Satluj River and Its Tributaries in Himachal Pradesh


Himachal Pradesh is located in the drainage basin of two major rivers - the Indus and the Ganga. The drainage basin refers to the area of a major river and its tributaries. 

Indus River System 

The Indus River originates in the Tibetan plateau near Mansarovar lake and enters India in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. It flows through the North-Western part of India (Naga Parbat) to the Western slopes of the Shimla ridge in Himachal Pradesh, the Northern part of Lahaul and Spiti and Pooh in Kinnaur. Its tributaries, including Chenab, Sutlej, Ravi, and Beas, are important rivers of Himachal Pradesh. The Indus River System and its tributaries form 90% of the drainage basin of the state. 

Ganga River System

The Ganga River, which is the most sacred river of India, covers the South-Eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. The Ganga River System's drainage basin extends from the Eastern face of the Shimla ridge, Solan, and Sirmaur districts of Himachal Pradesh. The Yamuna, Giri, and Pabar are major tributaries of the Ganga River System that flows through the state. 

The mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh is blessed with perennial rivers, lakes, springs, and waterfalls. These snowfed water bodies provide an abundant supply of water needed for agriculture throughout the year. The state lies in the drainage basin of major rivers of North India.

Major Rivers of the State:

The drainage system of Himachal Pradesh revolves around five major rivers, perennial in their flow:

i. Sutlej River

ii. Beas River

iii. Chenab River

iv. Ravi River

v. Yamuna River

Satluj river

The Sutlej river, also known as the Satluj river, is one of the five major rivers that flow through the region of Punjab. The source of the Sutlej river is the southern slopes of the Kailash mountains, near Mansarovar lake, from Rakas lake. It is the longest of the five rivers in Himachal Pradesh.

The upper regions of the Satluj valley are covered in permanent snow. It divides Himachal Pradesh into two halves, which are also known as the red and yellow river.

At Bhakra in Bilaspur, the river exits Himachal Pradesh and enters the Punjab plains. The world's highest gravity dam, the Bhakra Nangal dam, and Gobind Sagar lake are located here. It then flows into Pakistan where it joins the Indus river. 

Features of Satluj River

Vedic Name


Sanskrit Name


In Tibet

Longchen khabag means Elephant river

Other Names in Tibet

Muksang, Zungri

In Greek

Known as Heisidrus

Prominent Entry Point to Himachal

Shipki la in Kinnaur ( altitude = 6,608 metres )

Length in Himachal

320 km (total length 1448 km)

Catchment Area in Himachal

20,000 sq km

Course in Himachal

Flows through Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan, and Bilaspur districts

Prominent Places on Its Bank

Nangiya, Kalpa, Rampur, Tattapani, Sunni, Bilaspur

Tributaries of Sutlej 

Throughout its course, the Sutlej river is joined by several important tributaries, which play a significant role in shaping its flow and character.

Left bank tributaries:Tirung, Gayathing, Baspa, Duling, and Soldang 

Right bank tributaries: Spiti, Ropa, Taiti, Kashang, Mulgaon, Yula, Wanger, Throng, and Rupi. 

Important tributaries of Satluj river

Baspa river

One of the main tributaries of the Sutlej river is the Baspa river, which is a left bank tributary originating from the Baspa hills in Kinnaur district. The river flows for about 75 km before joining the Sutlej river near Kalpa. The Baspa river is fed by many smaller channels that drain snow melt waters from the surrounding mountains. The river has cut across the main Himalayan range and is known for its scenic beauty and rich biodiversity. Kalpa, a popular tourist destination, is an important settlement along its banks.

Spiti river

Another important tributary of the Sutlej river is the Spiti river, which is a right bank tributary originating from the Kunzum range. The river is fed by Tegpo and Kabzian streams, as well as water draining the famous Pin valley area. It flows for about 150 km through the Spiti valley before joining the Sutlej river at Namgia in Kinnaur district. The Spiti river is unique in that it crosses the main Himalayan range, which deprives it from the benefit of the South-West monsoons that cause widespread rain in most parts of India from June to September. Instead, the river attains peak discharge in late summers due to glacier melting.

 Kerang river

The Kerang river is another right bank tributary of the Sutlej river, originating from glaciers located in the permanent snow zone and therefore perennial in nature. The catchment area comprises of steep mountains, with a portion covered under dense forest and major parts under permanent snow line. The river flow reduces gradually from village Lippa downwards, and Pager Garang is a major tributary of Kerang Khad (Taiti Garang) that meets at its left bank near village Lippa.

Nogli Khad

The Nogli Khad is a left bank tributary of the Sutlej river that joins it just below Rampur Bushahar. It touches Kullu district in Nirmand tehsil opposite to Rampur tehsil of Shimla district. The river Satluj enters Mandi district near Firnu village in the Chawasigarh and passes through the areas of Mahunm, Bagra, Batwara, Derahat and Dehar.  The main tributaries of the Satluj in district Mandi are Siun, Bahlu, Kotlu, Behna, Siman, Bantrehr, Khadel and Bhagmati.

Soan river

Finally, the Soan river is another important tributary of the Sutlej river that rises from the Southern slopes of the Shivalik range, also known as Solasinghi range, in the tract to the East of the Beas gap across the Southern periphery of the Kangra valley. The river flows through the boundary of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. In summer, the water level in the Soan river drops down, while during monsoon, it becomes flooded. The river is also known for its rich history and cultural significance, with several ancient sites and monuments located along its banks.

Dams on Satluj river

The state of Himachal Pradesh has several major hydroelectric plants, including the 1,379 MW Bhakra Dam, the 800 MW Kol Dam, and the 1091 MW Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant. The largest hydropower project on the Sutlej River in the state is Nathpa Jhakri, which has a capacity of 1,500 MW.

Also read about: Bhakra Nangal Dam of H.P

Quick facts about Satluj river

💠  The upper Sutlej valley is also known as LangqenZangbo in Tibet.

💠  The valley was once called the Garuda valley by the Zhangzhung people.

💠  In November 1991, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh signed an agreement to 'Build, Own, and Operate' the valley.

💠  The Sutlej river served as the primary means of transportation for ancient kings.

💠  In the early 18th century, the river was used to transport deodar woods for Bilaspur district, Hamirpur district, and other places along the Sutlej river.

Religious/Cultural significance 

In the Satluj river basin, there is a diverse range of communities. The upstream region of Spiti and Kinnaur is mainly dominated by Buddhist and animistic people, while the middle basin around Shimla, Mandi, Bilaspur, and Kullu has a predominantly Hindu population who worship local deities. The upper zone is known for its monasteries, while the lower areas have various temples and other significant places.

Tattapani is a pilgrimage spot for devotees, which means "hot water." Several hot sulphur springs are located beside the right riverbanks of the Satluj, spanning more than one sq. km. People suffering from arthritic pains, skin infections, or tiredness can benefit greatly from taking a bath here. Thousands of Hindus visit the place round the year, and religious devotees flock here during Lohri and Tara Ratri.

Spiti is known as the 'land of the lamas' and dotted with numerous Buddhist monasteries or Gompas. The Kye Monastery, 1000 years old, is a key learning centre of Buddhist studies situated by the Spiti River. Rare Thangka paintings and ancient musical instruments have been preserved in the Monastery.

Another site of religious significance is the Tabo Monastery, which is often referred to as the 'Ajanta of the Himalayas.' The monastery stands at an altitude of 3050 meters on the left bank of the Spiti river. Founded by the great scholar Richen Zangpo in the 10th century, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The monastery contains a rare collection of scriptures and wall paintings - Thankas and Stucco. Near the Tabo monastery, the mummy of the meditating Lama can be found in Giu. It is believed that he died when Giu was hit by an avalanche while he was in deep meditation.

The Temples of Sangla, Nag Mandir, and Devi Maa Mandir are popular amongst the locals. The richly decorated Semi-Buddhist temple is a typical example of Hindu-Buddhist confluence. The Nag Devta, the main idol in Sangla temples, is said to have come from the Dhauladhars.

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