Himalayan, adj.
/him'euh lay"euhz, hi mahl"yeuhz/, n.
the, a mountain range extending about 1500 mi. (2400 km) along the border between India and Tibet. Highest peak, Mt. Everest, 29,028 ft. (8848 m). Also called the Himalaya, Himalaya Mountains.

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or the Himalaya

Mountain system, southern Asia.

It forms a barrier between the Tibetan Plateau to the north and the plains of the Indian subcontinent to the south. It constitutes the greatest mountain system on earth and includes 30 mountains rising to heights above 24,000 ft (7,300 m), including Mount Everest. The system extends some 1,500 mi (2,400 km) from east to west and covers about 230,000 sq mi (595,000 sq km). It is traditionally divided into four parallel ranges: from north to south, the Trans-Himalayas, the Great Himalayas (including the major peaks), the Lesser Himalayas (including peaks of 7,000–15,000 ft, or 2,000–4,500 m), and the Outer Himalayas (including the lowest peaks). Between the eastern and western extremities of the broad Himalayan arc lie several Indian states and the kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. It acts as a great climatic divide, causing heavy rain and snow on the Indian side but aridity in Tibet, and represents at many points a virtually impassable barrier, even by air. The mountains' glaciers and snows are the source of 19 major rivers, including the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra.

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▪ mountains, Asia
Nepālī  Himalaya  
 great mountain system of Asia forming a barrier between the Tibetan Plateau to the north and the alluvial plains of the Indian subcontinent to the south. The Himalayas include the highest mountains in the world, with more than 110 peaks rising to elevations of 24,000 feet (7,300 metres) or more above sea level. One of these peaks is Mount Everest (Everest, Mount) (Tibetan: Chomolungma; Chinese [Wade-Giles romanization]: Chu-mu-lang-ma Feng; Nepālī: Sāgarmāthā), the world's highest, which reaches a height of 29,035 feet (8,850 metres). The great heights of the mountains rise above the line of perpetual snow.

      For thousands of years the Himalayas have exerted a personal and profound effect on the peoples of South Asia, as their literature, politics, and economies, as well as their mythologies and religions, reflect. The vast glaciated heights long have attracted the attention of the pilgrim mountaineers of ancient India, who coined the Sanskrit name Himalaya—from hima, “snow,” and ālaya, “abode”—for this great mountain system. In modern times the Himalayas have constituted the greatest attraction and the greatest challenge to mountaineers throughout the world.

      Forming the northern border of the Indian subcontinent and an almost impassable barrier between it and the lands to the north, the ranges are part of a great mountain belt that stretches halfway around the world from North Africa to the Pacific coast of Southeast Asia. The Himalayas themselves stretch uninterruptedly for about 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometres) from west to east between Nānga Parbat (Nanga Parbat) (26,660 feet), in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, and Namcha Barwa (25,445 feet), in Tibet. Between these eastern and western extremities lie the two Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. The Himalayas are bordered to the northwest by the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram and to the north by the high Plateau of Tibet. The width of the Himalayas from south to north varies between 125 and 250 miles. Their total area amounts to about 229,500 square miles (594,400 square kilometres).

      Though India, Nepal, and Bhutan have sovereignty over most of the Himalayas, Pakistan and China also occupy parts of them. In the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir (Kashmir), Pakistan has administrative control of some 32,400 square miles of the range lying north and west of a “line of control” established between India and Pakistan in 1972. China's (China) occupation of 14,000 square miles in the Ladākh district of Kashmir, as well as Chinese incursions in 1962 south of the McMahon Line (a 1914 boundary line establishing the limit of Tibetan sovereignty in the Assam district of northeastern India) into what is now Arunāchal Pradesh, have accentuated further the boundary problems faced by India in the Himalayan region.

Physical features
      The most characteristic features of the Himalayas are their soaring heights, steep-sided jagged peaks, valley and Alpine glaciers often of stupendous size, topography deeply cut by erosion, seemingly unfathomable river gorges, complex geologic structure, and series of elevational belts (or zones) that display different ecological associations of flora, fauna, and climate. Viewed from the south, the Himalayas appear as a gigantic crescent with the main axis rising above the snow line, where snowfields, Alpine glaciers, and avalanches all feed lower-valley glaciers that, in turn, constitute the sources of most of the Himalayan rivers. The greater part of the Himalayas, however, lies below the snow line. The mountain-building process that created the range is still active and is accompanied by considerable stream erosion and by landslides of great dimension.

      The Himalayan ranges can be grouped into four parallel, longitudinal mountain belts of varying width, each having distinct physiographic features and its own geologic history. They are designated, from south to north, as the Outer, or Sub, Himalayas (Siwalik Range); the Lesser, or Lower, Himalayas (Lesser Himalayas); the Great, or Higher, Himalayas; and the Tethys, or Tibetan, Himalayas. Farther north lie the Trans-Himalayas in Tibet proper, eastward continuations of some of the most northerly Himalayan ranges. From west to east the Himalayas are divided broadly into three mountainous regions: western, central, and eastern.

Geologic history
      The Himalayas are part of the string of Eurasian mountain ranges from the Alps to the mountains of Southeast Asia that were formed within the past 65 million years by global plate-tectonic forces that produced tremendous upheavals in the Earth's crust.

      Some 180 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, when a deep geosynclinal trench—the Tethys Ocean—bordered the entire southern fringe of Eurasia, the old supercontinent of Gondwana (or Gondwanaland (Gondwana)) began to break up. One of Gondwana's fragments, the lithospheric plate that formed the Indian subcontinent, pursued a northward collision course with the Eurasian Plate during the ensuing 130 million years; this Indian-Australian Plate gradually confined the Tethys trench within a giant pincer between itself and the Eurasian Plate. As the Tethys trench narrowed, increasing compressive forces triggered many tectonic swells, depressions, and interlacing faults in its marine sediments, and masses of granites and basalts intruded from the depth of the mantle into this weakened sedimentary crust. Early in the Tertiary Period (i.e., about 50 million years ago), India finally collided with Eurasia. India was sheared downward, or subducted, beneath the Tethys trench at an ever-increasing pitch.

      During the next 30 million years, shallow parts of the Tethys Ocean gradually drained as its sea bottom was pushed up by the plunging Indian-Australian Plate; this formed the Plateau of Tibet. On the plateau's southern edge, marginal mountains—the Trans-Himalayan ranges of today—became the region's first major watershed and rose high enough to become a climatic barrier. As heavier rains fell on the steepening southern slopes, the major southern rivers eroded northward toward the headwaters with increasing force along old transverse faults and captured the streams flowing onto the plateau, thus laying the foundation for today's drainage patterns. To the south, old estuaries of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal rapidly filled with debris carried down by the ancestral Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers. The extensive erosion and deposition continue even now as these rivers carry immense quantities of material every day.

      Finally, some 30 million years ago, during the Miocene Epoch, the tempo of the crunching union between the two plates increased sharply, and Himalayan mountain building began in earnest. As the Indian subcontinental plate continued to plunge beneath the Tethys trench, the topmost layers of old Gondwana metamorphic rocks peeled back over themselves for a long horizontal distance to the south, forming nappes. Wave after wave of nappes was thrust southward over the Indian landmass for as far as 60 miles. Each new nappe consisted of Gondwana rocks older than the last. In time these nappes became folded, contracting the former trench by some 250 horizontal miles (some authorities suggest 500 miles). All the while, downcutting rivers matched the rate of uplift, carrying vast amounts of eroded material from the rising Himalayas to the plains where it was dumped by the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers. The weight of this sediment created depressions, which in turn could hold more sediment. In some places the alluvium beneath the Gangetic Plain now exceeds 25,000 feet.

      Only within the past 600,000 years, during the Pleistocene Epoch (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago), did the Himalayas become the highest mountains on Earth. If strong horizontal thrusting characterized the Miocene and Pliocene epochs (23.7 to 1.6 million years ago), intense uplift epitomized the Pleistocene. Along the core zone of the northernmost nappes—and just beyond—crystalline rocks containing new gneiss and granite intrusions emerged to produce the staggering crests seen today. On a few peaks, like Mount Everest, old fossil-bearing Tethys sediments from the north were carried piggyback to the summits by the crystalline rocks.

      Once the Great Himalayas became the climatic barrier, the marginal mountains to the north were deprived of rain and became as parched as the Plateau of Tibet. In contrast, on the wet southern flanks the rivers surged with such erosive energy that they forced the crest line to slowly migrate northward. Simultaneously, the great transverse rivers breaching the Himalayas continued their downcutting in pace with the uplift. Changes in the landscape, however, compelled all but these major rivers to reroute their lower courses because, as the northern crests rose, so also did the southern edge of the great nappes. The formations of the Siwalik (Shiwālik) Series were overthrust and folded, and in between the Lesser Himalayas downwarped to shape the midlands. Now barred from flowing due south, most minor rivers ran east or west through structural weaknesses in the midlands until they could break through the new southern barrier or join a major torrent.

      In some valleys, like the Vale of Kashmir (Kashmir, Vale of) and the Kāthmāndu Valley of Nepal, lakes formed temporarily and then filled with Pleistocene deposits. After drying up some 200,000 years ago, the Kāthmāndu Valley rose at least 650 feet, an indication of localized uplift within the Lesser Himalayas.

      The Outer Himalayas (Siwalik Range) comprise flat-floored structural valleys and the Shiwālik Hills, which border the Himalayan mountain system to the south. Except for small gaps in the east, the Shiwālik run for the entire length of the Himalayas with a maximum width of 62 miles in the Indian state of Himāchal Pradesh. In general, the 900-foot contour line marks their southern boundary; they rise to another 2,500 feet to the north. The main Shiwālik range has steeper southern slopes facing the Indian plains and descends gently northward to flat-floored basins, called dūns. The best-known of these is the Dehra Dūn, in Uttarakhand, which is in the mountainous part of Uttar Pradesh.

      To the north the Shiwālik range abuts a 50-mile-wide massive mountainous tract, the Lesser Himalayas, where mountains rising to 15,000 feet and valleys with altitudes of 3,000 feet run in different directions. There is a general conformity of altitude among neighbouring summits, which creates the appearance of a highly dissected plateau. The three principal ranges of the Lesser Himalayas—the Nāg Tibba, the Dhaola Dhār, and the Pīr Panjāl—have branched off from the Great Himalayan Range lying farther north. The Nāg Tibba, the most easterly of the three ranges, is some 26,800 feet high near its eastern end, in Nepal, and forms the watershed between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, in the Uttarakhand.

      To the west the picturesque Vale of Kashmir, a structural basin (i.e., an elliptical basin in which the rock strata are inclined toward a central point), forms an important section of the Lesser Himalayas. It extends from southeast to northwest for 100 miles, with a width of 50 miles, and has an average elevation of 5,100 feet; the basin is traversed by the meandering Jhelum River, which runs through Wular Lake, a large freshwater lake in the Indian-held portion of Jammu and Kashmir.

      The backbone of the entire mountain system is the Great Himalayan Range, rising above the line of perpetual snow. The range reaches its maximum height in Nepal; among the peaks are 9 of the 14 highest in the world, each of which exceeds 26,000 feet in elevation. From west to east they are Dhaulāgiri 1, Annapūrna 1, Manāslu 1, Cho Oyu, Gyāchung Kang 1, Mount Everest, Lhotse, Makālu 1, and Kānchenjunga 1.

      Farther east the range changes from a southeasterly to an easterly direction as it enters Sikkim, an old Himalayan kingdom now a part of India. After this, it runs eastward for another 260 miles through Bhutan and the eastern part of Arunāchal Pradesh as far as the peak of Kangto (23,260 feet) and finally turns northeast, terminating in Namcha Barwa.

      There is no sharp boundary between the Great Himalayas and the ranges, plateaus, and basins lying to the north of the Great Himalayas, generally grouped together under the name of the Tethys Himalayas and extending far northward into Tibet. In Kashmir and in the Indian state of Himāchal Pradesh, the Tethys are at their widest, forming the Spiti Basin and the Zāskār (Zāskār Range) Mountains, the highest peaks of which, to the southeast, are Leo Pargial (22,280 feet), rising north of the Sutlej River opposite Shipki Pass, and Shilla (23,050 feet).

      The Himalayas are drained by 19 major rivers, of which the Indus (Indus River) and the Brahmaputra (Brahmaputra River) are the largest, each having catchment basins in the mountains of about 100,000 square miles in extent. Of the other rivers, five belong to the Indus system—Jhelum, Chenāb, Rāvi, Beās, and Sutlej—with a total catchment area of about 51,000 square miles; nine belong to the Ganges (Ganges River) system—the Ganges, Yamuna, Rāmganga, Kāli (Sārda), Karnāli, Rāpti, Gandak, Bāghmati, and Kosi—draining another 84,000 square miles; and three belong to the Brahmaputra system—the Tīsta, Raidāk, and Mānas—draining another 71,000 square miles.

      The major Himalayan rivers rise north of the mountain ranges and flow through deep gorges that generally reflect some geologic structural control. The rivers of the Indus system as a rule follow northwesterly courses, whereas most of those of the Ganges-Brahmaputra systems take easterly courses while flowing through the mountain region.

      To the north of India, the Karakoram Range, with the Hindu Kush range on the west and the Ladākh Range on the east, forms the great water divide, shutting off the Indus system from the rivers of Central Asia. The counterpart of this divide on the east is formed by the Kailās Range and its eastward continuation, the Nien-ch'ing-t'ang-ku-la (Nyenchen (Nyainqêntanglha Mountains) Tangla) Mountains, which prevent the Brahmaputra from flowing northward. South of this divide, the Brahmaputra flows to the east for about 900 miles before cutting across the Great Himalayan Range in a transverse gorge, although many of its Tibetan tributaries flow in an opposite direction, as the Brahmaputra may once have done.

      The Great Himalayas, which normally would form the main water divide throughout its entire length, functions as such only in limited areas. This situation exists because the major Himalayan rivers, such as the Indus, Brahmaputra, Sutlej, and at least two headwaters of the Ganges—the Alaknanda and Bhāgīrathi—are older than the mountains they traverse. It is believed that the Himalayas were uplifted so slowly that the old rivers had no difficulty in continuing to flow through their channels and, with the rise of the Himalayas, even acquired a greater momentum, which enabled them to cut their valleys more rapidly. The elevation of the Himalayas and the deepening of the valleys thus proceeded simultaneously, with the result that the mountain ranges emerged with a completely developed river system cut into deep transverse gorges that range in depth from 5,000 to 16,000 feet and in width from 6 to 30 miles. The earlier origin of the drainage system explains the peculiarity that the major rivers drain not only the southern slopes of the Great Himalayas but, to a large extent, its northern slopes as well, the water divide being north of the crest line.

      The role of the Great Himalayan Range as a watershed, nevertheless, can be seen between the Sutlej and Indus valleys for 360 miles; the drainage of the northern slopes is carried by the north-flowing Zāskār and Drās rivers, which drain into the Indus. Glaciers (glacier) also play an important role in draining the higher altitudes and in feeding the Himalayan rivers. Several glaciers occur in Uttarakhand, of which the largest, Gangotri, is 20 miles long and is one of the sources of the Ganges. The Khumbu Glacier drains the Everest region in Nepal and is one of the most popular routes for the ascent of the mountain. The rate of movement of the Himalayan region glaciers varies considerably; in the neighbouring Karakoram Range, for example, the Baltoro Glacier moves about six feet per day, while others, such as the Khumbu, move only about one foot daily. Most of the Himalayan glaciers are in retreat.

      Not much is known about the Himalayan soils. The north-facing slopes generally have a fairly thick soil cover, supporting dense forests at lower altitudes and grasses higher up. The forest soils are dark brown in colour and silt loam in texture and occur mainly in Uttarakhand; they are ideally suited for growing fruit trees. The mountain meadow soils are well developed but vary in thickness and in their chemical properties. Some of the wet, deep, upland soils of this type in the eastern Himalayas—for example in the Dārjiling (Darjeeling) Hills and in the Assam Valley—have a high humus content that is good for growing tea. Podzolic soils (infertile, acidic forest soils) occur in a belt some 400 miles long in the valleys of the Indus and its tributary the Shyok, to the north of the Great Himalayan Range, and in patches in Himāchal Pradesh. Farther east, saline soils occur in the dry high plains of the Ladākh region. Of the soils that are not restricted to any particular area, alluvial soils (deposited by running water) are the most productive, though they occur in limited areas, such as the Vale of Kashmir, the Dehra Dūn, and the high terraces flanking the Himalayan valleys. Lithosols, consisting of imperfectly weathered rock fragments that are deficient in humus content, cover many large areas at high altitudes and are the least productive soils.

      The Himalayas, as a great climatic divide affecting large systems of air and water circulation, exercise a dominating influence upon meteorological conditions in the Indian subcontinent to the south and in the Central Asian highlands to the north. By virtue of its location and stupendous height, the Great Himalayan Range obstructs the passage of cold continental air from the north into India in winter and also forces the southwestern monsoonal (rain-bearing) winds to give up most of their moisture before crossing the range northward, thus causing heavy amounts of precipitation (both rain and snow) on the Indian side but arid conditions in Tibet. The average annual rainfall on the south slopes varies between 60 inches (1,530 millimetres) at Shimla and Mussoorie in the western Himalayas and 120 inches at Dārjiling in the eastern Himalayas. North of the Great Himalayas, at places such as Skārdu, Gilgit, and Leh in the Jammu and Kashmir portion of the Indus valley, only 3 to 6 inches of rainfall occur.

      Local relief and location determine the meteorological variations experienced not only in different parts of the Himalayas but even on different slopes of the same range. Because of its favourable location on top of the Mussoorie Range facing the Dehra Dūn, the town of Mussoorie, for example, at an altitude of about 6,100 feet, receives 92 inches of rainfall annually, as against 62 inches recorded in the town of Shimla, which lies some 90 miles to the northwest behind a series of ridges reaching 6,600 feet. The eastern Himalayas, which are at a lower latitude than the western Himalayas, are relatively warmer; the lowest minimum temperature recorded was at Shimla, −13° F (−25° C). The average minimum temperature for the month of May, recorded in Dārjiling (Darjiling) at an elevation of 6,380 feet, is 52° F (11° C). In the same month, at an altitude of 16,500 feet in the neighbourhood of Mount Everest, the minimum temperature is about 17° F (−8° C); at 19,500 feet it falls to −8° F (−22° C), the lowest minimum being −21° F (−29° C); during the day, in areas sheltered from strong winds that often blow at more than 100 miles an hour, the sun is often pleasantly warm, even at such high altitudes.

      There are two periods of wet weather: the winter rains and the rains brought by the southwestern monsoon winds. Winter precipitation results from low-pressure weather systems advancing into India from the west, which cause heavy snowfall. Within the regions where western disturbances are felt, condensation occurs in upper air levels at a height of 10,000 feet from the surface; as a result, precipitation is much greater over the high mountains. It is during this season that snow accumulates around the Himalayan high peaks and that the western Himalayas receive more precipitation than the eastern Himalayas. In January, for example, Mussoorie in the west receives almost 3 inches, while Dārjiling to the east receives less than an inch. By the end of May the meteorological conditions are reversed. Southwestern monsoon currents passing over the eastern Himalayas drop precipitation to elevations of 18,000 feet; in June, therefore, Dārjiling receives about 24 inches and Mussoorie less than 8 inches. The rains cease in September, after which the finest weather in the Himalayas prevails until the beginning of winter in December.

Plant life
      Himalayan vegetation can be broadly classified into four zones—tropical, subtropical, temperate, and Alpine—based mainly on altitude and rainfall. Local differences in relief and climate, as well as exposure to sunlight and wind, cause considerable variation in the composition of the vegetation within each zone. Tropical evergreen rain forest is confined to the humid foothills of the eastern and central Himalayas. The evergreen dipterocarps—a group of timber- and resin-producing trees—are common; their different species grow on different soils and on hill slopes of varying steepness. Mesua ferrea (ironwood) is found on porous soils at altitudes between 600 and 2,400 feet; bamboos grow on steep slopes; oaks and chestnuts grow on the lithosol, covering sandstones from Arunāchal Pradesh westward to central Nepal at altitudes from 3,600 to 5,700 feet. Alder trees are found along the watercourses on the steeper slopes. At higher elevations they are succeeded by mountain forests in which the typical evergreen is Pandanus furcatus, a type of screw pine. Besides these trees, some 4,000 species of flowering plants, of which 20 are palm, are estimated to occur in the eastern Himalayas.

      With decreasing rainfall and increasing altitude westward, the rain forests give way to tropical deciduous forests, where the valuable timber tree sal is the dominant species; sal thrives best on high plateaus at elevations of 3,000 feet (wet sal), as well as higher up, at 4,500 feet (dry sal). Farther to the west, steppe forest (i.e., forest on an extensive plain), steppe, subtropical thorn steppe, and subtropical, semidesert vegetation occur successively. Temperate forests extend from about 4,500 to roughly 11,000 feet and contain conifers and broad-leaved temperate trees. Evergreen forests of oaks and conifers have their westernmost outpost on the hills above Murree, some 30 miles northwest of Rāwalpindi, in Pakistan; these forests are typical of the Lesser Himalayas, being conspicuous on the outer slopes of the Pīr Panjāl, in Kashmir, India. Pinus roxburghii (chir pine) is the dominant species at altitudes from 2,700 to 5,400 feet. In the inner valleys this species may occur even up to 6,300 feet. Deodar cedar, a highly valued endemic species, grows mainly in the western part of the range. Stands of this species occur between 6,300 and 9,000 feet and also tend to grow at still higher altitudes in the upper valleys of the Sutlej and the Ganges rivers. Of the other conifers, blue pine and spruce first appear between about 7,300 and 10,000 feet.

      The Alpine zone begins above the tree line, between altitudes of 10,500 and 11,700 feet, and extends up to about 13,700 feet in the western Himalayas and 14,600 feet in the eastern Himalayas. In this zone can be found all the wet and moist Alpine vegetation. juniper is widely distributed, preferring sunny sites, steep and rocky slopes, and drier areas; on Nānga Parbat it is found even at an altitude of 12,750 feet. rhododendron occurs everywhere but more abundantly in the wetter parts of the eastern Himalayas, where it grows in all sizes from trees to low scrubs. Mosses and lichens grow in shaded areas at lower levels where the humidity is high; flowering plants are found at high altitudes, especially on Nānga Parbat and Mount Everest.

Animal life
      The animal life of the eastern Himalayas is derived mainly from that of the southern Chinese and Indo-Chinese region: primarily the type of fauna found in tropical forests and only secondarily adapted to the subtropical, mountain, and temperate conditions prevailing at higher altitudes and in the drier western areas. The animal life of the western Himalayas, however, has more affinities with that of the Mediterranean, Ethiopian, and Turkmenian regions. The past presence in the region of some African animals, such as the giraffe and the hippopotamus, can be inferred from fossil remains in the Siwalik deposits of the Outer Himalayas. The animal life at altitudes above the tree line consists almost exclusively of endemic species, adapted to the cold, that evolved from the wildlife of the steppes after the uplift of the Himalayas. Elephants, bison, and rhinoceroses are restricted to certain areas of the forested Tarai region—moist or marshy areas, now largely drained—at the base of the low hills in southern Nepal. The Indian rhinoceros was once abundant throughout the foothill zone of the Himalayas but is now near extinction; the musk deer and the Kashmir stag, or hangul, are also on the point of extinction. The Himalayan black bear, the clouded leopard, the langur monkey (a long-tailed Asian monkey), and the cat are some of the other denizens of the Himalayan forests. Himalayan goat antelopes, such as the tahr, also are found.

      In higher altitudes above the tree line, the snow leopard, the brown bear, the red panda, and the Tibetan yak can occasionally be seen. The yak has been domesticated and is used as a beast of burden in Ladākh. The typical inhabitants above the tree line, however, are diverse types of insects, spiders, and mites, which are the only animal forms that can live as high up as 20,700 feet.

      Fish of the genus Glyptothorax live in most of the Himalayan streams, on the banks of which is found the Himalayan water shrew. Lizards of the genus Japalura are widely distributed. Typhlops, a genus of blind snake, is common in the eastern Himalayas. The butterflies of the Himalayas are extremely varied and beautiful, especially from the genus Troides.

      The birdlife is equally rich but is more in evidence in the east than in the west. In Nepal alone almost 800 species have been observed. Among some of the common Himalayan birds are different species of magpie (including the black-rumped, the blue, and the racket-tailed), titmouse, chough (related to the jackdaw), whistling thrush, and redstart. A few strong fliers, such as the lammergeier (bearded vulture), the black-eared kite, and the Himalayan griffon (an Old World vulture), also can be seen. The snow partridge and the Cornish chough are found at elevations of 18,600 feet.

The people
      Of the three principal ethnic groups in the Indian subcontinent—Indo-Europeans, Tibeto-Burmans, and Dravidians—the first two are well represented in the Himalayas, although they are mixed in varying proportions in different areas. Their distribution is the result of a long history of penetrations by European groups from the west, Indian peoples from the south, and Asiatic tribes from the east and north. In Nepal, which constitutes the middle third of the Himalayas, these groups overlapped and intermingled. The penetrations of the lower Himalayas were instrumental to the migrations into and through the river-plain passageways of South Asia. Generally speaking, the Great Himalayas and the Tethys Himalayas are inhabited by Tibetans and other Tibeto-Burman peoples, while the Lesser Himalayas are the home of the tall, fair Indo-Europeans. In the Outer Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indo-Europeans are called the Dogrī dynasty. In the Vale of Kashmir the same group is represented by the Kashmīrī people. The Gaddī and Gūjari, who live in the hilly areas of the Lesser Himalayas, also belong to the European group. The Gaddī are essentially a hill people; they possess large flocks of sheep and herds of goats and come down with them from their snowy abode in the Outer Himalayas only in winter, returning again to the highest pastures in June. The Gūjari are a migrating, pastoral people who live off their herds of sheep, goats, and a few cattle, for which they seek pasture at various altitudes.

      The Champā, Ladākhī, Bāltī, and Dard peoples live to the north of the Great Himalayan Range in the Kashmir Himalayas. The Dard are Indo-European, while the others are Tibeto-Burman. The Champā lead a nomadic pastoral life in the upper Indus valley. The Ladākhī have settled on terraces and alluvial fans flanking the Indus in Kashmir. The Bāltī have spread farther down the Indus valley and have adopted Islām.

      The Indo-Europeans are represented by the Kanet in Himāchal Pradesh and the Khāsī in Uttarakhand. In Himāchal Pradesh the majority of the inhabitants of the districts of Kālpa and Lāhul-Spiti are Tibeto-Burman, having emigrated from Tibet.

      In Nepal, Indo-European Pahāṛī constitute the majority of the population, although large Tibeto-Burman groups are found throughout the country. They include the Newar, Tamāng, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa and other peoples related to the Bhutia, and Kirāt. The Kirāt were the earliest inhabitants of the Kāthmāndu Valley. The Newar are also one of the earliest groups in Nepal. The Tamāng inhabit the high valleys to the northwest, north, and east of Kāthmāndu Valley. The Gurung live on the southern slopes of the Annapūrna massif, pasturing their cattle as high as 12,000 feet. The Magar inhabit western Nepal but migrate seasonally to other parts of the country. The Sherpa, who live to the south of Mount Everest, are famed mountaineers.

      For some 200 years Sikkim and Bhutan have been safety valves for the absorption of the excess population of eastern Nepal. More Sherpa now live in the Dārjiling area than in the Mount Everest homeland. At present the Pahāṛī constitute the majority who come from Nepal in both the Sikkim region of India and the kingdom of Bhutan. Thus, the people of Sikkim belong to three distinct ethnic groups—the Lepchā, the Bhutia, and the Pahāṛī. Generally speaking, the Nepalese and Lepchā live in western Bhutan, and the Bhutia of Tibetan origin in eastern Bhutan.

      Arunāchal Pradesh is the homeland of several groups—the Abor or Adi, Aka, Apa Tani, Daflā (Nyishi), Khāmptī, Khowā, Mishmi, Mombā, Miri, and Singpho. Ethnically, these groups are all Indo-Asiatic; linguistically, they are Tibeto-Burman. Each group lives in a distinct river valley, practicing shifting cultivation (i.e., they constantly change the land on which they raise crops).

The economy

      Economic conditions in the Himalayas are fitted to the limited resources available in this expansive and heterogeneous region of varied ecological zones. The principal activity is animal husbandry, but the exploitation of the wild biota and trade are also important. The Himalayas abound in economic resources. These include rich arable land, extensive grassland and forest, workable mineral deposits, and easily harnessable waterpower. The most productive arable lands in the western Himalayas are in the Vale of Kashmir, the Kāngra Valley, the Sutlej River basin, and the terraces flanking the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Uttarakhand; these areas produce rice, corn (maize), wheat, and millet. In the central Himalayas in Nepal two-thirds of the arable land are in the foothills and on the adjacent plains; this land yields most of the total rice production of the country. The region also produces large crops of corn, wheat, potatoes, and sugarcane.

      Most of the fruit orchards of the Himalayas lie in the Vale of Kashmir and in the Kullu Valley of Himāchal Pradesh. Such fruit as apples, peaches, pears, and cherries—for which there is a great demand in the cities of India—is grown extensively. There are rich vineyards on the shores of Dal Lake in Kashmir, which produce good-quality grapes from which wine and brandy are made. On the hills surrounding the Vale of Kashmir grow walnut and almond trees, the nuts of which are exported to India, where oil is extracted from them. Bhutan also has fruit orchards and exports oranges to India.

      Of the plantation crops, tea (tea production) is grown mainly on the hills and on the plain at the foot of the mountains in the Dārjiling district. Tea in limited quantity is also grown in the Kāngra Valley. Plantations of the spice cardamom are to be found in Sikkim, Bhutan, and the Dārjiling Hills. Medicinal herbs are grown in plantations in the Uttarkāshi and Pithorāgarh districts of Uttarakhand.

      Transhumance (the seasonal migration of livestock) is widely practiced during the summer months in the Himalayan pastures, called margs, in Kashmir. Sheep, goats, and yaks are raised on the rough grazing lands available.

      The explosive population growth that has occurred in the Himalayas since the 1940s has placed great stress on the forests (forest) in many areas. The resulting deforestation to make room for agriculture and for firewood has progressed up steeper and higher slopes of the Lesser Himalayas, triggering environmental degradation. Only in Sikkim and Bhutan are large areas still heavily forested.

      The Himalayas are rich in minerals, although exploitation is restricted to the more accessible areas. Jammu and Kashmir is the region with the greatest concentration of minerals. Sapphires are found in the Zāskār Mountains, and alluvial gold is recovered in the nearby bed of the Indus River. There are deposits of copper ore in Baltistān, and iron ores are found in the Vale of Kashmir. Ladākh contains borax and sulfur deposits. Coal seams are found in the Jammu Hills. Bauxite also occurs in Jammu and Kashmir. Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim have extensive deposits of coal, mica, gypsum, and graphite and ores of iron, copper, lead, and zinc.

      The Himalayan rivers have a tremendous potential for hydroelectric (hydroelectric power) generation, which has been harnessed intensively in India since the 1950s. A giant multipurpose project is located at Bhākra-Nāngal on the Sutlej River in the Outer Himalayas; completed in 1963, its reservoir has a storage capacity of some 348 billion cubic feet (10 billion cubic metres) of water and a total installed generating capacity of 1,050 megawatts. Three other Himalayan rivers, the Kosi, Gandak (Nārāyani), and Jaldhāka, have been harnessed by India, which then supplies electric power to Nepal and Bhutan.

      Road transport has become well-established in the region, making the Himalayas accessible from both north and south. In Nepal an east-west highway stretches through the Tarai lowlands, connecting roads that penetrate into many of the country's catchment basins. The capital of Kāthmāndu is connected to Pokharā by a low Himalayan highway, and another highway through Kodari Pass gives Nepal access to Lhasa in Tibet. To the northwest in Pakistan, a highway links that country with China. The Hindustān-Tibet road, which passes through Himāchal Pradesh, has been considerably improved; this 300-mile highway runs through Shimla, once the summer capital of India, and connects the Punjab plains with the Indo-Tibetan border near Shipki Pass. From Manāli in the Kullu Valley a highway now crosses not only the Great Himalayas but the Zāskār Range and reaches Leh in the upper Indus valley. Leh is also connected to India via Srīnagar in the Vale of Kashmir; the Srīnagar to Leh road passes over the 17,730-foot-high Khardung Pass—the first of the high passes on the historic caravan trail to Central Asia from India. Many other new roads have been built in recent years.

      From the Punjab plains the only direct approach to the Vale of Kashmir is by the highway from Jalandhar in Punjab state, India, to Uri through Jammu, Banihāl, Srīnagar, and Bāramūla. It crosses the Pīr Panjāl Range through a tunnel at Banihāl. The old road from Rāwalpindi to Srīnagar through Pakistan has lost much of its former importance.

      The Sikkim Himalayas command the historic Kālimpang-to-Lhasa caravan trade route, which passes through Gangtok. Before the mid-1950s, there was only one (30-mile) motorable highway running between Gangtok and Rongphu, on the Tīsta River, which then continued southward to Shiliguri for another 70 miles. Since then, several roads passable by jeep have been built in the southern part of Sikkim, and a highway in northern Sikkim connects Gangtok with Lachen (Lachung).

      Arunāchal Pradesh is connected with the Brahmaputra River valley by roads running from Namsai to Chowkham, Sadiya to Roing, Pāsighāt to Dibrugarh, Along to Sonarighat, North Lakhimpur to Hāpoli, and Tezpur to Bomdila.

      Only two main railroads, both of narrow gauge, penetrate into the Lesser Himalayas from the plains of India: one in the western Himalayas, between Kālka and Shimla, and the other in the eastern Himalayas, between Shiliguri and Dārjiling. Another narrow-gauge line in Nepal, running some 30 miles from Raxaul in Bihār state, India, to Amlekhganj and connected with Kāthmāndu by an electrically operated aerial cableway, transports goods to the capital in baskets. Two other short railroads run to the Outer Himalayas—one, the railroad of the Kullu Valley, from Pathānkot to Jogindarnagar; the other from Haridwār to Dehra Dūn. A short railway, formerly running between Wazīrābād and Jammu through Siālkot, is now permanently closed.

      There are two major airstrips in the Himalayas, one at Kāthmāndu and the other at Srīnagar, capital of Kashmir; the airport at Kāthmāndu is served by international, as well as regional, flights. Besides these, there are also an increasing number of airstrips of local importance in the hills and in the Tarai region of Nepal that can accommodate STOL aircraft.

      Improvements in both air and ground transportation have made tourism increasingly important to the economy of the Himalayas. Tourism has been recognized as a means of promoting economic development of the vast and varied Himalayas while at the same time conserving their environment and cultural assets.

Study and exploration
      The earliest journeys through the Himalayas were undertaken by traders, shepherds, and pilgrims. The pilgrims believed that the harder the journey, the nearer it brought them to salvation or enlightenment; while the traders and shepherds accepted crossing passes as high as 18,000 to 19,000 feet as a way of life. For all others, however, the Himalayas constituted a formidable and fearsome barrier.

      The first Himalayan sketch map of some accuracy was drawn up in 1590 by Antonio Monserrate, a Spanish missionary to the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. In 1733 a French geographer, Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Arville, compiled the first map of Tibet and the Himalayan range based on systematic exploration. In the mid-19th century the Survey of India organized a systematic program to measure correctly the heights of the Himalayan peaks. The Nepal and Uttarakhand peaks were observed and mapped between 1849 and 1855. Nānga Parbat, as well as the peaks of the Karakoram Range to the north, were surveyed between 1855 and 1859. The surveyors did not assign individual names to the innumerable peaks observed but designated them by figures and Roman numerals. Thus, at first Mount Everest (Everest, Mount) was simply labeled as “H”; this was later changed to Peak XV in 1849–50. In 1865 Peak XV was renamed for Sir George Everest, surveyor general of India from 1830 to 1843. Not until 1852 were the computations sufficiently advanced for it to be realized that Peak XV was higher than any other peak in the world. By 1862 more than 40 peaks with elevations exceeding 18,000 feet had been climbed for surveying purposes.

      In addition to the surveying expeditions, various scientific studies of the Himalayas were conducted in the 19th century. Between 1848 and 1849 the English botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker made a pioneering study of the plant life of the Sikkim Himalayas. He was followed by numerous others, including (in the early 20th century) the British naturalist Richard W.G. Hingston, who wrote valuable accounts of the natural history of animals living at great altitudes in the Himalayas.

      Since World War II the Survey of India has prepared some large-scale maps of the Himalayas from aerial photographs. Parts of the Himalayas also have been mapped by German geographers and cartographers with the help of ground photogrammetry. In addition, satellite reconnaissance has been employed to produce even more accurate and detailed maps.

      Himalayan mountaineering began in the 1880s with the Briton W.W. Graham, who claimed to have climbed several peaks in 1883. Though his reports were received with skepticism, they did spark interest in the Himalayas among other European climbers. In the early 20th century the number of mountaineering expeditions had increased markedly to the Karakoram Range and to the Kumaun and Sikkim Himalayas. Between World Wars I and II a certain national preference developed for the various peaks: the Germans concentrated on Nānga Parbat and Kānchenjunga, the Americans on K2, and the British on Mount Everest. Since 1921 there have been several dozen attempts at scaling Everest—about a dozen of them were undertaken before it was first successfully scaled in May 1953 by the New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa partner Tenzing Norgay. That same year an Austro-German team led by Karl Maria Herrligkoffer reached the summit of Nānga Parbat. As the great peaks were conquered one by one, climbers began to look for greater challenges to test their skills and equipment, attempting to reach the summits by increasingly difficult routes. By the end of the 20th century the number of annual mountaineering expeditions and tourist excursions to the Himalayas had increased to such a degree that in some areas the participants were threatening the delicate environmental balance of the mountains by destroying plant and animal life and by leaving behind a growing quantity of refuse.

Shiba P. Chatterjee Barry C. Bishop

Additional Reading
Descriptions and analyses of the natural history of the Himalayas are found in D. Mordecai (compiler), The Himalayas: An Illustrated Summary of the World's Highest Mountain Ranges (1966); J.S. Lall and A.D. Moddie (eds.), The Himalaya, Aspects of Change (1981), which, in addition to discussing the physical geography and natural history of the region, treats human influence on the natural environment; appropriate parts in John Cleare, The World Guide to Mountains and Mountaineering (1979); and Marvels and Mysteries of the World Around Us (1972), published by the Reader's Digest Association. The life of the mountain peoples and their interaction with their environment are explored in Larry W. Price, Mountains & Man: A Study of Process and Environment (1981); Jack D. Ives and Bruno Messerli, The Himalayan Dilemma: Reconciling Development and Conservation (1989); James F. Fisher, Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal (1990); Barry C. Bishop, Karnali Under Stress: Livelihood Strategies and Seasonal Rhythms in a Changing Nepal Himalaya (1990), and “The Mighty Himalaya: A Fragile Heritage,” National Geographic, 174:624–631 (November 1988); and Nigel J.R. Allan, Gregory W. Knapp, and Christoph Stadel (eds.), Human Impact on Mountains (1988).Barry C. Bishop

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Himalayas — [him΄ə lā′əz, hi mäl′yəz] mountain system of SC Asia, extending along the Indian Tibetan border and through Pakistan, Nepal, & Bhutan: highest peak, Mt. Everest: also Himalaya Mountains …   English World dictionary

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  • Himalayas — Him|a|lay|as the Himalayas a long ↑range of mountains in southern Asia which includes the highest mountain in the world, Mount ↑Everest, and other mountains which only very experienced climbers try to climb …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Himalayas — noun A mountain range of south central Asia extending about 2,414 km (1,500 mi) through Kashmir, northern India, southern Xizang (Tibet), Nepal, Sikkim …   Wiktionary

  • HIMALAYAS —    ( the abode of snow ), a stupendous mountain chain stretching 1500 m. along the northern frontier of India, and dividing that country from Thibet; forty five of its peaks attain a greater height than those of any other mountain system in the… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Himalayas — mtn. range. CEN. Asia …   Webster's Gazetteer

  • Himalayas — n. mountain range between India and Tibet …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Himalayas — Him•a•la•yas [[t]ˌhɪm əˈleɪ əz, hɪˈmɑl yəz[/t]] n. pl. geg the, a mountain range extending about 1500 mi. (2400 km) along the border between India and Tibet. Highest peak, Mt. Everest, 29,028 ft. (8848 m). Also called Him′ala′ya Moun′tains Him… …   From formal English to slang

  • Himalayas — /hɪməˈleɪəz/ (say himuh layuhz) plural noun the, a lofty mountain system extending about 2400 km along the border between India and the Xizang AR (Tibet). Highest peak (in the world), Mt Everest, 8848 m. Also, the Himalaya, Himalaya Mountains.… …   Australian English dictionary

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