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HIMALAYA

HIMALAYA

The Himalayas or Himalaya (/ˌhɪməˈleɪ.ə/ or /hɪˈmɑːləjə/) is a mountain range in the Indian subcontinent, which separates theIndo-Gangetic Plain from the Tibetan Plateau. This range is home to nine of the ten highest peaks on Earth, including the highest above sea level, Mount Everest. The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures of South Asia. Many Himalayan peaks are sacred in Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

The Himalayas are bordered on the north by the Tibetan Plateau, on the south by the Indo-Gangetic Plain, on the northwest by the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges and on the east by the Indian states of Sikkim, the Darjeeling district of West Bengal,Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. The Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayas together form the “Hindu Kush Himalayan Region” (HKH) The western anchor of the Himalayas, Nanga Parbat, lies just south of the northernmost bend of the Indus River; the eastern anchor, Namcha Barwa, is just west of the great bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. The Himalayas span five countries: Nepal, India, Bhutan, China (Tibet), and Pakistan. The first three countries having sovereignty over most of the range.

himalaya

Mount Machapuchare (Mount Fishtail) seen fromChomrong, Kaski, Nepal. Elevation: 6,993 m (22,943 ft), prominence: 1,233 m (4,045 ft).

Lifted by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayan range runs northwest to southeast in a 2,400-kilometre (1,500 mi)-long arc. The range varies in width from 400 kilometres (250 mi) in the west to 150 kilometres (93 mi) in the east. Besides the Greater Himalayas, there are several parallel lower ranges. The southernmost, along the northern edge of the Indian plains and reaching 1000 m in altitude, is the Sivalik Hills. Further north is a higher range, reaching 2000-3000 m, known as the Lower Himalayan Range.

Three of the world’s major rivers (the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra) arise in the Himalayas. While the Indus and the Brahmaputra rise near Mount Kailash in Tibet, the Ganges rises in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Their combined drainage basin is home to some 600 million people.

Etymology

The name Himālaya is from Sanskrit: hima (snow) + ālaya (dwelling), and literally means “abode of snow”.

Ecology

The flora and fauna of the Himalayas vary with climate, rainfall, altitude, and soils. The climate ranges from tropical at the base of the mountains to permanent ice and snow at the highest elevations. The amount of yearly rainfall increases from west to east along the southern front of the range. This diversity of altitude, rainfall and soil conditions combined with the very high snow line supports a variety of distinct plant and animal communities. The extremes of high altitude (low atmospheric pressure) combined with extreme cold favor extremophile organisms.

The unique floral and faunal wealth of the Himalayas is undergoing structural and compositional changes due to climate change. The increase in temperature is shifting various species to higher elevations. The oak forest is being invaded by pine forests in the Garhwal Himalayan region. There are reports of early flowering and fruiting in some tree species, especiallyrhododendron, apple and box myrtle. The highest known tree species in the Himalayas is Juniperus tibetica located at 4,900 metres (16,080 ft) in Southeastern Tibet.
himalaya-mountain-range-nepal-5-xl
Panoramic view of Langtang Range in Nepal

Geology

himalaya

The 6,000 kilometers plus journey of the India landmass (Indian Plate) before its collision with Asia (Eurasian Plate) about 40 to 50 million years ago

Geology of the Himalaya

The Himalayan range is one of the youngest mountain ranges on the planet and consists mostly of uplifted sedimentary and metamorphic rock. According to the modern theory of plate tectonics, its formation is a result of a continental collision or orogeny along the convergent boundary between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. The Arakan Yoma highlands in Myanmar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal were also formed as a result of this collision.

During the Upper Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago, the north-moving Indo-Australian plate (which has subsequently broken into theIndian Plate and the Australian plate) was moving at about 15 cm per year. About 50 million years ago this fast moving Indo-Australian plate had completely closed the Tethys Ocean, the existence of which has been determined by sedimentary rocks settled on the ocean floor, and the volcanoes that fringed its edges. Since both plates were composed of low density continental crust, they were thrust faultedand folded into mountain ranges rather than subducting into the mantle along an oceanic trench An often-cited fact used to illustrate this process is that the summit of Mount Everest is made of marine limestone from this ancient ocean.

Today, the Indian plate continues to be driven horizontally below the Tibetan Plateau, which forces the plateau to continue to move upwards. The Indian plate is still moving at 67 mm per year, and over the next 10 million years it will travel about 1,500 km into Asia. About 20 mm per year of the India-Asia convergence is absorbed by thrusting along the Himalaya southern front. This leads to the Himalayas rising by about 5 mm per year, making them geologically active. The movement of the Indian plate into the Asian plate also makes this region seismically active, leading to earthquakes from time to time.

During the last ice age, there was a connected ice stream of glaciers between Kangchenjunga in the east and Nanga Parbat in the west In the west, the glaciers joined with the ice stream network in the Karakoram, and in the north, joined with the former Tibetan inland ice. To the south, outflow glaciers came to an end below an elevation of 1,000–2,000 metres (3,300–6,600 ft). While the current valley glaciers of the Himalaya reach at most 20 to 32 kilometres (12 to 20 mi) in length, several of the main valley glaciers were 60 to 112 kilometres (37 to 70 mi) long during the ice age. The glacier snowline (the altitude where accumulation and ablation of a glacier are balanced) was about 1,400–1,660 metres (4,590–5,450 ft) lower than it is today. Thus, the climate was at least 7.0 to 8.3 °C (12.6 to 14.9 °F) colder than it is today.

Hydrology

hydrology

Indus River
The Himalayan range at Yumesongdong in Sikkim, in theYumthang River valley

The Himalayas contain the third-largest deposit of ice and snow in the world, after Antarctica and the Arctic. The Himalayan range encompasses about 15,000 glaciers, which store about 12,000 km3 (3,000 cubic miles) of fresh water. Its glaciers include the Gangotri and Yamunotri (Uttarakhand) and Khumbu glaciers (Mount Everest region), Langtang glacier (Langtang region) and Zemu (Sikkim).

Owing to the mountains’ latitude near the Tropic of Cancer, the permanent snow line is among the highest in the world at typically around 5,500 metres (18,000 ft). In contrast, equatorial mountains in New Guinea, the Rwenzoris and Colombia have a snow line some 900 metres (2,950 ft) lower. The higher regions of the Himalayas are snowbound throughout the year, in spite of their proximity to the tropics, and they form the sources of several large perennial rivers, most of which combine into two large river systems:
•    The western rivers, of which the Indus is the largest, combine into the Indus Basin. The Indus begins in Tibet at the confluence of Sengge and Gar rivers and flows southwest through India and then through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. It is fed by the Jhelum, theChenab, the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutlej rivers, among others.
•    Most of the other Himalayan rivers drain the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin. Its main rivers are the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and theYamuna, as well as other tributaries. The Brahmaputra originates as the Yarlung Tsangpo River in western Tibet, and flows east through Tibet and west through the plains of Assam. The Ganges and the Brahmaputra meet in Bangladesh, and drain into the Bay of Bengal through the world’s largest river delta, the Sunderbans.

The easternmost Himalayan rivers feed the Irrawaddy River, which originates in eastern Tibet and flows south through Myanmar to drain into the Andaman Sea.

The Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Huang He (Yellow River) all originate from parts of the Tibetan Plateau that are geologically distinct from the Himalaya mountains, and are therefore not considered true Himalayan rivers. Some geologists refer to all the rivers collectively as the circum-Himalayan rivers. In recent years, scientists have monitored a notable increase in the rate of glacier retreat across the region as a result of global climate change. For example, glacial lakes have been forming rapidly on the surface of debris-covered glaciers in the Bhutan Himalaya during the last few decades. Although the effect of this will not be known for many years, it potentially could mean disaster for the hundreds of millions of people who rely on the glaciers to feed the rivers during the dry seasons.

Lake

river
Tilicho lake in Manang, Nepal

The Himalayan region is dotted with hundreds of lakes. Most lakes are found at altitudes of less than 5,000 m, with the size of the lakes diminishing with altitude. Tilicho Lake in Nepal in the Annapurna massif is one of the highest lakes in the world. Pangong Tso, which is spread across the border between India and China, and Yamdrok Tso, located in central Tibet, are amongst the largest with surface areas of 700 km², and 638 km², respectively. Other notable lakes include She-Phoksundo Lake in the Shey Phoksundo National Park of Nepal,Gurudongmar Lake, in North Sikkim, Gokyo Lakes in Solukhumbu district of Nepal and Lake Tsongmo, near the Indo-China border in Sikkim.

Some of the lakes present a danger of a glacial lake outburst flood. The Tsho Rolpa glacier lake in the Rowaling Valley, in the Dolakha District of Nepal, is rated as the most dangerous. The lake, which is located at an altitude of 4,580 metres (15,030 ft) has grown considerably over the last 50 years due to glacial melting.

The mountain lakes are known to geographers as tarns if they are caused by glacial activity. Tarns are found mostly in the upper reaches of the Himalaya, above 5,500 metres.

Impact on climate

The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan Plateau. They prevent frigid, dry winds from blowing south into the subcontinent, which keeps South Asia much warmer than corresponding temperate regions in the other continents. It also forms a barrier for the monsoon winds, keeping them from traveling northwards, and causing heavy rainfall in the Terai region. The Himalayas are also believed to play an important part in the formation of Central Asian deserts, such as theTaklamakan and Gobi.

Religions of the region

religions-of-the-region

The Taktsang Monastery, also known as the “Tiger’s Nest”

In Hinduism, the Himalayas have been personified as the god Himavat, father of Ganga and Parvati.
Several places in the Himalayas are of religious significance in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. A notable example of a religious site is Paro Taktsang, where Padmasambhava is said to have founded Buddhism in Bhutan. Padmasambhava is also worshipped as the patron saint of Sikkim.

A number of Vajrayana Buddhist sites are situated in the Himalayas, in Tibet, Bhutan and in the Indian regions of Ladakh, Sikkim,Arunachal Pradesh, Spiti and Darjeeling. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, including the residence of the Dalai Lama. Bhutan, Sikkim and Ladakh are also dotted with numerous monasteries. The Tibetan Muslims have their own mosques in Lhasa andShigatse.

Resources

The Himalayas are home to a diversity of medicinal resources. Plants from the forests have been used for millennia to treat conditions ranging from simple coughs to snake bites. Different parts of the plants – root, flower, stem, leaves, and bark – are used as remedies for different ailments. For example, a bark extract from an abies pindrow tree is used to treat coughs and bronchitis. Leaf and stem paste from an arachne cordifolia is used for wounds and as an antidote for snake bites. The bark of a callicarpa arborea is used for skin ailments. Nearly a fifth of the gymnosperms, angiosperms, and pteridophytes in the Himalayas are found to have medicinal properties, and more are likely to be discovered.

Most of the population in some Asian and African countries depend on medicinal plants rather than prescriptions and such (Gupta and Sharma, vii). Since so many people use medicinal plants as their only source of healing in the Himalayas, the plants are an important source of income. This contributes to economic and modern industrial development both inside and outside the region (Gupta and Sharma, 5). The only problem is that locals are rapidly clearing the forests on the Himalayas for wood, often illegally (Earth Island Journal, 2). This means that the number of medicinal plants is declining and that some of them might become rarer or, in some cases, go extinct.

Although locals are clearing out portions of the forests in the Himalayas, there is still a large amount of greenery ranging from the tropical forests to the Alpine forests. These forests provide wood for fuel and other raw materials for use by industries. There are also many pastures for animals to graze upon (Mohita, sec. Forest and Wealth). The many varieties of animals that live in these mountains do so based on the elevation. For example, elephants and rhinoceros live in the lower elevations of the Himalayas, also called the Terai region. Also, found in these mountains are the Kashmiri stag, black bears, musk deer, langur, and snow leopards. The Tibetan yak are also found on these mountains and are often used by the people for transportation. However, the populations of many of these animals and still others are declining and are on the verge of going extinct (Admin, sec. Flora and Fauna).

The Himalayas are also a source of many minerals and precious stones. Amongst the tertiary rocks, are vast potentials of mineral oil. There is coal located in Kashmir, and precious stones located in the Himalayas. There is also gold, silver, copper, zinc, and many other such minerals and metals located in at least 100 different places in these mountains (Mohita, sec. Minerals).

Culture

There are many cultural aspects of the Himalayas. For the Hindus, the Himalayas are personified as Himavath, the father of the goddess Parvati (Gupta and Sharma, 4). The Himalayas is also considered to be the father of the river Ganges. The Mountain Kailash is a sacred peak to the Hindus and is where the Lord Shiva is believed to live (Admin, sec. Centre of Religion). Two of the most sacred places of pilgrimage for the Hindus is the temple complex in Pashupatinath and Muktinath, also known as Saligrama because of the presence of the sacred black rocks called saligrams (Zurick, Julsun, Basanta, and Birendra, 153).

The Buddhists also lay a great deal of importance on the mountains of the Himalayas. Paro Taktsang is the holy place where Buddhism started in Bhutan (Admin, sec. Centre of Religion). The Muktinath is also a place of pilgrimage for the Tibetan Buddhists. They believe that the trees in the poplar grove came from the walking sticks of eighty-four ancient Indian Buddhist magicians. They consider the saligrams to be representatives of the Tibetan serpent deity known as Gawo Jagpa (Zurick, Julsun, Basanta, and Birendra, 153).

The Himalayan people’s diversity shows in many different ways. It shows through their architecture, their languages and dialects, their beliefs and rituals, as well as their clothing (Zurick, Julsun, Basanta, and Birendra, 78). The shapes and materials of the people’s homes reflect their practical needs and the beliefs. Another example of the diversity amongst the Himalayan peoples is that handwoven textiles display unique colors and patterns that coincide with their ethnic backgrounds. Finally, some people place a great importance on jewelry. The Rai and Limbu women wear big gold earrings and nose rings to show their wealth through their jewelry (Zurick, Julsun, Basanta, and Birendra, 79).

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