You would have surely heard of many hill-stations in the Himalayas and might have also been to many. But what are these Himalayas? Why are they named the Himalayas? How did they form and how important are they to us? We will get to know more about the Himalayas in this article.
The Himalayas or Himalaya is a long range of mountains in South and East Asia. The range has several of the world’s highest peaks. It separates the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. They are the loftiest mountain system in the world, located in the northern limits of India.
It also savours the highest peak of the world, Mt Everest at the border of Nepal and China. Interestingly, the Himalayas have over fifty mountains above the height of 7,200 metres and ten of the fourteen 8000-plus peaks in the world are also situated in the Himalayas.
The name Himalaya arrives from the Sanskrit word, Himalay which means ‘abode of the snow’. The range is known by different names in different countries. The Himalayas are home to more than 52.7 million people and are spread across the five countries. They are – China, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pakistan.
The Himalayas are young fold mountains as they are formed recently in Earth’s history. Comparatively, the Appalachian in the US and the Aravalli hills in India are much older. They form an arc of about 1550 miles (2500km). The range stretches from Nanga Parbat in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the Namcha Barwa in Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The width of the Himalayas ranges between 125 to 250 miles.
Formation of the Himalayas
The Earth is believed to be formed of several giant plates called plate tectonics. All the continents and oceans lie on these plates. Earlier, the Earth was a single landmass called Pangea surrounded by a large ocean. Around 200 million years ago, a large sea stretched along the latitudinal area that is currently occupied by the Himalayas. This sea was called Tethys. At this period, the Pangea started to break and divide into several landmasses and move into different directions.
Due to this, rivers from the Southern Indian landmass and Eurasian landmass started depositing massive amounts of sediments into the Tethys. Both the plates moved closer to each other. The Indian mass was moving at the rate of about 15 cm per year. The beginning of the construction of mountains began 70 million years ago as the two landmasses started colliding. Due to this, the shallow seabed rapidly folded and raised to form longitudinal ridges and valleys.
Soon after, the bed of the Tethys started rising and elevated to form mountain ranges. Soon after, nearly 25 million years ago, another building stage led to the formation of lower Shivalik ranges. These regular building processes led to more collision of the Indian and the Eurasian plates which led to the increase in heights of the Himalayas.
Does the height of the Himalayas still increase?
The last rising phase of the Himalayas happened 600,000 years ago. The Himalayas are still rising although at a much slower rate. The Indian plate is moving north at about 2 centimetres per year and hence the Himalayas are still rising at about 5 millimetres per year. Hence, the Himalayas are still active and structurally unstable. Therefore, frequent earthquakes occur in the region.
Divisions of the Himalayas
There is a great bend in the Himalayan range at a distance which leads to several lower ranges and hills spreading out. North of the Himalayas is the Tibetan plateau and numerous Trans- Himalayan ranges. Only a small portion of these ranges are within the limits of India in the Ladakh region.
There are three longitudinal belts within the Himalayas, called the Outer Himalayas, Lesser Himalayas and the Inner Himalayas.
1. The Outer Himalayas
The Outer Himalayas, commonly known as the Shivalik range is the southernmost of the three mountain belts in the Himalayas. The high points in the Shivaliks known as Crest, average from 3000 to 5000 feet in elevation.
Sometimes, they exceed 6500 feet. They are flat-floored structural valleys and border the Himalayan range to the south. The Shivaliks extend almost through the length of the Himalayas having a maximum width of 100 km in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
The main Shivalik range has steep slopes facing the plains of India and descends northwards to flat basins known as Duns. Some of the famous Duns are Dehra Dun and Kotli Dun.
2. The Lesser Himalayas
The Lesser Himalayas lie to the north of the Shivaliks. The range is 50 miles in width and has mountains exceeding 4500 metres and valleys with heights of 3000 metres. The Lesser Himalayas has three principal ranges, the Nag Tibba, the Dhaola Dhar and the Pir Panjal which have branched from the Great Himalayan range. The eastern of these ranges reach heights of about 8200 metres in Nepal and forms the watershed between the rivers Ganges and Yamuna.
The Valley of Kashmir also forms an important part of the Lesser Himalayas. Extending from southeast to northwest for 160 kilometres having a width of 80 km, it has an average height of 1600 metres.
3. The Inner Himalayas
Commonly known as the Greater Himalayas, the Inner Himalayas are covered with snow. The range has the highest elevation in Nepal, with 10 of the 14 highest peaks of the world exceeding the heights of 8000 metres. It extends from the states of Jammu & Kashmir to Sikkim. Past Sikkim, it extends into Bhutan until the east part of Arunanchal Pradesh and finally bends northeast, terminating at the Namcha Barwa.
The Great Himalayas range from 50 to 75 km in width and include some of the highest peaks of the world like Mt Everest. India’s highest point and world’s third tallest peak is the Kanchenjunga at a height of 8586 metres. Other notable peaks are the Nanda Devi (7817 metres), Kamet (7755 metres) and many more.
Associated Hills and Ranges of Himalayas
The Himalayas have various ranges and hills running parallel to them.
- In the northwest, Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges and the Zaskar Range run to the northeast of the Great Himalayas.
- Extending along the southwest of the Great Himalayas, in the Kashmir region is the Pir Panjal range. It forms the southern and western flanks of the Valley of Kashmir.
- In the east, there are many smaller ranges running northeast-southwest which includes the Patkai Range and the Naga and Mizo hills.
- To the northwest, branching off from the Naga and Mizo hills are the Jaintia, Khasi and Garo hills which run north of the Indian border with Bangladesh.
Climate in the Himalayas
The natural thinking of the Himalayas are bitter cold is incorrect to some extent. There isn’t extreme cold all the time in the Himalayan region. The extent of weather depends upon the height of the region.
The region experiences two main seasons – winter and summer. The regions above the height of nearly 5000 metres are permanently covered with snow and are cold throughout the year. The rest of the regions experience moderate temperatures.
The northern foothills have an average temperature of about 30 degrees in the summers while it is around 15-18 degrees in winters. The middle part has much difference in temperatures. The average temperature in summer is 25 degrees while it can be below 0 degrees in winters.
The temperatures become harsher in the upper regions here. The upper Himalayas above the height of 5000 metres is permanently covered with snow with harsh temperatures. It snows highly in the winters while it is lighter in the summers.
Do the Himalayas also affect temperatures in the Plains?
The Himalayas have a great effect on the conditions in the Indian subcontinent. They act as the barriers to the cold air from the north to enter India and the surrounding regions. They also force the southwesterly monsoon to release the moisture. This results in heavy rain and snow in regions of India and arid conditions in Tibet.
Rivers systems and glaciers
The Himalayan range stores a large number of glaciers and rivers. Some of the most famous glaciers are the Siachen glacier, world’s largest glacier outside the polars, the Gangotri, Yamunotri, Bura, Zemu and Khumbu glaciers. The Himalayas also act as sources for several river systems.
- The two main rivers of the country – Ganga and Brahmaputra. Ganga originating from the Bhagirathi from Gangotri flows through the plains of India. The Brahmaputra originates as Tsangpo in Tibet flows through the Tibetan region and Assam. They meet in Bangladesh and end in the Bay of Bengal forming the Sunderbans, world’s largest river delta.
- The Indus River begins in Tibet and flows southeast through Pakistan into the Arabian Sea. Its other tributaries are Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj rivers.
The Himalayan region is known worldwide for its beautiful flora and fauna. It is home to some of the most uncommon and endangered species. More than 25000 plant species have been estimated in the Himalayan region.
It is essentially 10% of the world’s species and 50% of India’s species. This include around 7000 species of fungi, 2000 species of bryophytes, 1160 species of lichens and ferns, angiosperms and other species forming the remainder.
Animal life in the Himalayas is quite different from the plains. The fauna consists of 75 species of amphibians, 150 species of reptiles, 528 species of birds, 218 fish species and 240 species of mammals. The Great Himalayan National Park consists of the majority of the flora and fauna of the Himalayas.
The region has mainly two types of tropical forests – the Tropical Rainforests and the Tropical Deciduous forests. The rainforests are dense, gloomy and evergreen, much similar to the Amazon basin.
They receive very heavy rainfall throughout the year. The deciduous forests are found in regions of lower rainfall and lower slopes. They shed their leaves and are less dense than the evergreen forests. Teak and sal are common trees in these forests.
The population of the Himalayas belongs to different cultural people. Various cultures such as Hindu, Buddhists, Islamic and Animist combine to form the population of the Himalayas. The diversity in the Himalayan people shows the architecture, different languages, beliefs, rituals and clothing.
Significance of the Himalayas
The Himalayas are of great significance to the world and India. The following points will bring the importance of the Himalayas:
1. Climatic influence
With huge heights, they intercept monsoons and also prevent the cold air of Central Asia from entering India.
The Himalayas act as natural protectors for India from outside invaders. The role of the Himalayas in India’s defence mechanism cannot be neglected.
3. Fertile Soil providers
Estimates say that Ganga and Indus carry nearly 30 million tonnes of silt per day and Brahmaputra carries more. The northern plains of India are a gift of the Himalayas.
4. Source of Rivers
Numerous rivers originate from the Himalayas which provide a huge amount of water to the people living in the plains. The river Ganga is called the lifeline of India.
The region offers a perfect location for the production of hydroelectricity. The dams are capable of producing loads of electricity.
The Tourism industry is a significant portion of the country. People of the Himalayas depends a lot on the industry for their livelihood. They are host to several of the world’s most famous hill stations and destinations.
The Himalayas because of the fertile silt have an abundance of several valuable minerals like copper, zinc, lead, nickel, gold, limestone and many precious stones.
What are the threats to Himalayas?
Despite being a remote region, Himalayas have not been spared by human interference and have been subjected to damage and threats. Some of the most prominent threats to the Himalayas are:
- Increased extraction of natural resources
- Growing population
- Clearing of forests for cultivation and settlements
- Excessive logging
- Use of fire to clear agricultural land
- Habitat fragmentation
- Overgrazing by animals
- Exploitation of flora for medicine
- Unmanaged tourism
- Political instability
- Illegal hunting
- Mining and pollution
As the people of this world, we have to conserve our natural resources and the supreme Himalayas. Once harmed, they would not be easy to revive. So, steps have to be taken by humans to preserve the Himalayas.
So, now when we have covered nearly everything about the Himalayas, it’s time for some questions. Below are some simple and easy questions. If you know their answers, try and answer them in the comment section.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What does the world Himalaya mean?
Answer – the Abode of snow
Q2. Name the highest peak of India.
Q3. What are the Inner Himalayas also known as?
Answer – The Great Himalayas or Himadri
Q4. Name the three major rivers rising from the Himalayas?
Answer – Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra