The Himalayas (also Himalaya, IPA: [hɪ'mɑlijə], [ˌhɪmə'leɪjə]) are a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. By extension, Himalayas is also the name of the massive mountain system which includes the Himalaya proper, the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and a host of minor ranges extending from the Pamir Knot. The name "Himalaya" means "the abode of snow" in Sanskrit. The Himalaya mountain range is the highest on earth and is often referred to culturally as the "roof of the world." The range is home to the world's highest peaks: the Eight-thousanders (peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level), including Mount Everest. Today mountaineers come from all over the world to scale Mount Everest.
The Himalayas stretch across six nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is the source of three of the world's major river systems: the Indus Basin, the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin and the Yangtze Basin. An estimated 750 million people live in the watershed area of the Himalayan rivers.
The Himalayas are a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. By extension, Himalayas is also the name of the massive mountain system which includes the Himalaya proper, the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and a host of minor ranges extending from the Pamir Knot. The name is from Sanskrit himālaya, a tatpurusa compound meaning "the abode of snow" (from hima "snow," and ālaya "abode").
Together, the Himalaya mountain range is the highest on earth and is often referred to culturally as the "roof of the world." The range is home to the world's highest peaks: the Eight-thousanders (peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level), including Mount Everest. To comprehend the enormous scale of Himalayan peaks, consider that Aconcagua, in the Andes, at 22,841 feet (6,962 meters), is the highest peak outside the Himalaya, while the Himalayan system has over 100 separate mountains exceeding 23,622 feet (7,200 meters).
The Himalayas stretch across six nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is the source of three of the world's major river systems: the Indus Basin, the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin and the Yangtze Basin. An estimated 750 million people live in the watershed area of the Himalayan rivers.
The Himalayas, geologically young and structurally old, stretch over the northern borders of India. These mountain ranges run in a west-east direction from the Indus to the Brahmaputra. The Himalayas represent the loftiest and one of the most rugged mountain barriers in the world. They form an arc, which covers a distance of about 1,491 miles (2,400 km). Their width varies from 248 miles (400 km) in Kashmir to 93 miles (150 km) in Arunachal Pradesh. The altitudinal variations are greater in the eastern half than those in the western half. The Himalayas consist of three parallel ranges in its longitudinal extent. A number of valleys lie between these ranges. The northern-most range is known as the Great or Inner Himalayas or the 'Himadri'.
The flora and fauna of the Himalayas varies 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 front of the range. This diversity of climate, altitude, rainfall and soil conditions generates a variety of distinct plant and animal communities, or ecoregions.
On the Indo-Gangetic plain at the base of the mountains, an alluvial plain drained by the Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra river systems, vegetation varies from west to east with rainfall. The xeric Northwestern thorn scrub forests occupy the plains of Pakistan and the Indian Punjab. Further east lie the Upper Gangetic plains moist deciduous forests of Uttar Pradesh and Lower Gangetic plains moist deciduous forests of Bihar and West Bengal. These are monsoon forests, with drought-deciduous trees that lose their leaves during the dry season. The moister Brahmaputra Valley semi-evergreen forests occupy the plains of Assam.
Above the alluvial plain lies the Terai strip, a seasonally marshy zone of sand and clay soils. The Terai has higher rainfall than the plains, and the downward-rushing rivers of the Himalaya slow down and spread out in the flatter Terai zone, depositing fertile silt during the monsoon season and receding in the dry season. The Terai has a high water table due to groundwater percolating down from the adjacent Bhabhar zone. The central part of the Terai belt is occupied by the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands, a mosaic of grasslands, savannas, deciduous and evergreen forests that includes some of the world's tallest grasslands. The grasslands of the Terai belt are home to the Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis).
Above the Terai belt is an upland zone known as the Bhabhar, with porous and rocky soils, made up of debris washed down from the higher ranges. The Bhabhar and the lower Siwalik ranges have a subtropical climate. The Himalayan subtropical pine forests occupy the western end of the subtropical belt, with forests dominated by Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii). The central part of the range is home to the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, dominated by sal (Shorea robusta).
Also called Churia Hills, these intermittent outermost range of foothills extend across the Himalayan region through Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan. They consist of many sub-ranges with summits generally reaching 969 to 3,937 feet (600 to 1,200 meters) high. Steeper southern slopes form along a fault zone called the Main Frontal Thrust; while northern slopes are gentler. Permeable conglomerates and other rocks allow rainwater to percolate down into the Bhabhar and Terai, supporting only scrubby forests upslope.
The Inner Terai or Dun Valleys are open valleys north of Siwalik Hills or nestled between Siwalik subranges. Examples include Dehra Dun in India and Chitwan in Nepal.
The prominent ranges of the Mahabharat Lekh reach 6,562 feet to 9,843 feet (2,000 to 3,000 m) high, forming along the Main Boundary Thrust fault zone with a steep southern face and gentler northern slopes. They are nearly continuous except for river gorges. Rivers gather in candelabra form to the north to break through this range in relatively few places.
The Midlands are a 'hilly' region averaging about 3,281 feet (1,000 m) immediately north of the Mahabharat Range, rising over about 62 miles (100 km), to about two miles (4 km) at the Main Frontal Thrust fault zone where the Greater Himalaya begin.
Above the tree line are the Northwestern, Western, and Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows, which yield to tundra in the higher Himalayan range. The alpine meadows are the summer habitat of the endangered snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
The Himalayas are among the youngest mountain ranges on the planet. According to the modern theory of plate tectonics, their formation is a result of a continental collision or orogeny along the convergent boundary between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. The collision began in the Upper Cretaceous period about 70 million years ago, when the north-moving Indo-Australian Plate, moving at about 5.91 inches/year (15 cm/year), collided with the Eurasian Plate. By about 50 million years ago this fast moving Indo-Australian plate had completely closed the Tethys Ocean, whose existence has been determined by sedimentary rocks settled on the ocean floor and the volcanoes that fringed its edges. Since these sediments were light, they crumpled into mountain ranges rather than sinking to the floor. The Indo-Australian plate continues to be driven horizontally below the Tibetan plateau, which forces the plateau to move upwards. 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.
The Indo-Australian plate is still moving at 2.64 inches/year (67 mm/year), and over the next ten million years it will travel about 1,500 km into Asia. About 0.79 inches/year (20 mm/year) of the India-Asia convergence is absorbed by thrusting along the Himalaya southern front. This leads to the Himalayas rising by about 0.2 inches/year (5 mm/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.
The Himalayan range encompasses a very large number of glaciers, notably the Siachen Glacier, the largest in the world outside the polar region. Some other famous glaciers include the Gangotri and Yamunotri (Uttarakhand), Nubra, Biafo and Baltoro (Karakoram region), Zemu (Sikkim) and Khumbu glaciers (Mount Everest region).
The higher regions of the Himalayas are snowbound throughout the year in spite of their proximity to the tropics. They form the sources for several large perennial rivers, most of which combine into two large river systems:
The eastern-most Himalayan rivers feed the Ayeyarwady River, which originates in eastern Tibet and flows south through Myanmar to drain into the Andaman Sea.
The Salween, Mekong, the Yangtze and the 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. Although the effect of this won't be known for many years, it potentially could mean disaster for the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on the glaciers to feed the rivers of northern India during the dry seasons.
The Himalaya region is dotted with hundreds of lakes. Most lakes are found at altitudes of less than 16,404 feet (5,000 m), with the size of the lakes diminishing with altitude. The largest lake is the Pangong Tso, which is spread across the border between India and Tibet. It is situated at an altitude of 15,092 feet (4,600 m), and is 5 miles (8 km) wide and nearly 83 miles (134 km) long. A notable high (but not the highest) lake is the Gurudogmar in North Sikkim at an altitude of 16,890 feet (5,148 m). Other major lakes include the Tsongmo Lake, near the Indo-China border in Sikkim (India) and Tilicho Lake, a large lake in an area that was closed to outsiders until recently.
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 18,045 feet (5,500 m).
The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. It prevents frigid, dry Arctic 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 the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts.
The mountain ranges also prevent western winter disturbances from Iran from traveling further, resulting in snow in Kashmir and rainfall for parts of Punjab and northern India. Despite being a barrier to the cold northerly winter winds, the Brahmaputra valley receives part of the frigid winds, thus lowering the temperature in the northeast Indian states and Bangladesh. These winds also cause the North East monsoon during this season for these parts.
The weather phenomenon called Jet Stream affects our image of the highest peaks on earth. The strong stream of winds from the west, passes through Everest, creating a familiar plume of snow blowing from the summit that is visible from a great distance.
The rugged terrain of the Himalaya makes few routes through the mountains possible. Some of these routes include:
The Himalayas, due to their large size and expanse, have been a natural barrier to the movement of people for tens of thousands of years. In particular, this has prevented the intermingling of people from the Indian subcontinent with people from China and Mongolia, causing significant differences in languages and customs between these regions. The Himalayas have also hindered trade routes and prevented military expeditions across its expanse. For instance, Genghis Khan could not expand his empire south of the Himalayas into the subcontinent.
Himal is Nepalese for "snow-covered mountain" and is used to name the various mountains of the Himalayas. In Nepal, these are as follows:
|Peak Name||Other names and meaning||Elevation (m)||Elevation (ft)||First ascent||Notes|
|Everest||Sagarmatha -"Forehead of the Sky",
Chomolangma or Qomolangma -"Mother of the Universe"
|8,850||29,028||1953||World's highest mountain, situated on the border of Nepal and Tibet, China.|
|K2||Chogo Gangri||8,611||28,251||1954||World's 2nd highest. Located on border between Pakistan-administered Northern Areas and Xinjiang, China. One of world's toughest mountains to climb.|
|Kangchenjunga||Kangchen Dzö-nga, "Five Treasures of the Great Snow"||8,586||28,169||1955||World's 3rd highest, highest in India (Sikkim) and second highest in Nepal.|
|Makalu||-||8,462||27,765||1955||World's 5th highest situated in Nepal.|
|Dhaulagiri||White Mountain||8,167||26,764||1960||World's 7th highest situated in Nepal.|
|Nanga Parbat||Nangaparbat Peak or Diamir, "Naked Mountain"||8,125||26,658||1953||World's 9th highest. Located in Pakistan. Considered one of the world's most dangerous mountains to climb.|
|Annapurna||"Goddess of the Harvests"||8,091||26,545||1950||World's 10th highest situated in Nepal.|
|Nanda Devi||"Bliss-Giving Goddess"||7,817||25,645||1936||Located in Uttarakhand, India|
In 1852, the Great Trigonometric Survey of India definitively identified Mount Everest, which until then had been an obscure Himalayan peak, as the world's highest mountain. Soon, reaching the summit of the "roof of the world" came to be viewed as the penultimate geographic feat. Attempts to climb Everest, however, did not begin until 1921, when the forbidden kingdom of Tibet first opened its borders to outsiders. On June 8, 1924, two members of a British expedition, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, attempted the summit and disappeared in the clouds perpetually swirling around Everest. Mallory's body was not found until 75 years later, in May 1999. Over a period of 30 years, ten more expeditions failed to conquer Everest, and 13 climbers lost their lives.
On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, an acclaimed Sherpa climber, became the first to reach the roof of the world, climbing from the Nepalese side. Hillary became a hero of the British Empire (the news reached London just in time for the coronation of Elizabeth II), and Tenzing was touted as a symbol of national pride by three separate nations: Nepal, Tibet, and India.
The dangers of climbing Everest include avalanches, crevasses, winds up to 125 mph, sudden storms, temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and oxygen deprivation. Above 25,000 feet, the air in the "Death Zone" holds only a third as much oxygen as at sea level. Even when breathing bottled oxygen, climbers experience extreme fatigue, impaired judgment and coordination, headaches, nausea, double vision, and sometimes hallucinations. Expeditions spend months acclimatizing and usually attempt Everest only in May and October, avoiding the winter snows and the summer monsoons.
After Hillary and Tenzing's ascent of Everest, other records were broken, including the first ascent by a woman, the first solo ascent, the first to traverse up one route and down another, and the first descent on skis. On May 8, 1978, two Tyrolean mountaineers, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, became the first to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen. On August 20, 1980, Messner again ascended Everest without oxygen, this time solo. By 1996 more than 60 men and women had reached the top without oxygen.
Between 1921 and 2004, Everest was climbed by more than 2,200 people from 20 countries. More than 185 lost their lives, making the odds of dying during the ascent about one in eight. In May 1996, eight climbers lost their lives in a storm on the mountain; just weeks later, there were four more deaths. The dead are left where they expire because the effects of altitude make it nearly impossible to drag bodies off the mountain.
From the beginning of the twenty-first century Everest received unprecedented media attention. Live internet reports have been sent from the mountain, using solar energy; an Imax film crew has documented a climb; and Jon Krakauer's bestselling account about an Everest ascent gone wrong, Into Thin Air, introduced cwm, col, sirdar, short-rope, and Hillary Step into the vocabulary of mainstream America.
Several places in the Himalaya are of religious significance in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the Himalayas have also been personified as the god Himavat, the father of Shiva's consort, Parvati.
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