northern Plains:

  1. Bhabhar
  2. Terai
  3. Bhangar
  4. Khadar

1. The Bhabar:

  • Narrow, porous, northernmost stretch of Indo-Gangetic plain.
  • 8-16 km wide in east-west direction along the foothills of the Shiwaliks.
  • Rivers descending from the Himalayas deposit their load along the foothills in the form of alluvial fans.
  • These alluvial fans have merged together to build up the bhabar belt.        
  • The most unique feature of Bhabhar region is its porosity which is caused by the deposition of huge number of pebbles and rock debris across the alluvial fans.
  • Because of this porosity, the streams disappear as they reach the Bhabar region, therefore, this area is marked by dry river courses except in the rainy season.
  • This area is not suitable for agriculture, only big trees with large roots can thrive in this belt.


2. Terai Region

  • South of Bhabar, the streams and rivers re-emerge and create a wet, swampy and marshy region known as Terai.
  • Width: 15-30 km wide.
  • The underground streams of the Bhabar belt re-emerge in this belt.
  • Most of the Terai land, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has been turned into agricultural land which gives good crops of sugarcane, rice and wheat
  • Speed of the rivers is very slow
  • Dense forests and high biological diversity.

3. The Bhangar:

  • Largest part of the Northern Plain. 
  • The terraces are often impregnated with calcareous concretions known as ‘KANKAR’.
  • High lands created by the pebbles, stones and sand are called Bhur.
  • Bhurs are found in Ganga- Yamuna doab in the form of sedimentary depositions.

 4. The Khadar:

  • It is composed of newer alluvium and forms the flood plains along the river banks.
  • A new layer of alluvium is deposited by river flood almost every year.
  • This makes them the most fertile soils of Ganges.

 Importance of Northern Plain:

  • One fourth of the land of the country hosts half of the Indian population.
  • Fertile alluvial soils, flat continuous surface and favorable climate facilitate intense agricultural activity.
  • Plain areas like Punjab, Haryana and western part of Uttar Pradesh the granary of India (Prairies are called the granaries of the world).
  • Has a close network of roads and railways which has led to large scale industrialization and urbanization.

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