What is the influence of Geomorphology on Trade?



"Geomorphology', i.e., the characteristics of landforms including the degree and directions of slope, its continuity or breaks, the amount of relief, the relative or absolute altitude, the distribution and spacing of landforms, restrictive or prohibitive, their aggregation and scattering, etc. has remarkable influence on intra-regional or inter-regional trade."

Trade, i.e., exchange of goods between areas of demand and supply is influenced by the geographical personality of regions. "The entire material fabric of the regional entity including the physical and man-made aspects bears on the value, volume, direction, protocols and traditions of trade."

We can take some specific examples to illustrate the influence of geomorphology on trade. Other conditions being equal trade on land adopts the lines of least resistance. As for instance, trade moves between the Assam valley and the Ganga delta but it is not across the geomorphic barrier of Shillong Plateau.

Look at the Indian land-borne trade. The Himalayas have a predominantly restrictive effect. No doubt, political factors are also operative. But geomorphic control becomes obvious if we consider only internal trade.

Railways do not reach the Himalayas except a few points on its southern brow. Roads too are not frequent. They may be frequently discontinuous. The movement of wheeled traffic has to be slow because of steep slopes and risky and frequent turnings and cost on trade movement is comparatively high. No doubt, geomorphology is greatly responsible for limited regional productivity.

For these reasons, the quantity of intra regional as well as trans-Himalayan trade is much more limited than in easier terrains.

Under 'geomorphology and communication’, we examined the influence of geomorphology on the rail routes and highways of India and these are the principal carriers of land-borne trade internally as well as up to the major ports. These facts emphasize the role of geomorphology. As for example, the Mumbai-Kolkata railway follows geomorphic corridors like the Tapti trough, upper Mahanadi basin and Chaibasa plain. And such geomorphic corridors contribute to the development of Mumbai-Calcutta trade corridor.

In villages of hilly regions, the hills will be negative or shadow zones as respects intercommunication and micro-regional trade such as the supply of agricultural commodities or products of household industries, which gravitate in village markets.

Geomorphology thus determines the feasibility and direction of communication, which is carrier of trade. This is true of mountains, plateaus and to some extent of plains also. If we look at the railway map of Indo-Gangetic plain we find that the routes try generally to be parallel to the lines of drainage, i.e., major rivers, not because the tracks transverse to major streams are not feasible but the cost on bridges is a major geomorphic 'and engineering restraint.

Whether the line of communication and trade will be a road or railway or waterway or mule path will be determined by geomorphology. Railways stop respectfully at Nagrota (H.P.), Simla and Darjeeling at the southern edge of the Lesser Himalaya. Any future development of rail-borne trade into greater depth of the Himalaya may be discouraged by limited haulage, slow speed, technical and mechanical precautions.

Roads with shorter modes of transport, easier operation than railways, capability of negotiating steeper slopes and sharper bends will be preferred. Aerial ropeways and helicopter service may also be preferred to surface rail.

Geomorphic control of land-borne transport and trade is quite obvious. If we consider the trade on the northern border of India we note that there are only a few highways, e.g., the Karakorum highway via recently opened Khunjerab pass across that part of Kashmir which is under illegal occupation of Pakistan, Simla-Gangtok route via Shipki pass, Kathmandu-Lhasa route; Chumbi valley routes via Jelep La and Nathu La from Kalimpong through Gangtok into Tibet.

Otherwise, there are only the mule tracks, which occur in scores in the most difficult terrain across the Great Himalaya and beyond. Yak is the 'ship of the high Himalayas'. Yak's companions are sheep, goats, mules and ponies. Where these fail due to prohibitive geomorphology, men acting as porters are the carriers of trade.

Thus, in the difficult terrain of Great Himalaya and cis-Tibetan Himalaya trade commodities are carried piece-meal by the above-noted modes of animal and human transport. Further, south where geomorphology is less prohibitive trucks have become the carriers of trade. Still further south in the Siwalik and Outer Himalayan zone with lower altitude but quite dense forest roads and a few railways are the avenues of trade.

Geomorphology along with limited regional productivity differentiates between the vast amount of flow of trade in the Indo-Gangetic plain and the limited trickle of trade goods across the high Himalayas.

In the Peninsular upland most of the geomorphic restrictions have been overcome by roads and railways but the railway net is thinner than in the plains. To that extent, the volume of trade per unit of time is lower than in the plains.

Slope probably influences the physique of the beasts-of-burden also. While the camel or buffalo of the plains look up, the yak which faces strain both in ascent and descent on steep slopes has to look down on the ground to watch it and remain sure-footed.