The Tsang-Po River, also known as Yarlung River , is a stream which originates upriver from the southern Basin of the Tibetan territory. The source of the river is the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon. The river subsequently moves through the state of Arunachal Pradesh , where the name of the river is Dihang. The expression “Tsangpo” stands for purifier.

Tsang-Po River: An Overview

The Tsang-Po River is one of the major tributaries of the Brahmaputra River. It is known in different names such as Yarlung River, Yarlung Zangbo, Yalu Zangbu River, Yarlung Tsangpo, or Yarlung Zangbo Ziang. The suffix Zangbo (or Zangbu or Tsangpo) refers to a river running from or through Tsang, namely Tibetan territory located to the west of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The length of the river is 2,840 km or 1,760 miles. The average discharge of the river is 16,240 cubic meters per second (574,000 cu ft/sec).

Downriver from Arunachal Pradesh, the Tsang-Po River gets broader and in this area, it is known as the Brahmaputra River. The river flows into Bangladesh from Assam at Ramnabazar Point. Around 200 years back, the river used to run to the east and met the Meghna River close to Bhairavbazar. This old canal has been drying up steadily. Currently, the principal watercourse of the river is known as Jamuna River, which moves to the south to join the Ganges, called as the Padma in Bangladesh.

While departing the Tibetan flat terrain, the Tsang-Po River runs in the biggest and deepest gorge, the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon. The canyon has been portrayed as the tallest river in the world by the coordinators of a boating competition. However, it’s not evident from their bulletin what explanation was utilized.

The catchment area of the river covers 912,000 sq km or 352,000 sq miles.

Description of the Yarlung Zangbo River

The Tsang-Po River is the tallest important river in the world. The biggest tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River is the Nyang River. The river traverses the south Tibetan basin in Tibet, which has a length of about 1,200 km and width of 300 km. The basin goes down from 4,500 meters over sea surface to 3,000 meters. While it moves down, the bordering fauna varies from frosty desert to dry steppe to broad-leafed bushes and plants. The river basin eventually switches into a rhododendron and conifer jungle. The tree row is around 3,200 meters. You will find sedimentary sandstone rocks close to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, which include particles that work as proof of the alternating magnetic field of the Earth.

The valley of the Tsang-Po River, bordered by the Nyainqêntanglha and Gangdisê Mountains in the north and Himalayan Mountain Ranges in the south, has less harsh weather conditions as compared to the more northern regions (and higher altitude) of the Tibetan territory. The valley houses the majority of the inhabitants of the Tibet Autonomous Region (Xigazê, Lhasa City, Lhoka, and Nyingchi regions).

The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon was created by a horseshoe twist of the river at the point where it departs the Tibetan flat terrain and runs close to Namcha Barwa. This river gorge is the most extensive and deepest gorge in the world. The Yarlung River has always posed difficult circumstances in front of whitewater kayaking enthusiasts and they always find it demanding.

There are three important waterfalls on the Yarlung Zangbo River. The name of the biggest waterfall on the river is the “Hidden Falls”. It did not catch the attention of the common public of the west till 1998 while its finding by Westerners was shortly applauded as a discovery. They were even depicted as the discovery of the huge waterfalls, which was the theme of the tales narrated to the old Westerners by Buddhist Monks and Tibetan huntsmen. However, this was never discovered by voyagers coming from the Western World during that period. Nevertheless, there were objections from the Chinese Government, mentioning that geographers of China who had discovered the canyon since 1973, had already got photographs of the waterfalls from a helicopter in 1987.

Kayaking Expeditions on Yarlung Tsangpo River

The Yarlung Tsangpo has been a popular kayaking spot for a number of groups since the 1990s. They involve in discovering the area along with whitewater kayaking. The river has achieved the name of the “Everest of Rivers” due to the challenging situations of it. The first effort to organize a kayaking competition on the river was taken by a Japanese team who mislaid one participant on the river.

A kayaking competition was financed by the National Geographic Society in October 1998. An endeavor was undertaken to explore the Zangbo Canyon. Distressed by unexpectedly high water volumes, the competition culminated in disaster when specialist Kayaker Douglas Cameron Gordon died.

The first team to reach there included Hamid Sarder, Ken Storm, Ian Baker along with their Monpa guides. The calculated the elevation of the waterfalls to be around 108 feet (33 meters). The waterfalls together with the remainder of the Pemako region are regarded a holy place by Buddhists and was hidden till that time from foreigners, which include the Chinese Government.

Between January and February 2002, an intercontinental team comprising Steve Fisher, Scott Lindgren, Allan Ellard, Mike Abbott, Johnnie and Willie Kern, and Dustin Knapp finished the initial decline of the higher Zangbo Canyon segment.

Shangri La River Competitions has a reasonably comprehensive explanation of the background of the initial declines of the Tsang-Po and its important tributaries.

Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon

The Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon (basic Chinese; pinyin: Yǎlǔzàngbù Dàxiágǔ) or plainly the Tsangpo Gorge or Tsangpo Canyon, beside the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the Tibetan Territory, is considered by some specialists as the deepest gorge in the world. The gorge is somewhat longer than the Grand Canyon, making it one of the biggest canyons in the world. The Yarlung Tsangpo River, normally just named “Zangbo” (also pronunciated "Tsangpo", denoting "purifier"), has its source in Mount Kailash. Subsequently, the river flows towards the east for approximately 1,700 km and saps the northern segment of the Himalayan Mountain Ranges prior to moving into the canyon next to Pe in Tibet. The gorge has a stretch of around 150 miles while the canyon turns near Mount Namcha Barwa (7,756 m) and makes its path across the Eastern Himalayan Mountain Range. The level of its waters falls from 3,000 meters close to Pe to around 300 m at the corner of the canyon. Following this course, the river moves into Arunachal Pradesh, India, and ultimately gets the name of Brahmaputra.

Ecosystem of the canyon

The canyon has an exclusive ecosystem with varieties of flora and fauna that are both endangered and less influenced by human beings. The weather varies from subtropical to glacial climate. The maximum temperature is 43.6 °C in Tibet and is documented close to the boundary of India at an altitude of about 600 meters over sea surface. The endangered takin is one of the creatures that the indigenous clans constantly look for.

Attractive features of the Yarlung Tsangpo River

Lofty mountains, dense forests with mature ecosystems, fruit gardens, and beautiful waterfalls characterize the river and riverbanks. The most attractive features of the river are mentioned below:


The towering mountains on both side of the gorge are so tall that they appear to have touched the sky. Shining glaciers beautify the edges of these mountains and peaks. Fogs cover the gorge, giving it a mystic appearance.


If you take a bird’s eye view of the whole region, you will find that many snowy crests of the eastern Himalayan Mountain Ranges border the gorge and other peaks are covered by lush green vegetation. The canyon passes through all obstructions to pour into the Indian Ocean. This magnificent view cannot be expressed in words.


The deepest segment of the gorge is 5,382 meters (around 5,886 yards). The mean depth of this canyon is around 5,000 meters (approximately 5,468 yards).


Lush green forests are seen in almost every place in the gorge due to the humidness caused by the air flows of the Indian Ocean. This humidness also assists all surviving life forms in the gorge.


The situation of the canyon makes it a spot where people and activities are sparse. Majority of the segments of the Tsangpo River have not been explored by human beings. The dense fog that usually covers the gorge certainly augments its mistiness.


The overall span beside the canyon is 496 km (approximately 308 miles). The gorge is approximately 35 miles or 56 km longer than the Grand Canyon of Colorado River in Northern Arizona, which is regarded as the longest canyon in the world.


The steep cliffs and soaring peaks of the area make the canyon quite unsafe to travel. Till date, nobody has been able to have passed across the whole span of the canyon by foot.

Variety of flora and fauna

The river runs across an international border into a region where you will find more than 100 varieties of orchids. The vibrant landscape rightly exemplifies the foliage of Arunachal Pradesh. You will find more than 400 varieties of orchids on the riverbanks.

Some interesting facts about the Zangbo River

Given below are some interesting facts about the Zangbo River:

  • The riverbanks contain rich deposits of sedimentary rocks and sandstones with elements of magnetic minerals. This bears testimony to the sporadic model of the magnetic field of the Earth towards the north of the river, close to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

  • The Yarlung Zangbo is the tallest river in the world, with the mean altitude of around 4,000 meters. Two major peaks are more than 7,000 meters high – the Gyala Peri at 7,150 meters and Namche Barwa at 7,756 meters.

  • The legend of Shangri-la, as mentioned in the novel “Lost Horizons” written by James Hilton in 1933, is assumed by a number of voyagers to have been geologically motivated by the deepest canyons and waterfalls of this region.

  • Kintup, an uneducated tailor in Sikkim first informed about a waterfall, which is 30 m (100 feet) high. He also is assumed to discover the Tsangpo in the latter part of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the voyage led by Frank Kingdon-Ward in the former part of the 20th century explored just a 21-meter (70 feet) waterfall, which is named as the Rainbow Falls. The famous waterfall was not explored once again till 1998.

  • An expedition team from Japan tried to explore the river in 1993, but one participant from their group was lost in the canyon close to the Namche Barwa Peak. An American group was patronized by the National Geographic Society in 1998, but they had to retreat since their most qualified kayaker died during the same expedition.

How can you reach the canyon?

You can begin your sojourn by boarding a shuttle bus from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Nyingchi for just 155 Chinese Yen. After reaching Nyingchi, you need to board another shuttle bus that will take you to Pai. You will get down in this place and have to go the remainder of the journey to Dzayul by foot where you will be able to see the tremendous strength of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.

In 2005, Chinese National Geography ranked ten waterfalls of Zangbo Badong as the most picturesque waterfalls near China.

Last Updated on: March 13, 2020