Emerging from the land of glaciers on the northern slopes of Kailash ranges, some 17,000 feet (5182 meters) above sea level, the river Indus has its source near the Lake Mansrowar in the Himalyan catchment area. It flows over 1800 miles (2900 k. meters) before it outfalls into the Arabian sea draining an area of about 372,000 square miles (964,261 sq.kms).
The World Bank accepted Tarbela Dam Project as a part of the Settlement (Replacement) plan under Indus water treaty in 1965. WAPDA has entrusted with its execution on behalf of the Government of Pakistan.
The construction of Tarbela Dam was carried out in three stages to meet the diversion requirements of the river. In stage-I, the river Indus was allowed to flow in its natural channel while work was continued on right bank where a 1500 feet (457 meters) long and 694 feet (212 meters) wide diversion channel was excavated and a 105 feet (32 meters) high buttress dam was constructed with its top elevation at 1,187 feet (362 meters). Construction under stage-I lasted 2.5 years.
In stage-II, the main embankment dam and the upstream blanket were constructed across the main valley of the river Indus while water remained diverted through the diversion channel. By the end of stage-II, tunnels had been built for diversion purposes. The Stage-II construction took 3 years to complete. Under stage-III, the work was carried out on the closure of diversion channel and construction of the dam in that portion while the river was made to flow through diversion tunnels. The remaining portion of upstream blanket and the main dam at higher levels was also completed as part of stage-III works.