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Himalayas

NASA Landsat-7 imagery of Himalayas The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains ( or ;[1][2] Sanskrit: Devanagari: , literally "abode of snow"), usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya, is a mountain range immediately to the north of the Indian subcontinent. By extension, it can also refer to the massive mountain system that additionally includes the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and other lesser ranges that extend out from the Pamir Knot. Some of the world's major river systems arise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basins are home to some 3 billion people (almost half of the Earth's population) in 18 countries. The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures of South Asia; many Himalayan peaks are sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

Geologically, the Himalayas originate from the northward movement of the Indian tectonic plate at 15 cm per year to impact the Eurasian continent, with first contact about 70 million years ago, and with movement continuing today. This caused the formation of the Himalayan arc peaks: the lighter rocks of the seabeds of that time were easily uplifted into mountains. An often-cited fact used to illustrate this process is that the summit of Mount Everest is made of marine limestone.[3]

Contents


Geography

Overall, the Himalayan mountain system is the world's highest, and is home to the world's highest peaks, the Eight-thousanders, which include Mount Everest and K2. To comprehend the enormous scale of this mountain range, consider that Aconcagua, in the Andes, at , is the highest peak outside Asia, whereas the Himalayan system includes over 100 mountains exceeding .[4] However the Alleghenian mountains, formed during the formation of Pangaea, likely rivalled or exceeded the Himalayas in height.[5]

The main Himalayan range runs west to east, from the Indus river valley to the Brahmaputra river valley, forming an arc long, which varies in width from in the western Kashmir-Xinjiang region to in the eastern Tibet-Arunachal Pradesh region. The range consists of three coextensive sub-ranges, with the northernmost, and highest, known as the Great or Inner Himalayas.

Ecology

The Himalayan range at Yumesongdong in Sikkim, in the Yumthang River valley
The Himalayan range at Yumesongdong in Sikkim, in the Yumthang River valley
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 climate, altitude, rainfall and soil conditions supports a variety of distinct plant and animal communities. For example the extremes of high altitude (low atmospheric pressure) combined with extreme cold allow extremophile organisms to survive.[7]

The unique floral and faunal wealth of the Himalayas is undergoing structural and compositional changes due to climate change. The increase in temperature may shift 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, especially rhododendron, apple and Myrica esculenta. The medicinal properties of some important species may be affected by changing climate.[8][9]

Geology

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

The Himalayas are among the youngest mountain ranges on the planet and consist mostly of uplifted sedimentary and metamorphic rock. 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. This is referred to as a fold mountain.

The collision began in the Upper Cretaceous period about 70 million years ago, when the north-moving Indo-Australian Plate, moving at about 15 cm per year, collided with the Eurasian Plate. 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 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 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.

Hydrology

Glaciers near K2 in the Xinjiang, China and Pakistan.
Glaciers near K2 in the Xinjiang, China and Pakistan.
The Himalayan range encompasses about 15,000 glaciers, which store about 12,000 km3 (3000 cubic miles) of fresh water. The 70 km-long Siachen Glacier at the India-Pakistan border is the second longest glacier in the world outside the polar region. 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, and they form the sources of several large perennial rivers, most of which combine into two large river systems:

  • The western rivers combine into the Indus Basin, of which the Indus River is the largest. 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, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutlej rivers, among others.
  • Most of the other Himalayan rivers drain the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin. Its two main rivers are the Ganges and the Brahmaputra and the Yamuna, 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.[10]

The easternmost 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, 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.[11] 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.[12] For example, Glacial lakes have been forming rapidly on the surface of the 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 of northern India during the dry seasons.[13]

Lakes

A high Himalayan lake at an altitude of around 5,000 metres Sikkim, India
A high Himalayan lake at an altitude of around 5,000 metres Sikkim, India

The Himalaya 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. 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 km , and 638 km , respectively. Other notable lakes include Gurudogmar lake in North Sikkim, Tsongmo lake, near the Indo-China border in Sikkim, and Tilicho lake in Nepal in the Annapurna massif.

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.[14]

Impact on climate

Pass in Ladakh with the typical Buddhist prayer flags and chorten
Pass in Ladakh with the typical Buddhist prayer flags and chorten
The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. They prevent frigid, dry Arctic winds 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.[15]

The mountain ranges also prevent western winter disturbances in Iran from traveling further, resulting in snow in Kashmir and rainfall in 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 North East India and Bangladesh.

The Himalayas, which are often called "The Roof of the World", contain the greatest area of glaciers and permafrost outside polar regions. Ten of Asia's largest rivers flow from here, and more than a billion people's livelihoods depend on them. To complicate matters, temperatures are rising more rapidly here than the global average. In Nepal, the temperature has risen 0.6 degree C over the last decade, whereas overall global warming has been around 0.7 degree C over the last hundred years.[16]

Impact on politics and culture

Mountain sheds like these are used by the rural populace as shelter for cattle in summer months as they take them for grazing in higher altitudes.
Mountain sheds like these are used by the rural populace as shelter for cattle in summer months as they take them for grazing in higher altitudes.
Some of the world's major rivers, the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Red River (Asia), Xunjiang, Chao Phraya, Irrawaddy River, Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Tarim River and Yellow River, arise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to some 3 billion people (almost half of Earth's population) in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, People's Republic of China, India (almost half of the population of India live within 500 km of the Himalayan range),, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Pakistan.

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 intermingling of people from the Indian subcontinent with people from China and Mongolia, causing significantly different 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.

Religion

The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the
The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the "Tiger's Nest"

Several places in the Himalaya are of religious significance in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the Himalaya have also been personified as the god Himavat, the father of Shiva's consort, Parvati. A notable example of a religious site is Paro Taktsang, where Padmasambhava is said to have founded Buddhism in Bhutan.[17]

A number of Tibetan Buddhist sites are situated in the Himalaya, including the residence of the Dalai Lama. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet.[18] The Tibetan Muslims had their own mosques in Lhasa and Shigatse.[19]

See also

References

Further reading

  • Aitken, Bill, Footloose in the Himalaya, Delhi, Permanent Black, 2003. ISBN 81-7824-052-1
  • Berreman, Gerald Duane, Hindus of the Himalayas: Ethnography and Change, 2nd rev. ed., Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Bisht, Ramesh Chandra, Encyclopedia of the Himalayas, New Delhi, Mittal Publications, c2008.
  • Everest, the IMAX movie (1998). ISBN 0-7888-1493-1
  • Fisher, James F., Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal, 1990. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990. ISBN 0-520-06941-2
  • Gansser, Augusto, Gruschke, Andreas, Olschak, Blanche C., Himalayas. Growing Mountains, Living Myths, Migrating Peoples, New York, Oxford: Facts On File, 1987. ISBN 0-8160-1994-0 and New Delhi: Bookwise, 1987.
  • Gupta, Raj Kumar, Bibliography of the Himalayas, Gurgaon, Indian Documentation Service, 1981
  • Hunt, John, Ascent of Everest, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1956. ISBN 0-89886-361-9
  • Isserman, Maurice and Weaver, Stewart, Fallen Giants: The History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes. Yale University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-300-11501-7
  • Ives, Jack D. and Messerli, Bruno, The Himalayan Dilemma: Reconciling Development and Conservation. London / New York, Routledge, 1989. ISBN 0-415-01157-4
  • Lall, J.S. (ed.) in association with Moddie, A.D., The Himalaya, Aspects of Change. Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-19-561254-X
  • Nandy, S.N., Dhyani, P.P. and Samal, P.K., Resource Information Database of the Indian Himalaya, Almora, GBPIHED, 2006.
  • Palin, Michael, Himalaya, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson Illustrated, 2004. ISBN 0-297-84371-0
  • Swami Sundaranand, Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sadhu. Published by Tapovan Kuti Prakashan (August 2001). ISBN 81-901326-0-1
  • Swami Tapovan Maharaj, Wanderings in the Himalayas, English Edition, Madras, Chinmaya Publication Trust, 1960. Translated by T.N. Kesava Pillai.
  • Tilman, H. W., Mount Everest, 1938, Cambridge University Press, 1948.
  • The Mighty Himalaya: A Fragile Heritage, National Geographic, 174:624-631 (November 1988).

External links

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