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The Chautang River is among the few rivers that drains the state of Haryana. Once a perennial stream of water fed by melting Himalayan glaciers all year round, the Chautala has diminished to an ephermal stream. Its channel is punctuated by exposed dry river beds and isolated lakes that mark a once vibrant river. The majority of its discharge is facilitated by the rain water of the monsoon. Nevertheless, the river forms an important source of water for the arid regions of Haryana and Rajasthan. Many times, its channel has been used as a transit to divert water from the Yamuna and other perennial streams, thereby functioning as a canal. There is a plan to develop the channel as a potential fishery by the government.
The Chautang is virtually a dead river, believed to be in the last throes of its existence. In the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary period however, it was thought to be thriving river receiving water from hundreds of tributaries and ultimately draining into the Saraswati.
According to some experts, this river is basically an off shoot of Drishadvati River. This river had also been mentioned in ancient scriptures of India. Geologically speaking, the present extent of the Chautang represents a mere fraction of the historical extent of the river that drained in its place. Like many of the rivers of the area, Chautang owed its existence to the mountains of Himalayas.
The present state of the river is only a shade of its historical magnificence. Ancient Hindu scriptures contain extensive mentions of the river Drishadvati. The Manu Smriti claims the river to delineate the southern boundary of the Brahmavarta Kingdom. The Rig Veda prescribes the present day Chautang River to be a location for offering religious sacrifices.
The channel of the Chautang River is parched and arid, characteristic of all the channels in the area. Like the Ghaggar, the Sahibi and other river of north western India, Chautang is known to have had a tremendous influence of the Indus Valley Civilization. Within the banks of the relict Drsadvati, various findings indicate extensive settlements. Around 3000 years B.C., the entire set of rivers lost their flourish and led to a dramatic transformation of the landscape. Using remote satellites, reconstruction of the past drainage basin had been done. It revealed a vast area that drained into the Chautang.
The present day course of the Chautang is a truncated one, having starved of its water supply. It is marked by channels that are seldom filled with water and saline lakes. The origin of the Chautang River lie south of the Shivalik ranges in Himachal Pradesh. Like many other streams owing their existence to the Himalaya, this stream too flows towards the south west. As it enters the plains, it undergoes a change in the pattern of drainage. However, recent studies have contradicted claims that the river extended up to the Himalayas in the past. Instead, the river is believed to have started just south of the Shivaliks.
The river parallels many other rivers of the same genre. Rivers such as Satluj, Ghaggar and Indus are thought to represent the master pattern of drainage for this area and Chautang does not deviate much from that.
The historical evidence suggesting an extensive drainage network of the Chautang can be overwhelming. At the time Yamuna River was a mere tributary of this roaring river. It drained the entire area of present day Rohilkhand plains along with Haryana and Rajasthan.
Rakshi is a small ephermal stream with origins at Saharpur in the Bilaspur district of Uttarakhand. The river receives meager contributions from minute tributaries as it follows a south western trend of flow. It drains into the Chautang in the Kurukshetra district after having travelled less than 100 kilometers.
Past tributary of Yamuna
The past few millennia have caused a great upheaval of the landscape where the Chautang River presently flows. As late as 2000 B.C., the river was a major river that eclipsed Yamuna. The Yamuna then used to be a tributary of the Chautang, contributing significantly to its discharge. However, the geological phenomenon of river capture rendered it a vestigial stream reduced to a mere rivulet.