Bhote Kosi
The Bhote Kosi thundering through a canyon in Tibet, heading for Nepal

Bhote Kosi, Arun & Karnali rivers

major feeders for India's River Ganges

In Nepali, Bhote Kosi means 'River from Tibet' (Bhot = Tibet, and Kosi or Koshi = river). In Tibet the river is called Rongshar Tsangpo or Shishapangma Chu.

The Bhote Kosi has its main watershed in the foothills of Mount Shishapangma (although another tributary comes together at Nyalam). The river thunders down from Tibet into Nepal, flowing under the Friendship Bridge that forms the border crossing between Tibet and Nepal. The river is narrow, but spectacular for its staggering drop of several thousand metres on its course from Tibet to Nepal, cascading through tremendous gorges with waterfalls and rapids. In fact, it is the steepest river rafted in Nepal.

With a gradient of 15m per km, the Bhote Kosi is eight times as steep as the Sun Kosi (Matsang Tsangpo), which it feeds further downstream. The Bhote Kosi carves a steep and direct drop at the Nepal border that gradually eases to more placid streams and calmer pools with a 46-km run at Lamosunga Dam in Nepal. The rapids here are Class IV to V at high flow, and Class III at lower levels. The Belephi Khola comes in below the hard whitewater section, and below this junction it is called the Upper Sun Kosi. The Upper Sun Kosi joins the Indrawati at Dologhat and becomes the main Sun Kosi.

The Sun Kosi then joins forces with the Arun (Tibetan name: Bhumchu), which is sourced near Mt. Everest on the north side. Technically, the Arun flows into the Sun Kosi (as the Arun has a smaller volume of water). Between Dolaghat and the Arun there are also two other major tributaries. The first one is the Tamba Kosi, which drains the Rowhaling Valley. The second one is the Dudh Kosi, which drains the Khumbu Valley and is known as the River from Everest (south side). This whole flow then feeds into the Ganges River.

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Though many rivers in Nepal rise on the Nepalese side of the Himalayas (not sourced in Tibet), there are important trans-boundary rivers coursing from Tibet into Nepal.

To the far west of Tibet, in the Kailash area, is the Karnali River (known in Tibetan as Mabchu Khambab or Macha Khabab)—another major feeder for the Ganges.

So while the Ganges is not sourced in Tibet (the source of the Ganges lies in northwest India), a number of major feeders for the Ganges come from Tibet—mainly the Bhote Kosi, Arun, and Karnali rivers. The intricate river system of the Himalayan region is complex and inter-connected.

Bhote Kosi

dead in the water?

And by heaven, the Ganges is in desperate need of some fresh water flowing in. The Ganges is regarded as the most sacred river in India, the cradle of Indian civilisation. Bathing in the holy Ganges is a must at least once in the lifetime of a Hindu. Cremation on the Ganges at Varanasi is the aspiration of many Hindus because it is thought they can skip the line of reincarnation straight through to liberation. But is the river itself dead? Unlike the upper reaches of the Tibetan highlands, the Ganges is heavily populated along its banks, and stacked with industrial enterprises.

Here are some shocking statistics: the upstream side of Varanasi has a fecal coliform bacteria count of 600,000 per litre, which is over one hundred times the level considered safe for bathing. As for the downstream end, that goes right off the scale, with levels approaching 15 million. That's the excremental side of things. Floating along in the toxic soup is a nasty mix of heavy metals (chromium, cadmium and lead included). This results from uncontrolled dumping of industrial effluent from tanneries, factories and brick kilns along the Ganges.

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