The Editor,

  The Himalayan Journal.


 Now that general attention has been directed to the Shyok Dam and the possibility of a flood this summer is recognized, it may be worth while to examine the records of the two previous great Indus floods, to see whether there was anything about them which puts them beyond the reach of competition on this occasion. The two historic floods in the Indus took place in June 1841 and August 1858. The first, which was the greater, overwhelmed a Sikh army that happened to be encamped on the banks of the river near Torbela. The second flooded Nowshera Cantonment, which of course had not come into existence in the earlier year.

 Cunningham, who visited Ladakh in 1846 and 1847, gives a detailed account (Ladak pp. 103-109) of the damage done by the flood of 1841 from the junction of the Nubra river down to Skardu, and himself saw many traces of its passage. His account in my opinion suffices to establish the fact that a very large flood had occurred in the Shyok and Indus valleys a few years before his visit and there seems no reason to doubt that he ascertained its date correctly. He obviously had access to State records in which the date is given as the middle of Jeth in the Sambat year 1898, i.e. 1st June 1841. But there is also no doubt whatever that at the same time the Indus was suffering from an obstruction elsewhere. There had been a landslip at the Lechar Pari, some miles below the outfall of the Astor, west of Nanga Parbat. This formed a dam which completely blocked the Indus and caused its waters to back up as far as Gilgit. The evidence collected by Major Becher, as quoted by Drew (Jummoo and Kashmir Territories, pp. 415-421) is conclusive as to this and as to the date.

 Can it be that there were two obstructions, and that the flood of the first higher up, of which the traces were observed by Cunningham, touched off the Lechar block, and that the resultant flood at Attock was the work of both ? If so, a catastrophe of the same magnitude can hardly be expected to recur.

 I had intended to make a study of this question and perhaps write an article on it, but have been prevented by ill-health. I am now off on leave and must, therefore, be content merely to broach the theory and leave it to be tested by others more competent.

I am, Sir,


17th March, 1929.

Yours faithfully,    

E. B. Howell,   

(Resident in Kashmir). 





Note by Editor.

 See Footnote 2 on page 17. I can find no direct evidence of a flood in the upper Shyok in 1841 ; though floods occurred in 1835, 1839, and probably 1842. The period was one of advance of the Kumdan glacier, and it is quite possible that after the flood of 1839 the glacier advanced at once and blocked the valley. This may have burst in 1841, and then re-formed to burst again the following year. But there is no other record of the Shyok Dam bursting in successive years, and such an event is not likely.

 If Cunningham had obtained his date (1st June 1841) at Skardu or in the Shyok valley, this would be fair evidence of a flood caused by the bursting of a dam in the Shyok. But unless the State records contain evidence definitely from that region, it seems to me more likely that Cunningham mistook the effects of the three known Shyok floods of 1835, 1839 and 1842 for those of the great Indus catastrophe of 1841. There is no doubt that Falconer who knew of the origin of the 1835 flood, assumed the same origin for the 1841 flood, during that year, and deliberately set aside the evidence of its true origin. It is my belief that his arguments carried conviction mainly through the geographical ignorance of the times, and that Abbott, Cunningham, and Henderson all accepted his view without producing any evidence in support of it. Becher and Montgomerie, however, went deeper and questioned inhabitants : they undoubtedly proved the existence of the Nanga Parbat obstruction, and since they could find no evidence of any other obstruction, it seems legitimate to assume that none existed.

 The Chief of Astor, Jabbar Khan, who warned Kashmir in April, 1841, that the dam would probably hold for another month, would not have known of the existence of a block in the Shyok. He could only estimate when the waters of the lake would reach the crest of the dam, from the rate at which the lake was filling up. The dam burst approximately when he said it would burst. It does not, therefore, seem to have been " touched off " prematurely by a flood from another source.

K. M.

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