The outward erosional flux is a key factor in the tectonic evolution of mountain belts and there is much debate about the feedbacks between tectonics, erosion and climate. Here we use cosmogenic nuclides ( 10Be and 26Al) analysed in quartz from river sediments from the Upper Ganges catchment to make the first direct measurements of large-scale erosion rates in a rapidly uplifting mountain belt. The erosion rates are highest in the High Himalaya at 2.7±0.3 mm/yr (1σ errors), fall to 1.2±0.1 mm/yr on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and are 0.8±0.3 to <0.6 mm/yr in the foothills to the south of the high mountains. These relative estimates are corroborated by the Nd isotopic mass balance of the river sediment. Analysis of sediment from an abandoned terrace suggests that similar erosion rates have been maintained for at least the last few thousand years. The data presented here, along with data recently published for European river catchments, demonstrate that a log-linear relationship between relief and erosion rate holds over three orders of magnitude variation in erosion rate and between very different climatic and tectonic regimes. The erosion rate estimates from cosmogenic nuclides correlate well with exhumation rates calculated from previously published apatite fission track ages in the Indian Himalaya. This confirms that much of the exhumation in the Himalayan mountain chain is now balanced by erosion. However, exhumation rates calculated from high blocking temperature systems, such as 40Ar/ 39Ar in muscovite, imply lower exhumation rates. Rocks presently at the surface must have undergone a three- to six-fold increase in exhumation rate within the last few million years. We show how this could be explained either by climatic forcing of erosion rate changes or by tectonics. Published evidence for equally rapid changes of exhumation rate in the past and the probable diachroneity in the time at which the present exhumation rates accelerated imply that tectonics has moderated at least some of the change in exhumation rates.