The Himalayas are classic example of the might of nature. The world’s longest range of mountains have been revered in various cultures in the Indian Subcontinent, admired for its eternal beauty, and even feared for its wilderness and formidable constitution. However, not many decades ago did an expedition lead by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay managed to conquer its highest peak, Mt Everest in Nepal. The Himalayas sprawl across four (or five or six) countries and features some of the highest the mountain peaks on this planet. The entire expanse is a wonder to many, as is its natural wealth that features a diverse range of flora and fauna. In India, much of the Himalayas lie in Himanchal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and offer great respite to Indians who wish to escape the unwelcoming temperature of the northern plains. During recent years, the mountains have attracted foreigners from different parts of the world who wish to have a first hand experience of its sheer beauty.
The Himalayas literally mean “abode of snow”. These mountains could tell one as to how generously could nature be endowed with wealth and beauty. For centuries, the northern Plains of India have been fed by the rivers that have their source in the melting Himalayan glaciers. Indeed, after Antarctica and the Arctic, they form the third- largest snow and ice deposit the world. All in all, they contain 15,000 glaciers, thus storing 12,000 km3 of fresh water. Some of these include the Gangotri, Yamunotri, Khumbu glaciers, Zemu and Langtang glacier. Further, the permanent snow line of the Himalayas, at about 5500 meters, is among the highest in the world.
The geographical expanse
Stretching uninterruptedly for about 2,500 km from west to east, the Himalayas exhibit a wide range of topographical features. One of its western posts, Nanga Parbat, lies in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir while Namcha Barwa, standing at 7,756 metres, is situated in the Tibet autonomous region of China. Between them lies the two Himalayan countries - Nepal and Bhutan. To the northwest in Pakistan, it is bordered by the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges, while the extensive Tibetan Plateau borders it to the north. The Himalayas are between 200-400 km wide as we move from south to north and its overall area is about 230,000 square miles.
Himalayas divide the alluvial Plains in North India from the Tibetan plateau. These mountains have great significance to this country as they contain riverheads of the mighty Indian rivers, along which much of the civilizational activities have centred over ages. Then there is the spiritual aspect of the Himalayas, well documented in the sacred Hindu scriptures, as are the myths that speak of its significance, so much so that to this day millions of Hindus embark upon a pilgrimage to the Himalayan sites. And as if this is not enough, just imagine the political significance of this natural barrier as India has never been invaded from the west despite the presence of great kingdoms, not least the Mongols. With little exaggeration, it shall be suffice to say that the Himalayas would take you through the symbolic history of this great ancient land.
As one of the youngest mountain ranges of our planet, the Himalayas mainly consist of uplifted sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Modern theory of plate tectonics ascribe its formation to the collision along the converging boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate. It happened that some 70 million years ago, the Indo- Australian plate, moving north at 15cm/year completely embalmed the Tethys Ocean. This explains the sedimentary nature of the Himalayan rocks, which formed the floor of the ocean. The two plates themselves were composed of continental crust having low density, that led to fault and folds. The presence of marine limestone at the summit of Mount Everest is cited as evidence of this historical phenomenon. The Indian plate, now separated from the Australian plate, continues to drift horizontally, though at 67mm per year, which makes the Himalayas geologically active and quite prone to earthquakes. The recent earthquake in Nepal is a living example. However, the wrath of nature is not just limited to seismic activities as the decreasing glacier snowline and rising Himalayas temperatures show that things have changed a great deal over the ages.