Indus River Facts


Indus River is one of the longest rivers in the world. This river is a great blessing from nature for the people of Pakistan. The survival of millions of inhabitants of Pakistan

depends on the Indus and its tributaries. Today we will tell you about the history of trade through the Indus river.

How the British dreamed of establishing a trade route through the Indus River to undermine Russian trade in central Asia, during the Great Game era in the 19th century. Why couldn’t such a useful dream transform into a reality? In we will also share with you some lesser-known historical facts related to the Indus River.

We will also inform you about the enormous benefits of the inland rivers trade. We'll also tell you, how this dream of trade through Indus was revisited in the 21st century. Has the dream turned into a reality? or perhaps it is close to becoming a reality?

It was the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Indus River Facts

 Most of the subcontinent had already come under the control of the British East India Company. After the defeat of Napoleon, there was a period of peace and calm in Europe. Britain and Russia were allies in Napoleon's defeat. At the official level, relations between the two empires were very friendly. In such a situation, both powers were thinking of expanding their state outside Europe. Enacting the policy of expansionism, Russia first occupied the region of the Caucasus.

  In today’s time, the Caucasus region comprises Azerbaijan,

Georgia, Armenia, and the adjoining areas of Russia. After capturing Caucasus, the next possible Russian targets were  Central Asian states of Khiva and Bukhara. Despite being allies, a class of powerful people in both countries were skeptical of the other's intentions.

  A section in Britain believed that Russia would first occupy the state of Khiva then Bukhara, and then Afghanistan, eventually reaching the subcontinent.

Thus enabling the Russians to snatch the Indian subcontinent from British control. For British policymakers, the prospect of this possibility was nothing short of a nightmare.

 Because the subcontinent was considered to be the most precious and valuable diamond in the British crown. Russia, on the other hand, was worried that Britain could move beyond the subcontinent to occupy Central Asian states, thus reaching its borders. Because of this mutual fear, both empires spent the next century playing a dangerous political, diplomatic, and intelligence game against each other. This game is remembered in history as the great game.

 In the Great Game, spies, military officers, and reconnaissance expeditions from both countries were traveling to these remote parts of Central Asia, to gather strategic information and make maps of the region. The region was still considered one of the remotest regions in the world.

 The region consisted of vast lifeless deserts and high rugged mountain ranges.

Traveling through such terrain was a huge challenge for any army or trading caravan. Therefore, having a thorough knowledge of the region was very important for the success of such missions. Mountain ranges pass, deserts, and rivers along the way had to be accurately mapped. Knowing these intricate logistical details could prepare armies of both empires for all future endeavors.

 In addition to the military need, the purpose of the adventure was to find safe

and easy routes for traders from the subcontinent or Russia to Central Asia.

Some British officers were of the opinion that it could be possible to reach Afghanistan. from The Arabian Sea via the Indus River and the Kabul River. And from there by land to Balkh in northern Afghanistan.


From there it would be possible to reach Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva via the Oxus River. British wanted to use this route for transporting its products to Central Asia. This would increase British influence in Central Asia while reducing Russian influence. To make this dream a reality, it was important to first know about the feasibility of this route.

 Whether these rivers are navigable or not. It was difficult, however, to find out.

Because the Indus The river flowed through Punjab and Sindh. And these areas were not under the direct control of the East India Company.

 Sindh was being ruled by Talpur Mirs while Punjab was being ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Without his permission, any attempt to sail in the Indus could have been dangerous. Because these rulers could have seen it as an intelligence mission against them.

 In Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a reliable ally of the British. In any case, the British did not want to arouse the enmity of Maharaja Ranjit Singh by making him suspicious. So British came up with a brilliant plan to get out of this predicament.

Not long ago.

  Maharaja Ranjit Singh had sent a gift of elegant and magnificent Kashmiri shawls to British King William (IV). In response, the British decided to give five horses as a gift to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Horse riding was Maharaja Ranjit Singh's favorite pastime.

The British decided to give Maharaja Ranjit Singh five Dray horses as a gift. Dray horses are tall and beautiful breeds of horses.

 No one had seen such tall horses in the subcontinent before. British thought when these magnificent horses would reach the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he would be very happy. Under the guise of a gift, this was a trick by the British.

Indus River Facts

That is to say, it is not possible to bring horses to Punjab by long land route in hot weather. Therefore, these horses would be brought to Lahore from the Arabian Sea by boat via the Indus River. Under the pretext of giving gifts, the British actually wanted to study the feasibility of these rivers. Whether these rivers are navigable or not.

In 1831, a British mission set out for Punjab with five horses, surveying the depth and banks of the river, The mission was led by a young British officer Alexander Burnes. The mission finally reached Lahore in five months, covering a distance of 700 miles via the Indus, Chenab, and then the Ravi rivers.

From this successful mission, it became clear that the Indus river was suitable for flat bottomed ships as far as Punjab. Later the geopolitical situation changed in the region. The British had to fight a war with Afghans in 1839.

And the Russians occupied the Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva. So, the British dream of a trade by the river to Central Asia could not materialize. Despite the failed dream, later British in treaty with Afghanistan (1921) still kept the provision, by allowing navigation through the Kabul River.

After Alexander Burns' exploration mission ships were used extensively on the Indus River. Ironically, the fears of the Sindhi rulers about Alexander Burns' mission proved to be true.

In 1843, the British defeated the Mir of Talpur at Hyderabad and captured Sindh. In this war, two military steamers “planet” and “satellite” played a major role as they were brought through the Indus River.

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These steamers were used to transport British troops, shelling from the shore and preventing the enemy from crossing the river. After occupying Sindh, the British started a postal system in 1852 through the Indus River.

The postal mail service used to deliver mail or parcels from Karachi to Multan via the Indus River. At that time there was no railway system in Sindh and Punjab. And the road network was also very weak.

So the British first started the Oriental Inland Steam Company in 1856 and then Indus Steam Flotilla Company in 1859. The company transported passengers through the Indus River between Karachi and Multan.

It used to take about 34 days to transport people and goods between Karachi and Multan.The journey from Multan to Karachi could be completed in just 10 days, due to the flow of the river.

After crushing the independence struggle of India in 1857, the British intensified the work of laying a railway line from Lahore to Karachi. In 1861, railway lines from Lahore to Multan and from Karachi to Kotri were completed.

This made the journey from Lahore to Karachi easier. But still, the journey from Kotri to Multan had to be done on steamers in the Indus River. In 1878, the railway line from Kotri to Multan was completed and the need for steamers from Kotri to Multan on the Indus River was eliminated.

Still, no bridge for the train was built on the Indus at Sukkur. Therefore, while going from Karachi to Lahore the train had to be changed at Sukkur. And to catch the second train, you had to cross the Indus River with the help of a ferry. But with the construction of the Lansdowne Bridge in 1889, this problem was solved.

It now became possible to travel from Karachi to Lahore on a single train.

With this, the last chapter of travel or trade through the Indus River was closed forever.

Today, almost a century later, there is no trade through rivers in Pakistan. However, rivers are still a popular means of trade in the world. Take the example of the Mississippi river system in the United States. The watershed area of the Mississippi River and its tributaries spans 32 states in the United States.

Historically, this river system has played a major role in the development of inland America.Even today 60% of grain, 22% of oil, and 20% of coal are exported to the United States through the Mississippi River.

Trade through the Mississippi river system is worth more than 70 billion US$.

Similarly, Rhine and Danube rivers are very large and important rivers in Europe.

Trade through these rivers has always been very important in the development of Europe.

The two rivers are connected by the Rhine-Main-Danube canal. This river trade route not only connects 12 European countries, but it provides a passage from the North Sea to The Black Sea.

Let us now take a look at the reasons why trade through rivers and canals is still so important in comparison to the trade by train or road. Rivers trade is much cheaper than trade using rail and road.

According to an estimate, if a liter of fuel is used to transport a ton of goods. It can be transported 180 kilometers by the river. In comparison, it is possible to send the goods 75 km by rail and only 25 km by road.

In addition, developing rivers and making them usable for trade is about five times cheaper than building new roads. While building roads, the land acquisition increases the cost of construction significantly.

There is no cost of land acquisition in developing river trade routes. At the same time, the maintenance of river routes is much easier and cheaper than the maintenance of roads. Because of these benefits, river routes are widely used in developed countries

Take the example of the Netherlands; about 46% of the total inland trade in the Netherlands is done via river routes. Inland river routes account for 29% of total trade in Romania, 26% in Bulgaria and 16% in Belgium.

That’s why some experts in Pakistan emphasize the need for trade by the river. According to these experts, Pakistan can save a lot of foreign exchange in terms of fuel imports, by using Indus and its tributaries: the Jhelum, the Chenab, and the Kabul rivers for inland trade.

The majority of the Pakistani population lives around the Indus and its tributaries.

Therefore, the use of these rivers for trade can naturally be efficient and cheap.

It also can help reduce traffic congestion on Pakistan's highways.

In addition, the development of river routes will benefit defense logistics.

As the development of river routes can provide Pakistan’s defense forces with a third option. According to some experts, the development of this river route can also help uplift the backward areas of the country.

Backward areas of South Punjab and South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lack infrastructure, i.e. roads, etc. But these areas are located near the Indus River.

If the Indus River is developed for trade, new industries can be set up in these backward areas.

The produce of these industries can be transported through the Indus River.

This will help uplift these less developed areas and provide new employment opportunities to the people.

According to experts, these river routes can also be used for tourism. This will also create new employment opportunities in the tourism industry. In order to open the Indus River for trade, the Punjab government in 2014 set up a new company called Inland Water Transport Development Company. The company's mission was to develop the Indus River corridor from Port Qasim to Nowshera. To create a safe, environmentally friendly, and affordable water transportation system in the country.

Indus River Facts

 The company launched a pilot project from   Attock near Mianwali to assess the feasibility of the route. To remove obstacles and provide a safe passage for the ship rock blasting was done on this 220 km long route. A 300-ton cargo ship was also built for the pilot project.

Following the success of the first phase from  Attock, the project was to be extended to Taunsa near Dera Ghazi Khan. This would have increased the length of the corridor on the Indus to 480 km. But after spending about Rs 1.13 billion in 2018, the company was shut down without giving any reason whatsoever.

The matter was taken up by NAB and trade through the Indus River remained a dream. While there are passionate supporters of this dream, there is no shortage of opponents. Opponents are of the view that trade through the Indus River from Karachi to Attock and then to Afghanistan is not possible due to technical difficulties.

Such experts claim that in 1850 British laid the foundation of the irrigation system on the Indus River, at the time they had two options.

 Either the Indus and adjoining rivers should be used for agriculture or for trade.

At that time, the British foresee greater benefit in using the Indus River for agriculture.

That's why an alternative system of rail was built for trade. According to these experts, due to the construction of dams, barrages, and low-level bridges on Pakistani rivers, trade through river routes has become impossible. Because these structures of dams, barrages, and bridges prevent a ship from navigating through the river.

 Overcoming these obstacles will require a complex lock mechanism. According to some experts, developing such a mechanism is a costly ordeal and is not a suitable investment for a poor country like Pakistan.

 Opponents also say that Pakistan's population has grown sixfold since 1947 and its agricultural needs have increased significantly. To meet growing agricultural needs, river water has to be diverted to fields through canals.

 These experts say that the volume of water in Pakistani rivers, especially in the south, is very low; navigation of ships in such shallow water is not possible. But some experts refute these claims and say that any plan to make the river usable for trade should not be done in isolation.

 Instead, such projects should be integrated with reforms in age-old agricultural practices. A lot of water can be saved by using contemporary agricultural techniques. As a result of such reforms, water levels in rivers can be increased to an extent that navigation becomes feasible.

 These experts also claim that the cost of building new high bridges and lock mechanisms to overcome obstacles are far less than the financial benefits to be gained through cheap trade. These experts also say that in the worst-case scenario, even if trade from Karachi to Afghanistan is not possible, such a trading system can easily be built to the extent of Punjab, North Sindh, and East KPK, with relatively little investment.



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