Constraining the timing of tectonic coupling between converging plates is crucial for understanding the transition from continental subduction to continental collision. In the case of the India-Asia collision, thrusting of an accretionary complex onto the Indian continental margin provides the most direct temporal constraint on the early stages of continental collision, as it represents the most immediate upper-crustal fault system corresponding to plate coupling. Here, we used structural analysis combined with K-Ar dating and hydrogen isotopes of authigenic illite and muscovite to unravel the time-progressive development of the Zhongba-Gyangze thrust (ZGT), which represents a tectonic boundary fault in southern Tibet. Our results suggest that the ZGT evolved from its initiation as a single fault zone infiltrated by metamorphic fluids with high δD values (−47‰ to −55‰) at ca. 80 Ma to multiple deformation localization zones starting around 51 Ma. This latter phase is represented by the development of different generations of authigenic 1M/1Md illite and significant input of meteoric fluids with δD values ranging from −71‰ to −98‰ through multiple episodes of brittle fault reactivation. A Late Cretaceous tectono-thermal event related to the subduction of a Neotethyan oceanic ridge may have been responsible for the formation of 2M1 illite/muscovite at ca. 80 Ma. The oldest (ca. 51 Ma) 1M/1Md illite age coincides with the first major pulse of shortening in the upper plate after the initial India-Asia contact. Given the synchronous deceleration of India-Asia convergence, the ca. 51 Ma deformation pulse across the Yarlung-Zangbo suture zone demarcates strong coupling (i.e., the onset of continental collision) between India and Asia at this time.

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