The Kali Gandaki river source is at the border with Tibet at an elevation of 6,268 metres (20,564 ft) at the Nhubine Himal Glacier in the Mustang region of Nepal.
The headwaters stream on some maps is named the Chhuama Khola and then, nearing Lo Manthang, the Nhichung Khola or Choro Khola. The Kali Gandaki then flows southwest (with the name of Mustang Khola on old, outdated maps) through a sheer-sided, deep canyon before widening at the steel footbridge at Chele, where part of its flow funnels through a rock tunnel, and from this point the now wide river is called the Kali Gandaki on all maps. In Kagbeni a major tributary named Johng Khola, Kak Khola or Krishnaa descends from Muktinath.
The river then flows southward through a steep gorge known as the Kali Gandaki Gorge, or Andha Galchi, between the mountains Dhaulagiri, elevation 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) to the west and Annapurna I, elevation 8,091 metres (26,545 ft) to the east. If one measures the depth of a canyon by the difference between the river height and the heights of the highest peaks on either side, this gorge is the world's deepest. The portion of the river directly between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I, 7 kilometres (4 mi) downstream from Tukuche), is at an elevation of 2,520 metres (8,270 ft), which is 5,571 metres (18,278 ft) lower than Annapurna I. The river is older than the Himalayas. As tectonic activity forces the mountains higher, the river has cut through the uplift.
South of the gorge, the river is joined by Rahughat Khola at Galeshwor, Myagdi Khola at Beni, Modi Khola near Kushma and Badigaad at Rudrabeni above Ridi Bazaar. The river then turns east to run along the northern edge of the Mahabharat Range. The largest hydroelectricity project in Nepal is located along this stretch of the river. Turning south again and breaking through the Mahabharats, Kali Gandaki is then joined by a major tributary, the Trishuli, at Devighat, then by the East Rapti River draining the Inner Terai valley known as Chitwan. The Gandaki then crosses the outermost foothills of the Himalayas—Sivalik Hills—into the Terai plains of Nepal. From Devighat, the river flows southwest of Gaindakot town. The river later curves back towards the southeast as it enters India where it is called the Gandak.
Below Gaindakot the river is known as the Narayani or Sapt Gandaki (Seven Gandakis), for seven tributaries rising in the Himalaya or further north along the main Ganges-Brahmaputra divide. These are the Kali Gandaki, the Trishuli River, and the five main tributaries of the Trishuli known as the Daraudi, Seti, Madi, Marsyandi and Budhi.
The entry point of the river at the Indo–Nepal border is also the confluence called Triveni with rivers Pachnad and Sonha descending from Nepal. Pandai river flows into Bihar (India) from Nepal in the eastern end of the Valmiki Sanctuary and meets Masan. The Gandak flows southeast 300 kilometres (190 mi) across the Gangetic plain of Bihar state through West Champaran, Gopalganj, Saran and Muzaffarpur districts. It joins the Ganges near Patna just downstream of Hajipur at Sonepur (also known as Harihar Kshetra). Its drainage area in India is 7,620 square kilometres (2,940 sq mi).
From its exit from the outermost Siwaliks foothills to the Ganges, the Gandak has built an immense megafan comprising Eastern Uttar Pradesh and North Western Bihar in the Middle Gangetic Plains. The megafan consists of sediments eroded from the rapidly uplifting Himalaya. The river's course over this structure is constantly shifting. It is said that the river has shifted 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the east due to tectonic tilting in the last 5,000 years.
The Gandaki river basin is reported to contain 1025 glaciers and 338 lakes. These contribute substantially to the lean season flows of the river.
Glacier lakes, among the most hazardous features of high mountains, are usually formed behind dams of moraine debris left behind by retreating glaciers, a trend that is observed all over the world. Even though glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) events have been occurring in Nepal for many decades, the Dig Tsho glacier outburst, which took place in 1985, has triggered detailed study of this phenomenon. In 1996, the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) of Nepal reported that five lakes were potentially dangerous, namely, Dig Tsho, Imja, Lower Barun, Tsho Rolpa, and Thulagi, all lying above 4,100 metres (13,500 ft). A recent study done by ICIMOD and UNEP (UNEP, 2001) reported 27 potentially dangerous lakes in Nepal. In ten of them GLOF events have occurred in the past few years and some have been regenerating after the event.
The Thulagi glacier, which is located in the Upper Marsyangdi River basin, is one out of the two moraine-dammed lakes (supra-glacial lakes), identified as a potentially dangerous lake. The KfW, Frankfurt, the BGR (Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Germany), in cooperation with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in Kathmandu, have carried out studies on the Thulagi Glacier and have concluded that even assuming the worst case, a disastrous outburst of the lake can be excluded in the near future.
Major towns and cities located along or near the banks of the Kali Gandaki are Lo Manthang, Jomsom, Beni, Baglung, Kusma, Ridi, Devghat, Bharatpur, Valmikinagar and Triveni. The river also forms the western border of Chitwan National Park. Along the stretch in Nepal, the river carries heavy amounts of glacial silt, imparting the river a black color. The Kali Gandaki, Marshyandi and Seti Rivers are popular whitewater adventure destinations.
The important towns in the Indian part of the Gandak river are the Valmikinagar (Bhainsalotan) - location of Gandak Barrage, Bagaha, Bettiah (district hqrs & field directorate of Valmiki Tiger Project), Harinagar (Ramnagar), Hajipur (across the Ganges 10 km from Patna) and Sonepur (also Known as Harihar Kshetra), near Patna.The Gandaki river is mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.
Its evolution is described in Shiva Purana, Kumarakhand, in the chapter of the killing of Shankhachuda.
Episode 1 of "The Living Planet," David Attenborough's second nature documentary series, is set in the Kali Gandaki Gorge.
Chitwan National Park of Nepal and Valmiki National Park of India are adjacent to each other in the vicinity of Valmikinagar around the Gandak Barrage.
Chitwan National Park covers an area of 932 square kilometres (360 sq mi). Established in 1973, it is the oldest national park of Nepal. It was granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1984. It is located in Chitwan, one of the Inner Terai Valleys of Nepal. The park is rich in flora and fauna, including Bengal Tigers and one of the last populations of single-horned Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). The area used to be known as the Chitwan Valley. It was a place for big game hunting and until 1951 it was a hunting reserve. At the park there is canoeing, elephant rides, and guided jungle walks.
Valmiki Sanctuary covers about 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi) of forest and was the 18th tiger reserve established in India. It is ranked fourth in terms density of tiger population. Valmikinagar is located nearly 100 kilometres (62 mi) from Bettiah in the northernmost part of the West Champaran district, Bihar, bordering Nepal. Valmikinagar is a small town with scattered habitation, mostly within the forest area and has a railroad station in the district of West Champaran, close to the railhead of Narkatiaganj. It has diverse landscapes, sheltering rich wildlife habitats and floral and faunal composition with the prime protected carnivores and was included in the National Conservation Programme of the Project Tiger in the year 1994. As per Zoological Survey of India's report of 1998 the sanctuary is reported to shelter 53 mammals, 145 birds, 26 reptile and 13 amphibians. and Tiger Reserve
The notable species of wild fauna include: tiger, leopard, wild dog, wild boar, bison, bear, peacock, partridge, hornbill, hill mynah, woolly-necked stork, python, crocodile, deer, sambar, blue bull, barking deer, hog deer.
As per the Botanical Survey of India report of 1998 there are seven types of vegetation consisting of seven classes of forests; home to 84 species of trees (subtropical trees such as sal, sagwan, bamboo, and cane), 32 shrubs and climbers and 81 herbs and grasses.
The ancient Valmiki Ashram (hermitage) and surrounding temples are located in the Chitwan National Park of Nepal.It is located at a distanace of about 7 km from Valmikinagar. It is approachable for pilgrimage only from Valmikinagar near Gandak Barrage, both from Nepal and India.
It is said that Valmiki Rishi (sage) wrote the great epic, "Ramayana" here. It is also believed to be the birthplace of Luv & Kush (the two sons of Lord Ram and his divine wife Sita. The hermitage also has landmarks of Sita’s ‘Falahar’ (eating place), Meditation place of the great Sage-Valmiki, the place where the Ashwamedh horse was tied, Amrit (nectar of immortality) Kuan (well); Vishnu Chakra (disc), and the Hawan (Yagna) Kund (sacred square structure to perform fire rituals).
In the periphery of 3 to 4 kilometres (1.9 to 2.5 mi) around the Valmiki Ashram, the temples of importance are a) the Jatashankar (Shiv) Temple, 2) Nardevi (Sweta Kali) Temple (Form of Durga and 3) Kaleshwaran (an avatar of the God Shiva) Temple. Triveni Temple is located across the Gandak Barrage in Nepal, about 3 km from the Gandak Barrage.
Ammonite fossils collected from the bed of the Gandaki River at a place close to Saligrama or Muktinath (literally "place of salvation") in the Mustang district of Nepal are known as shaligrams or shilas and are considered aniconic representations of Vishnu. These are first mentioned in "Devi Bhagavath" completely if we want to refer puranas, it is as so there was king name Dharmadwaja who was initially a devotee of goddess Lakshmi later became rival of the same and completely ruined but his son Padmadwaja realized his father mistake became a devotee of Lakshmi, pleased to his devotion Lakshmi herself incarnated as Tulasi, later Tulasi fell in deep love with Lord Krsna for which they got married, in order to keep their relation for ever Lord Krsna converted himself as Salagrava (saligram) & Tulasi as river Gandaki, even today salagrava are available in gandaki only, later the Great Master Sri Shankaracharya who knew this story told to his disciples that when ever this stones are taken for the purpose of worship one should never worship those shila without tulasi, that is in order to keep the same relation of tulasi & Sri Krsna, he also further says the Tulasi which we use foe worship is hair of that Tulasi who converted into river Gandaki. He has also coated about this stones Salagrava in his Brahmasutras itself yatha salagrame Harihe, "salagrama eva visno etyethdupayukameva", "yatha slagrame visnuhu sanihita eti tatvat", & even today all his amnaya peetas have a salagrava for their compulsory daily rituals, Silas and considered unique and are used for worship. It is also a sacred place for Buddhists who call it Chumig Gyatsa, which in Tibetan means 'Hundred Waters'..Muktinath is also called by the Hindus as Mukthiksehtra, which literally means "place of salvation".
These stones are naturally formed round stones, with circular or spiral markings and are fossil ammonite stones found in the rivers of Himalayas, in particular kinds of ocean sediments, which have been uplifted to the top of the Himalayas.
Located between the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna mountain ranges, the Gandaki River flows through the village of Saligrama or Muktinath and the Ashrama of Pulaha. In ancient times, the mountain range surrounding Pulaha was called Salagiris due to the vast forests of Sala (sal) trees. The stones found in this region are therefore called Saligrama – Silas (stones found only in the region of Saligrama. It has great significance to Hindus, particularly to Brahmins, Smarthas uses this the replica of lord Narayana, Srivaisnavas & Madhva Sects who consider the place of availability of this stone in the river bed of the Gandaki River, and the Mukthinath temple as one of the 108 Divyakshetrams or Thirthastanas (temples and celestial abodes of Vishnu) to be visited on a pilgrimage (at least once in their life). At the pilgrimage site of Muktinath (3,710m) one wonders in amazement at the presence of 108 small waterfalls and mysterious natural gas fires, worshipped as Jwalamukhi (in Sanskrit).
For Tibetan Buddhists Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa is a place of Dakinis, goddesses known as Sky Dancers. It is of great importance for Buddhists that Chumig Gyatsa is one of the 24 Tantric places.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition states that for this reason Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism had meditated at Muktinath on his way to Tibet. It is one of the 51 Shakti peetams.
The particular site in the course of the river where the stones become sacred is known as Chakra-Tirtha. The sanctity of this site is said to extend to three yojanas (24 miles) all round.
There is also a tributary called Chakra-nadi or Jhong Khola which flows from Muktinath and joins the Kali Gandaki at Kagbeni. This tributary is described in Garuda purana as created by Brahma; and the great peak to the north of the river is said to contain the presence of Vishnu. All the stones found in the river as well as in the mountain are believed to bear the marks of Vishnu. The entire area (including streams and the mountainside to the north of Muktinath) covers as many as twelve yojanas (96 miles), according to the Puranic account. Among the Saligrama stones, some are from the waters (jalaja) and some are from the mountainside (sthalaja). Puranic texts testify that the sacred stones are what are found in the river, and not what are taken out of the rock on its banks.
It is a unique Shaivite shrine near Hajipur made in the late medieval period (18th century), by one of the army commanders of Nepal. The temple brings-in a fresh pagoda-style architecture of the Himalayan Kingdom to the plains of the Ganges. This temple is built largely of wood. Another distinctive feature of this temple is its fine wooden carving, which includes, of others, generous erotic scenes.
Archaeologically important places around Valmikinagar are Lauriya-Nandangarh and Someshwar Fort.
In Lauria block, about 1 km east of Nandan Garh, a lion pillar of Ashoka, made out of a single block of polished sand stone, measuring 35 feet (11 m) in height with a diameter of 35" at the base and 22" at the top, which is believed to be over 2,300 years old, is in an excellent condition. Its massiveness and exquisite finish furnish striking proof of the skill and resources of the masons of Ashokan age. Two more such pillars with their capitals removed have been discovered in Rampurwa village, close to Gandhi's Bhitiharawa Ashram in Gaunaha block. One of their capitals, the bull is now in the National Museum at New Delhi and the other, the lion, is at Calcutta Museum.
At Nandan Garh there are also Baudh (Buddha) stupas made out of bricks and about 80 feet (24 m) high which according to the authoritative source are Ashoka Stupas, in which ashes of Lord Buddha’s funeral pyre are enshrined.
Someshwar Fort is situated in Narkatiaganj sub-division, near Nepal border, on top of Someshwar Hill at 2,884 ft (879 m) altitude. It is in a ruined state but its remains are well defined.
The Bhitiharawa Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi near Gaunaha in the eastern end of the Valmiki reserve. It is a village in Gaunaha block in Bihar from where Gandhiji started his freedom movement that came to be known as 'Champaran Satyagraha' in India history. The village houses the hut which is called Ashram and has become a place of Gandhian pilgrimage.
Mustang caves are a collection of some 10,000 man-made caves dug into the sides of valleys in the Mustang District of Nepal. The caves lie on the steep valley walls near the Kali Gandaki River in Upper Mustang. Several groups of archaeologists and researchers have explored these stacked caves and found partially mummified human bodies and skeletons that are at least 2,000-3,000 years old. Explorations of these caves by conservators and archaeologists have also led to the discovery of valuable religious paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and numerous artifacts belonging to the 12th to 14th century.
In Nepal, Sapta Gandaki alone has a huge hydropower potential of 20,650 MW (economic exploitable potential is 5,270 MW) out of a total estimated potential of 83,290 MW (economically exploitable potential is 42,140 MW). The country has so far been able to generate only around 600 MW of hydropower out of which the Gandak basin projects contribute more than 44% - 266 MW. The hydropower projects built are the Trisuli at Nuwakot (21 MW), Devighat at Nuwakot (14 MW), Pokhra (1MW) and Western Gandak HEP, at Nawalparasi (15) MW, Marsyangdi at Tanahu (69 MW), Kali Gandaki at Syanja (144 MW), and Syange 2 MW. Middle Marsyangdi HE Project (70 MW) at Lamjung is under final stage of construction. Several major projects are on the anvil for implementation in the near future. With Government of Nepal now according priority to private-sector participation in a multi-pronged approach, the pace of hydropower development will get accelerated.
A major Indian firm has entered into a share purchase and joint venture agreement with a Nepalese firm to acquire 80 per cent stake of Nepalese Company for development of the Upper Marsyangdi HEP (250MW). Achieving the economically exploitable potential need would no more be a mirage.
Reportedly there are several other major projects being pursued by the Government of Nepal for private sector participation on IPP basis.
The Gandak terrain in India is mostly flat plains, hence does not have any large hydropower
The Gandak Project at Valmikinagar (Bhainsaloton), intercepts water of a catchment (37,410 km2 – 90% area is in Nepal) which lies partly in Nepal and partly in India. An Agreement between His Majesty’s Government of Nepal and the Government of India on the Gandak Irrigation and Power Project, signed at Kathmandu on 4 December 1959; which came in force upon signature (somewhat modified in 1964), to construct the project comprising a barrage, canal head regulators and other appurtenant works about 33 m (100 ft) below the existing Triveni Canal Head Regulator and of taking out canal systems for purposes development of irrigation and power for Nepal and India. Some modification was subsequently made in this agreement in 1964 for the protection of Nepal’s riparian rights. Basically there is an agreed share of water for ‘western Canal System including a power station in Nepal and Eastern canal System. As a part of this bilateral agreement, the Gandak Barrage, a part of Gandak Project, has been built (1968/69.) over the Gandak river for providing irrigation to Nepal, U.P. and Bihar. The irrigation potential of this project is 11,510 km², spread in the district of West Champaran, East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur, Saran, Siwan & Gopalganj. The Eastern Gandak Canal Project was taken up in 1960 and Main Canal system was completed in 1975 for flow irrigation in Nepal for the gross commanded area estimated to be 103,500 acres (419 km2).
A hydroelectric generating station with an installed capacity of 15 MW (3x5 MW) has also been constructed and commissioned on the by pass to Eastern Gandak Canal.
Flood management does not aim at total elimination or control of floods or providing total immunity from the effects of all magnitudes of floods, which is neither practicable from economic considerations nor even necessary, keeping in view other realities that are faced in the Indian context. Thus, a multi-pronged strategy ranging from modifying the floods by means of structural measures to learning to live with the floods by means of other non-structural measures is the goal of flood management. Measures for protection against extreme floods of low frequency are seldom economically feasible. The term "flood management" refers to the provision of a reasonable degree of protection against floods by measures to mitigate the recurring havoc caused by floods. This is what is being done in flood plains of Gandak River in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which are affected by floods.
Navigation on the river
Nepal has carried out studies on the feasibility of having navigational use of the Gandaki river. Studies indicate that (a) it is feasible only in the lower reaches, (b) link it with India’s number 1 highway from Allahabad to Haldia, and (c) cognizance has to be taken of the adverse situation which could arise due to increased irrigation use in dry seasons which could restrict the river level for maintaining possible navigation.