We performed a series of sandbox experiments to investigate the initiation of thrust ramping in tectonic wedges on a mechanically continuous basal decollement. The experiments show that the decollement slope (β) is the key factor in controlling the location of thrust initiation with respect to the backstop (i.e. tectonic suture line). For β=0, the ramping begins right at the backstop, followed by sequential thrusting in the frontal direction, leading to a typical mono-vergent wedge. In contrast, the ramp initiates away from the backstop as β>0. Under this boundary condition an event of sequential back thrusting takes place prior to the onset of frontal thrust progression. These two-coupled processes eventually give rise to a bi-vergent geometry of the thrust wedge. Using the Drucker-Prager failure criterion in finite element (FE) models, we show the location of stress intensification to render a mechanical basis for the thrust initiation away from the backstop if β>0. Our physical and FE model results explain why the Main Central Thrust (MCT) is located far away from the Indo-Tibetan plate contact (ITSZ) in the Himalayan fold-and-thrust belts. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.