Northern Plains

Northern Plains – Indian Geography Notes

The alluvial deposits brought by the rivers Indus, Ganga, and the Brahmaputra shape the Northern Plains. Extending approximately 2400 kilometers in length and 240 to 320 kilometers in width, this region constitutes a densely populated physiographic division. It stands out as an agriculturally productive area in India, characterized by rich soil cover, sufficient water supply, and a favorable climate. This article aims to provide insights into the Northern Plains, essential for Geography preparation for the UPSC Civil Service exam.

What are the Northern Plains exactly?

  • The interaction of three major river systems: Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra and their tributaries forms the northern plain.
  • Typical width of these plains: 150 to 300 kilometers.
  • Maximum depth of alluvium deposits: 1000 to 2000 m.
  • Separated from the Shivaliks by the Himalayan Frontal Fault (HFF) to the south.
  • Southern boundary follows the northern edge of Peninsular India in a wavy irregular line.
  • Purvanchal hills border the plains on the eastern side.

Northern Plains of India

Punjab Plains

  • Location: Northwest corner of the northern plain.
  • Separator: Delhi-Aravalli ridge separates it from the Ganga plains in the east.
  • River Systems: Formed by the Indus and its tributaries, including Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.
  • Control: A significant portion controlled by Pakistan.
  • Subdivision: Divided into numerous Doabs (regions lying between and reaching the confluence of two rivers).

Punjab Doabs

  • Sindh Sagar Doab: Situated between the Indus and Jhelum rivers.
  • Jech Doab: Positioned between the Jhelum and Chenab rivers (also known as Chaj Doab); a small portion of Jech Doab is Majha.
  • Rechna Doab: Located between the Chenab and Ravi rivers; a significant portion of Rechna Doab is Majha.
  • Bari Doab: Positioned between the Ravi and Beas rivers; a considerable portion of Bari Doab is Majha.
  • Bist Doab: Found between the Beas and Sutlej rivers; alternatively referred to as Doaba.

Ganga Plains

  • Between the Yamuna catchment in the west and the Bangladesh border in the east lie the Ganga plains.
  • The lower Ganga plain resulted from the downwarping of a section of Peninsular India between the Rajmahal hills and the Meghalaya plateau, followed by sedimentation from the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers.
  • The constant change in the courses of almost all rivers makes this area susceptible to flooding.
  • The Kosi River, known as the ‘Sorrow of Bihar,’ is particularly notorious in this regard.
  • The Ganga plains cover the northern states of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, a portion of Jharkhand, and West Bengal in the east.
  • The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta stands as the world’s largest delta.
  • The Sundarbans, or tidal forests, extensively cover a large portion of the coastal delta.
  • Topographical variations in these plains include Bhabar, Tarai, Bhangar, Khadar, levees, abandoned courses, and more.

Topographical Variations

These can be categorized into three segments from north to south:

  • The Bhabar
  • The Tarai
  • The alluvial plains

Moreover, the Khadar and the Bhangar serve as additional subdivisions within the alluvial plains.


  • At the break-up of the slope, Bhabar is a thin band parallel to the Shiwalik foothills for 8-10 kilometers.
  • Streams and rivers deposit heavy materials such as rocks and boulders in this zone, sometimes causing them to disappear.
  • Crop cultivation is not possible in the Bhabar tract; only giant trees with deep roots thrive.
  • The Bhabar belt is narrower in the east and wider in the western and northwestern hilly regions.


  • The Tarai belt is situated to the south of the Bhabar.
  • It spans a width of about 10-20 km, and many streams and rivers re-emerge without proper channelization.
  • This leads to the formation of Tarai, characterized by marshy and swampy environments.
  • The area boasts a lush growth of natural vegetation and serves as a habitat for a diverse range of wildlife.

The Alluvial Plains

The alluvial plains are further divided into Khadar and Bhangar.

Khadar and Bhangar:
  • Bhangar and Khadar, respectively, represent a belt of old and modern alluvial deposits located to the south of Tarai.
  • These plains exhibit features such as sand bars, meanders, oxbow lakes, and braided channels, which are characteristic of mature fluvial erosional and depositional landforms.
  • The Brahmaputra plains are renowned for their riverine islands and sandbars.
  • Many of these locations are susceptible to flooding and changes in river courses, leading to the formation of braided streams.

Sunderbans Delta

The mouths of the Northern Plains’ mighty rivers create some of the globe’s most extensive deltas, exemplified by the renowned Sundarbans delta. The Sundari tree, flourishing in marshy areas, lends its name to the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove swamp. This habitat is inhabited by the Royal Tiger and crocodiles. Approaching the coast, the wooded terrain transitions into a low-lying mangrove swamp, encircled by sand dunes and mudflats.

Rohilkhand Plain

  • Located on the upper Ganges alluvial plain, Rohilkhand is a low-lying alluvial region in northwestern UP.
  • Positioned between the Ganga River (west) and the Avadh Plain (east) (East).
  • In the Mahabharata, it was referred to as Madhyadesh and named after the Rohilla tribe.
  • The Pathan highlanders of the Yusufzai tribe, also known as Rohillas, were associated with this region.

Awadh Plain

  • Located in the central part of Uttar Pradesh, between Purvanchal (E) and Rohilkhand (W).
  • Formerly known as the granary of India.
  • Awadh plain is distinguished for its unique cuisines and culture.
  • Major cities in the region include Lucknow, Kanpur, Rae Bareilly, and Faizabad.

Rarh Plain

  • The Rarh region is between the Chota Nagpur Plateau (west) and the changing main flow of the Ganges River (east).
  • The lower Gangetic plains, south of the Ganges and west of its Bhagirathi-Hooghly distributary, are known as Rarh plains.
  • Altitude ranges between 75 and 150 meters in this region.
  • The main river in the plain is the Damodar.
  • The area is heavily industrialized.
  • Historically notorious for devastating floods.

Chhattisgarh Plain

  • The upper Mahanadi drains this saucer-shaped depression.
  • The entire basin of Chhattisgarh is situated between the Maikala Range and the Odisha hills.
  • Bordered by the Chota Nagpur plateau (north), Raigarh hills (northeast), Raipur Upland (southeast), Bastar plateau (south), and Maikala Range (west).
  • Once ruled by the Haithaivanshi Rajputs, named after the thirty-six forts (Chhattisgarh).
  • The basin’s limestone and shales are almost horizontally laid out.
  • Known as the “Rice Bowl of India”.
  • Development supported by extensive deposits of coal, iron ore, bauxite, manganese, and commercial clays.
  • Plain’s elevation varies from 250 meters (east) to 330 meters (west).
  • Main commercial centers: Bhilai, Bilaspur, Raipur, Raigarh, and Durg.
  • Other developing cities include Korba, Nandgaon, and Rajgarh.


  • Fertile soil, abundant rivers, and a pleasant climate create an ideal environment for human habitation.
  • The northwestern plains experience a lengthy growing season.
  • High population density contributes to the development of industries.
  • Construction of many multi-purpose dams facilitates water supply for irrigation and energy generation.
  • Favorable topography enhances agricultural prospects through efficient irrigation.
  • Culturally and religiously significant, featuring extensive literature, art, and architecture, along with sacred rivers.
  • The rivers in the plains are navigable, enabling easy transportation and, consequently, fostering trade and commerce.

Raichur Doab

The Raichur Doab, named after the town of Raichur, constitutes a triangular region spanning Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states. It is situated between the Krishna River and its tributary, the Tungabhadra River.


The water divide between the Indus and Ganga river systems is shaped by the states of Haryana and Delhi. In contrast, the Brahmaputra flows from northeast to southwest until taking an almost 90-degree southward turn at Dhubri before entering Bangladesh. The fertile alluvial soil cover of these river valley plains sustains a variety of crops such as wheat, rice, sugarcane, and jute, supporting a substantial population.

FAQs on Northern Plains

Question: Where do northern plains lie?

Answer: The Northern Plains are primarily located in the northern part of India, stretching across states such as Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal. They are formed by the alluvial deposits of rivers like the Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Indus.

Question: What are the Northern plains made up of?

Answer: The Northern Plains are composed of alluvial deposits brought by rivers, particularly the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra, along with their tributaries. These deposits form a flat and fertile terrain suitable for agriculture and human habitation.

Question: What are Northern plains famous for?

Answer: The Northern Plains are renowned for their agricultural productivity, featuring rich soil cover, ample water supply, and a favorable climate. They are often referred to as the “breadbasket” of India due to the cultivation of various crops such as rice, wheat, sugarcane, and more. Additionally, these plains hold cultural and historical significance and are crucial for economic activities like trade and commerce.

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