Northern Plains of India Indian Geography Important Topic

The Northern Plains

Northern Plains of India | Part 1

Geography For UPSC gives an account of the northern plains of India

Let’s move on to the next photographic unit: Northern Plains of India.

Article Outline:

  • Location and Extent
  • Formation of Northern Plains
  • Chief Characteristics
  • Physiographic Division
    • The Bhabar
    • The Terai
    • The Bhangar
    • The Khadar
  • Regional Divisions
  • Significance of this region

Audio Article for the Indian Northern Plains Indian Geography

Location and Extent:

Northern plains are the youngest physiographic feature in India. They lie to the south of the Shivaliks, separated by the Himalayan Frontal Fault (HFF). The southern boundary is a wavy irregular line along the northern edge of the Peninsular India. On the eastern side, the plains are bordered by the Purvanchal hills.

Northern Plains of India
The Northern Plains | Part 1

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Formation of Northern Plains:

Due to the uplift of the Himalayas in the Tethys Sea, the northern part of the Indian Peninsula got subsided and formed a large basin.

Formation of Northern Plains

That basin was filled with sediments from the rivers which came from the mountains in the north and from the peninsula in the south. These extensive alluvial deposits led to the formation of the Northern Plains of India.

Chief Characteristics:

  • The northern plain of India is formed by three river systems, i.e. the Indus, the Ganga, and the Brahmaputra; along with their tributaries.
  • The northern plains are the largest alluvial tract of the world. These plains extend approximately 3200 km from west to east.
  • The average width of these plains varies between 150 and 300 km. In general, the width of the northern plains increases from east to west (90-100km in Assam to about 500km in Punjab).
  • The exact depth of alluvium has not yet been fully determined. According to recent estimates, the average depth of alluvium in the southern side of the plain varies between 1300-1400m, while towards the Shiwaliks, the depth of alluvium increases. The maximum depth of over 8000m has been reached in parts of Haryana.
  • The extreme horizontal of this monotonous plain is its chief characteristic (200m – 291m). The highest elevation of 291 m above mean sea level near Ambala forms a watershed between the Indus system and the Ganga system).
  • The monotony of the physical landscape is broken at the micro level by the river bluffs, levees, etc.
    • Floodplain – That part of a river valley, adjacent to the channel, over which a river flows in times of a flood.
    • Levee – An elevated bank flanking the channel of the river and standing above the level of the flood plain.
    • Bluff – A river-cut cliff or steep slope on the outside of a meander. A line of bluffs often marks the edge of a former floodplain. Northern Plains of India

The Northern Plains

Physiographic Divisions of the Northern Plains:

From the north to the south, the northern plains can be divided into three major zones:

  1. The Bhabar
  2. The Tarai
  3. The alluvial plains.

The alluvial plains can be further divided into the Khadar and the Bhangar as illustrated below:

northern plains

Let’s understand these divisions one by one:


  • Bhabar is a narrow belt (8-10km wide) which runs in the west-east direction along the foot of the Himalayas from the river Indus to Teesta

Alluvial Fan

  • Rivers that descend from the Himalayas deposit their load along the foothills in the form of alluvial fans.
  • These fans consisting of coarser sediments have merged together to build up the Piedmont Plain/the Bhabar.
  • The porosity of the pebble-studded rock beds is very high and as a result, most of the streams sink and flow underground. Therefore, the area is characterized by dry river courses except in the rainy season.
  • The Bhabar tract is not suitable for the cultivation of crops. Only big trees with large roots thrive in this region.
  • The Bhabar belt is comparatively narrow in the east and extensive in the western and north-western hilly regions. Northern Plains of India


  • It is a 10-20 km wide marshy region in the south of Bhabar and runs parallel to it.
  • The Tarai is wider in the eastern parts of the Great Plains, especially in the Brahmaputra valley due to heavy rainfall.
  • It is characterized by the re-emergence of the underground streams of the Bhabar belt.
  • The reemerged water transforms large areas along the rivers into badly drained marshy lands.
  • Once covered with dense forests, most of the Tarai land (especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand) has been reclaimed and turned into agricultural land over a period of time. Northern Plains of India


  • It is the older alluvium along the river beds forming terraces higher than the flood plain.
  • Dark in color, rich in humus content, and productive.
  • The soil is clayey in composition and has lime modules (called kankar)
  • Found in doabs (interfluve areas)
  • ‘The Barind plains’ in the deltaic region of Bengal and the ‘Bhur formations’ in the middle Ganga and Yamuna doab are regional variations of Bhangar. [Bhur denotes an elevated piece of land situated along the banks of the Ganga river, especially in the upper Ganga-Yamuna Doab. This has been formed due to the accumulation of wind-blown sands during the hot dry months of the year]
  • In relatively drier areas, the Bhangar also exhibits small tracts of saline and alkaline efflorescence known as ‘Reh’, ‘Kallar’ or ‘Bhur’. Reh areas have spread in recent times with an increase in irrigation (capillary action brings salts to the surface).
  • Maybe fossil remains of even those plants and animals that have become extinct. Northern Plains of India


  • Composed of newer alluvium and forms the flood plains along the river banks.
  • Light in color, sandy in texture, and more porous.
  • Found near the riverbeds.
  • A new layer of alluvium is deposited by river floods almost every year. This makes them the most fertile soils of the Ganges.
  • In Punjab, the Khadar-rich flood plains are locally known as ‘Betlands’ or ‘Bets’.
  • The rivers in the Punjab-Haryana plains have broad flood plains of Khadar flanked by bluffs, locally known as Dhayas. These bluffs are as high as 3 meters.

That’s it for this part! In the next article, we will look at the regional divisions of Northern Plains of India.

The Northern Plains | Part 2

  1. Punjab Plains:
  • The Punjab plains form the western part of the northern plain.
  • In the east, the Delhi-Aravalli ridge separates it from the Ganga plains.
  • This is formed by the Indus and its tributaries; like Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. A major portion of these plains is in Pakistan.
  • It is divided into many Doabs (do-“two” + ab- “water or river” = “a region or land lying between and reaching the meeting of the two rivers”).
  • Important features:
    • Khadar’s rich flood plains are known as ‘Betlands’ or ‘Bets’.
    • The rivers in the Punjab-Haryana plains have broad flood plains of Khadar flanked by bluffs, locally known as Dhayas.
    • The northern part of this plane adjoining the Shivalik hills has been heavily eroded by numerous streams, which are called Chhos.
    • The southwestern parts, especially the Hisar district are sandy and characterized by shifting sand dunes.
  1. Ganga Plains: Northern Plains of India
  • The Ganga plains lie between the Yamuna catchment in the west to the Bangladesh border in the East.
  • The lower Ganga plain has been formed by the down warping of a part of Peninsular India between Rajmahal hills and the Meghalaya plateau and subsequent sedimentation by the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers.
  • The main topographical variations in these plains include Bhabar, Tarai, Bhangar, Khadar, levees, abandoned courses, etc.
  • Almost all the rivers 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’.
  • The northern states, Haryana, Delhi, UP, Bihar, part of Jharkhand, and West Bengal in the east lie in the Ganga plains.
  • The Ganga-Brahmaputra delta: the largest delta in the world. A large part of the coastal delta is covered by tidal forests called Sunderbans. Sunderbans, the largest mangrove swamp in the world gets its name from the Sundari tree which grows well in marshland. It is home to the Royal Tiger and crocodiles. Northern Plains of India
  1. Brahmaputra Plains: Northern Plains of India
  • This plain forms the eastern part of the northern plain and lies in Assam.
  • Its western boundary is formed by the Indo-Bangladesh border as well as the boundary of the lower Ganga Plain. Its eastern boundary is formed by Purvanchal hills.
  • The region is surrounded by high mountains on all sides, except on the west.
  • The whole length of the plain is traversed by the Brahmaputra.
  • The Brahmaputra plains are known for their riverine islands (due to the low gradient of the region) and sand bars.
  • The innumerable tributaries of the Brahmaputra river coming from the north form several alluvial fans. Consequently, the tributaries branch out in many channels giving birth to the river meandering leading to the formation of bill and Oxbow lakes.
  • 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. Northern Plains of India

Significance of this region: Northern Plains of India

  • The plains constitute less than one-third of the country’s total area but support over 40 percent of the country’s total population.
  • Fertile alluvial soils, flat surfaces, slow-moving perennial rivers, and a favorable climate facilitate intense agricultural activity.
  • The extensive use of irrigation has made Punjab, Haryana, and the western part of Uttar Pradesh the granary of India (the Prairies are called the world’s granaries).
  • Cultural tourism: Several sacred places and pilgrimage centers are situated in these plains e.g. Haridwar, Amritsar, Varanasi, Allahabad, Bodh Gaya etc.
  • The sedimentary rocks of plains have petroleum and natural gas deposits.
  • The rivers here have gentle gradients, making them navigable over long distances.

Now that we are done with this part, let’s try to attempt some questions from the past UPSC examinations:

Short Video of Northern Plains Watch to understand.



Question: Assertion (A): The frequency of floods in North Indian plains has increased over the last few decades.

Reason(R): There has been a reduction in the depth of river valleys due to silt deposition.

Ans. A (Both A and B are true and R is the correct explanation of A)

Question: Assertion (A): Ganga Plain is India’s most densely populated part.

Reason(R): Ganga is the most harnessed river in India.

Ans. C (A is true but R is false)


Question: Write a short note on the Tarai region. (2008/2marks)

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Exploring the Enchanting Beauty of the Northern Plains of India

Welcome to the captivating world of the Northern Plains of India, where nature’s wonders unfold in a mesmerizing symphony of beauty and charm. Nestled between the mighty Himalayas and the vast Gangetic plains, this region is a treasure trove of enchanting landscapes, rich history, and diverse cultures. From the awe-inspiring valleys of Kashmir to the sacred banks of the Ganges, every corner of the Northern Plains invites you to embark on a journey of discovery. Immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Dal Lake, where the reflection of snow-capped peaks creates a spellbinding panorama. Explore the ancient ruins of Nalanda, a testament to India’s intellectual prowess. Witness the grandeur of the Taj Mahal as the first rays of the sun illuminate its marble façade. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or cultural explorer, the Northern Plains of India offers a myriad of experiences that will leave you enchanted and inspired. Get ready to be captivated by the magic of this extraordinary region as we delve into its hidden treasures. Northern Plains of India

Geographical Features of the Northern Plains

The Northern Plains of India are characterized by their unique geographical features, which contribute to the region’s breathtaking beauty. Stretching from the foothills of the Himalayas to the Gangetic plains, this vast expanse encompasses a diverse landscape. The fertile plains are crisscrossed by numerous rivers, including the mighty Ganges and its tributaries, which give birth to a thriving ecosystem. The region’s topography varies from rolling hills and picturesque valleys to vast meadows and dense forests, offering a visual treat for visitors. The towering peaks of the Himalayas form a majestic backdrop, adding to the region’s allure. Northern Plains of India

The Northern Plains experience a range of climates, thanks to their vast geographical expanse. The region can be divided into four distinct seasons – winter, spring, summer, and monsoon. Winters are cold, especially in the higher altitudes, with temperatures dropping below freezing point. Spring brings a riot of colors as the flowers bloom and the valleys come alive with vibrant hues. Summers can be scorching, particularly in the plains, with temperatures soaring to unbearable levels. Monsoons bring relief from the heat, but also heavy rainfall, which replenishes the rivers and rejuvenates the landscape. It’s advisable to plan your visit to the Northern Plains based on the season that suits your preferences. Northern Plains of India

Flora and Fauna of the Northern Plains

The Northern Plains of India are blessed with a rich and diverse flora and fauna. The fertile soil and favorable climate support a wide variety of plant life. The region is known for its lush greenery, with vast stretches of agricultural fields, orchards, and forests. The forests are home to a diverse range of trees, including oak, pine, deodar, and rhododendron. The valleys are adorned with colorful flowers like tulips, daffodils, and roses, creating a picturesque scene. Northern Plains of India

The Northern Plains also boasts an impressive array of wildlife. The region is home to several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, which provide a haven for endangered species. The Royal Bengal Tiger, one of the most majestic creatures on earth, can be found in the forests of the Northern Plains. Other notable species include elephants, leopards, deer, and a wide variety of bird species. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the opportunity to spot rare and migratory birds in their natural habitat. Northern Plains of India

Cultural and Historical Significance of the Region

The Northern Plains of India have a rich cultural and historical heritage that dates back centuries. The region has been a melting pot of various civilizations, each leaving its indelible mark on the landscape and culture. The birthplace of ancient Indian civilization, the Northern Plains is steeped in history and mythology. From the ruins of ancient cities to the sacred temples and monasteries, the region is a treasure trove for history buffs. Northern Plains of India

One of the most significant historical sites in the Northern Plains is the Nalanda University. Once a thriving center of learning and knowledge, Nalanda was a renowned seat of education in ancient India. The ruins of this ancient university stand as a testament to India’s intellectual prowess and attract scholars and tourists from around the world. Northern Plains of India

The Northern Plains are also home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Taj Mahal. This iconic monument, built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, is a symbol of eternal love and a masterpiece of architecture. Its white marble façade, intricate carvings, and beautiful gardens make it one of the most visited attractions in the world. The Taj Mahal is just one example of the region’s architectural splendor, with numerous forts, palaces, and temples showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Northern Plains. Northern Plains of India

Popular Destinations in the Northern Plains

The Northern Plains of India are dotted with numerous destinations that offer a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and spirituality. One of the most popular destinations is Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Located on the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake, Srinagar is known for its serene beauty, Mughal gardens, and houseboats. Visitors can take a shikara ride on the lake, explore the floating gardens, and soak in the tranquility of the surroundings. Northern Plains of India

Another must-visit destination in the Northern Plains is Varanasi, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Situated on the banks of the holy Ganges River, Varanasi is a sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus. The city is famous for its ghats, where devotees perform religious rituals and take a dip in the holy river. The mesmerizing Ganga Aarti, a daily ritual performed at the Dashashwamedh Ghat, is a sight to behold.

Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, is another popular destination in the Northern Plains. Apart from the iconic monument, Agra is home to several other architectural marvels, including the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. The intricate carvings and grandeur of these structures offer a glimpse into the region’s rich history.

Outdoor Activities and Adventure Sports in the Region

The Northern Plains provide ample opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. The region’s diverse landscape offers a wide range of activities, from trekking and mountaineering in the Himalayas to river rafting and wildlife safaris in the national parks. The valleys and meadows are perfect for camping and picnics, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in nature’s beauty. Northern Plains of India

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, the Northern Plains offers a host of adventure sports. The rivers flowing through the region provide ideal conditions for river rafting, with the Ganges being a popular spot for this thrilling activity. Paragliding is another popular adventure sport in the Northern Plains, allowing visitors to soar high above the valleys and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The region is also known for its skiing resorts, where visitors can indulge in winter sports and enjoy the snow-covered slopes. Northern Plains of India

Local Cuisine and Traditional Dishes

The cuisine of the Northern Plains is as diverse as its landscape and culture. Each state in the region has its own unique culinary traditions, offering a delectable array of flavors and dishes. Kashmiri cuisine is known for its rich and aromatic flavors, with dishes like Rogan Josh and Yakhni Pulao being popular choices. In Punjab, the cuisine is characterized by its robust flavors and generous use of dairy products. The famous Punjabi dishes like butter chicken, sarson ka saag, and makki di roti are a must-try for food lovers.

Uttar Pradesh, another state in the Northern Plains, is famous for its vegetarian delicacies. From the mouth-watering chaat and pani puri to the melt-in-your-mouth kebabs, the cuisine of Uttar Pradesh offers a delightful culinary experience. Bihar, on the other hand, is known for its simple yet flavorful dishes, with litti chokha and sattu paratha being popular choices. Northern Plains of India

Festivals and Celebrations in the Northern Plains

The Northern Plains is a land of vibrant festivals and colorful celebrations. The region’s diverse cultural heritage is reflected in the numerous festivals that are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in the Northern Plains. The streets come alive with decorative lights, fireworks, and colorful rangolis during this festive season. Holi, the festival of colors, is another popular festival, where people indulge in playful water and color fights. Northern Plains of India

In Varanasi, the Ganga Mahotsav is a grand celebration that takes place on the banks of the Ganges. The festival showcases the rich cultural heritage of the region, with music and dance performances, boat races, and a grand procession along the river. The Hemis Festival in Ladakh is another major event in the Northern Plains, where the vibrant culture of the region is showcased through traditional music, dance, and masked performances. Northern Plains of India

Tips for Traveling to the Northern Plains

If you’re planning to visit the Northern Plains of India, here are a few tips to make your trip memorable:

1. Check the weather conditions and plan your visit accordingly. The region experiences extreme temperatures, so pack accordingly.

2. Respect the local customs and traditions. The Northern Plains are home to diverse cultures, so it’s important to be mindful of local sensitivities.

3. Carry comfortable footwear and clothing, especially if you’re planning to indulge in outdoor activities.

4. Stay hydrated and carry a water bottle with you, as summers can be scorching in the plains.

5. Carry necessary medication and a first aid kit, as some remote areas may not have easy access to medical facilities.


The Northern Plains of India are a treasure trove of enchanting landscapes, rich history, and diverse cultures. From the awe-inspiring valleys of Kashmir to the sacred banks of the Ganges, every corner of this extraordinary region invites you to embark on a journey of discovery. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or cultural explorer, the Northern Plains offer a myriad of experiences that will leave you enchanted and inspired. Immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Dal Lake, explore the ancient ruins of Nalanda, and witness the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. Get ready to be captivated by the magic of the Northern Plains as you delve into its hidden treasures.

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