The Himalayas – History, Map and Facts

Himalayas play a pivotal significance in the world’s history, geography, and heritage. For India, the Himalayas feature as the giant mountain God in our literature, culture, and mythology. Popularly referred to as “Him Parvat” or the “abode of snow,” the Himalayas are ice-caps of worship since time immemorial.

Located in Nepal but auspicious for Indians, thousands of pilgrims visit high ranging peaks to offer prayers to Lord Shiva.

This article conceptualizes the Himalayas from a geographical point of view. Here, we describe its various attributes. The article includes information about the geographical formation of the mountains in addition to its climate, vegetation, and physiographic features. This is must to know for various competitive exams like UPSC, IAS etc.

The Himalayas

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Geographical Formation of Himalayas

The Himalayas are located on the Tibetan plateau, north-west of the Indian terrain. These mountains were a result of a collision between the tectonic plates of India and Eurasia. This collision took place around 50 million years ago and continues to collide even today.

In fact, this collision was so sharp that it led to the formation of a thick crust around the Himalayan region. The thickness of this crust accounts for around 75 km. As a result of this, the magma from the entire help began moving upwards. And this eventually prevents the volcanic activity from pervading in this region.

Besides the above, the Himalayas rise around 1cm each year resulting in mild and shallow earthquakes in the northern belt. On the other hand, erosion and weathering have catered to lower down its height thus balancing these two opposite forces.

Running in the west to east direction, the Himalayas are about 8,848 km in length with a horizontal extension of 2,900 km. The width of the Mountains is around 200 km. These dimensions make Mount Everest (one of the Himalayan peaks) as the highest point of Earth. In fact, the height of Mount Everest alone is 8, 848 m.

Climate of Himalayas

Most time of the year, the Himalayas experience monsoons and seasonally reversing wind systems. This is because, during summers, the warm scorching rays of the sun cause the ice caps to melt thus, increasing the atmospheric temperature.

Furthermore, this rise in atmospheric temperature creates massive moisture and attracts the rainy winds to its territorial ranges. Thus, humidity levels in the Himalayan ranges are pretty high.

Besides, the Great Himalayan divide helps in the measurement of the meteorological conditions of the Indian subcontinent. Due to its highly elevated altitude, the mountains obstruct the flow of cold winds in the northern side in winters. On the other hand, it also furnishes a facile passage to the monsoon winds to blow over its ranges prior to crossing the Himalayas northwards.

The above conditions engender a rainy season in the northwards of the Himalayan parts located in India. However, its coverage in Tibet remains extremely arid and concrete.

Further to this, states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand receive an annual rainfall of 60 inches while parts of West Bengal and Darjeeling receive an annual rainfall of 120 inches. This simply means that Western Himalayas receive less annual rainfall as compared to its eastern counterparts.

Also, parts of Kashmir such as Gilgit, Leh, and Skardu experience an annual rainfall of 3-6 inches, thus making them extremely cold for human survival.

However, the alpine ranges of these mountains experience alternate summers and winters, depending upon their elevated terrains. Therefore, Himalayas tend to be the habitat for quick climatic changes followed by snowstorms, earthquakes, floods, and other natural precipitations.

In short, the summers in the alpine Himalayan ranges are warm and attract tourists from far off places. On the other hand, this belt experiences icy cold winters and heavy snowfall.

Vegetation at Himalayas

The Himalayan belt encompasses massively rich and incredible vegetation. In fact, the topography of the northern Himalayas is irregular and is filled with numerous valleys and gorges.

It Comprises of three types of forests within its mountainous peaks. These forests are:

Tropical Rain Forests

  • dense, evergreen forests that receive heavy rainfall.
  • These forests are mostly located in the eastern Himalayas.

Tropical Deciduous Forests

  • Mostly common in the lower regions of Himalayas.
  • Receive less rainfall as compared to rainforests.

Alpine Forests

  • These forests are present within 2200-3800 m of the altitude above the sea level.
  • Constituting the tundra region, there are no trees in the alpine slopes but huge and sense churns cover this wild terrain.

Temperate Forests

  • The eastern Himalayas comprise temperate forests in its lower and medium ranges
  • These forests are coniferous forests with xerophytic shrubs.

Soil at Himalayas

Several factors impact the presence of a particular type of soil in the Himalayas. These factors include:

  • Altitude of the soil range
  • Slope
  • Vegetation cover
  • Structure
  • Stage

On this basis, the soil on the Himalayas is classified into the following types:

Himalayan Foothill/Terai soil

  • Usually found in the foothills of Himalayas
  • Comprises high content of organic matter
  • Devoid of phosphate compounds
  • Highly acidic and thus not suitable for plant growth
  • Constitutes raw humus and sand

Forest Soil

  • Usually found in lower Shivalik hills
  • Highly acidic
  • Rich in humus
  • Also known as brown forest soil as it constitutes organic debris

Podzols

  • Coined from the words, pod meaning “under” and Zola meaning “ash” in Russian
  • Usually found in Western Himalayas, in the high altitude snow-covered regions
  • Highly infertile and acidic surrounded by humid and temperate conditions
  • Lacks nutrients and thus, poor for agriculture

Red and Black Soils

  • Formed from acidic and basic igneous rocks
  • Deficient in lime, phosphate, hydrogen, humus and carbonate contents
  • Depth of these soils ranges around 1-70 cm

Desert/ Arid Soils

  • Found in the cold and deserted regions of Ladakh, Spiti, Lahaul, and Kinnaur
  • Comprise a clay content of less than 15%
  • The soils are loamy in texture and yellowish-brown in color
  • Infertile and deficient in nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, zinc, and sulphur

Mountain Soils

  • Found in subtropical and temperate regions
  • Also known as dabar soils in some belts of the Himalayas
  • Thin and fertile and usually found on steep slopes
  • Sandy to loamy texture

High Altitude Meadow Soils

  • Found near the snowlines of the Himalayan regions
  • Very lean, coarse and fragile in texture
  • Rich in humus and gravel content
  • Dark in color

Biodiversity at Himalayas

The Himalayas encompasses a widely rich variety of flora and fauna. In fact, its biodiversity is extraordinary and unique as the mountains inhabit many rare species of birds and animals. Thus, its biogeographical features attract scientific and scholarly attention from India and abroad.

In fact, the Himalayan mountains are an abode of four major plant life classifications:

  • Tropical
  • Subtropical
  • Temperate
  • Alpine

The tropical zones of the central or the eastern Himalayas comprise species such as Ceylon, ironwood, oaks, bamboos, horse chestnuts, etc.

Next, due to low precipitation in the western Himalayas, wet sal deciduous forests form a major stretch in this region. These forests spread across an elevation of 1400 m. The Temperate mixed forests in the mountains comprise broad leafy conifers, Chir pine, Deodar cedar, Blue pine, Morinda, spruce, etc.

Finally, the alpine trench comprises species like Juniper, mosses, lichens, and Rhododendron.

The Himalayas hotspot houses several varieties of plants and animals within its altitudes.

There are over 10,000 species of plants in the Himalayan belt. More to this, Orchidaceae is the largest family of flowering plants in this region. Other plant families are:

  • Stachyuracae
  • Butomaceae
  • Circaesteraceae
  • Hamamelidaceae

Likewise, the eastern Himalayas constitute plant species such as Primula, Pedicularis, and Rhododendron.

Next, the Himalayas also incorporate innumerable animals with its ranges. It has around 300 different mammal species, and close to 1000 species of birds.

However, around 163 species are on the verge of extinction today.

Nonetheless, some of the animal species in the Himalayan belt are:

  • Giant Pandas
  • White Polar Bears
  • Himalayan Wild Yak
  • Himalayan Thar: White Goat
  • Red Panda or Red-cat Bar
  • Himalayan Black Bear

And likewise, some bird habiting within these mountains are:

  • Monal Pheasant or the colorful Himalayan Bird
  • Black-Necked Tibetan Crane (the only Alpine Crane across the globe)
  • Himalayan Mar

In short, the grand Himalayas embrace incredible species within its bounty. As a result, the biodiversity of these mountains is indeed the soul and pride of India and the entire world.

Physiographic Divisions of Himalayas

Physiographically, the Himalayas comprise parallel contain ranges within its giant snow-covered structure. The three principle ranges in the mountains are as follows:

The Greater Himalayas (The Himadris)

  • The highest range of the Himalayas
  • The most integrated mountain ranges
  • Perennially cover with snow
  • Comprises Nabga Parvat in the north-west and Namcha Barwa in North-east
  • Paramount peak points like Mount Everest Kanchenjunga lie on the Himadis
  • The origination point of Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers

Trans-Himalayas or Tibetan Himalayas

  • Lies in Jammu and Kashmir (immediate north of the Himadris)
  • Zaskar and Ladakh are in primary ranges
  • Around 3,000 m high and 40 km wide
  • Houses the Karakoram range (contains the greatest glaciers of the world; also serves as India’s frontier with China
  • and Afghanistan

The Lesser Himalayas (or Himachals)

  • Known as Pir Panjal in Jammu and Kashmir and Dlaulander in Himachal Pradesh
  • Has the great Himalayas in the north and Shivaliks in the south
  • 60-80 km wide; 3700-4500 m high
  • Consists of metamorphic rocks
  • Dense forest cover over the eastern parts of this range
  • Famous valleys of Kashmir, Kullu, and Kangra feature in these ranges

The Shivaliks (the outer Himalayas)

  • Also known as Manak Parvat
  • The southernmost range of the Himalayas
  • 15-50 km wide; 900-1100 m high
  • Composed of unconsolidated sediments
  • Contains the Dun plains in the west and Duar plains in the east (formed due to drying up of lakes in this region)

Major Passes in Himalayas

The major passes in the Himalayas are:

Name of the PassPassage Connects
Mintaka passChina and Kashmir
Parpik PassChina and Kashmir
Khunjerab PassChina and Kashmir
Aghil PassLadakh and China
Banilala PassJammu and Srinagar
Chang-La PassTibet and Ladakh
Khardung-La PassLeh and Ladhak
Lanak La PassIndia and China
Pir Panjal PassAcross the Pir Panjal ranges
Imis La PassLadakh and Tibet
Pensi La PassKashmir Valley and Kargil
Zoji La PassSrinagar and Kargil
BaraLacha PassJammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh
Debra PassKullu and Spiti
Rohtang PassKullu, Lahaul, and Spiti
Shipki La PassTibet and Himachal Pradesh
Mana PassTibet and Uttarakhand
Mangsha Dhura PassTibet and Uttarakhand

Significance of Himalayas

The Himalayan mountains hold a significant place in world geography. Besides, the mountains have divine relevance in many cultures and traditions. In fact, the Himalayas are the pride of the world. As a result, many people from India and abroad undertake pilgrimages and trekking on these ranges.

Some of the most significant factors in these mountains are mentioned below:

  • Serving as the dense and snowy mountains between India and China, the Himalayas play a crucial role in Indian defense forces. In other words, the mountains protect the country from an international threat and keep its citizens safe.
  • Most of the rivers and glaciers originate from the Himalayas. In this sense, they feature as the ultimate source of rivers for the country. Or delving deeper, Himalayas help in the indirect generation of hydroelectricity.
  • The forest wood of the mountains is widely used for industrial purposes.
  • The mountains house many crops such as tea, mulberries, grapes, walnuts, apricots, cherries, etc.
  • It is also a natural storehouse of minerals like coal, copper, zinc, lead, limestone, magnesite, gypsum, etc.

Threats to the Himalayas

Despite its rich and extremely vibrant physiography, the Himalayan ranges are vulnerable to rising threats. Some of the major alarming conditions in the mountains are mentioned hereby:

1. Illegal Wildlife Trade

The Himalayan mountains are prone to massive poaching activities, declared illegal by the government and the forest ministries. Poachers try catching rhinos, deers, and tigers via nets in order to supply their meat in various regions of China and Nepal.

In other words, the mountains are prone to heinous wildlife trafficking, including 15 major hotspots for the same.

2. Climate change

In the Eastern part of the Himalayas, the population and wildlife are extremely prone to the transforming climatic conditions. This is mainly due to the excessive melting of glaciers in the upper mountainous belts and the drying up of the spring water.

In addition to the above, a drastic shift in the rainfall pattern has also impacted crop production in this region. As a result, farmers face extreme food shortages over the last few years. Also, change in humidity patterns has led to the presence of insects, pests, and diseases in the Himalayas, thus jeopardizing local lives.

3. Loss of Habitat

In addition to the above factors, there has been a massic habitat loss in the Himalayas. This is because of the massive deforestation for extracting exportable products such as timber, fuelwood, and fodder.

This has further threatened the wildlife of this region. Also, the production of charcoal in some of the trenches has destroyed the natural vegetation of these areas. In fact, the mountains experience a peculiar conflict between wildlife and humans as the latter are extensively deleting the forest resources to meet their self-centered requirements.

Besides, deforestation affects the localities because they aren’t left with sufficient land for grazing their cattle. In short, the mountains are facing a huge extinction of biodiversity. To curb this, the Forest Ministry must issue strict instructions and restrict the entry of poachers and exporters in the Himalayas.

4. Human-wildlife Conflict

This conflict is a result of population growth and demise in the traditional practices of people residing in this region. Organizations such as WWF (World Wildlife Fund) aim to eliminate this disagreement through strict measures and policies.

For example, WWF conservation offers a company wildlife insurance plan under which the localities are eligible for compensation in case of livestock loss from snow leopards.

People and Communities

The World Wildlife Fund aims to uplift the local communities residing in the eastern Himalayas belt. It attempts so through its major policies and relief facilities. In other words, it opens up opportunities for localities and furnishes them with alternate sources of income.

In addition to this, it also works towards empowering women and providing other perpetual sources of livelihood.

1. Empowering the Population

The WWF policies have brought adequate relief for people through community-led conservation programs. In this, it records the heroic story of Dr. Chandra Gurung and Mingma Norbu Sherpa passed away in a tragic accident while coming back from Kanchenjunga.

This story is an inspiration for the forest localities and has made them realize the importance of this natural resource. In addition, it has also decreased poaching activities and illegal trade of medicinal plants and livestock in this region.

2. Adapting to Changing Environment

Over the years, the Himalayas have witnessed a drastic transformation in its demographic conditions. Or else put it, the population of this region has increased tremendously. As a result, nature is under pressure to produce more food and shelter for this growing population.

This has led to activities such as local grazing in the forests to procure firewood and food. In fact, this has impacted the alpine meadows in the Himalayas pretty massively.

As a result of this local deforestation and agriculture, the mountains have lost their natural vegetation to a great extent. Additionally, climatic changes in this belt have led to the melting of glaciers and in turn affected around 700 million individuals.

3. Culture of Conservation

Finally, the Himalayas comprise a plethora of diverse cultures, religions, and people. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christians, and Animists survive together in a close-knit natural environment. And each of these communities exercises equal rights over the forest resources.

All these communities depend on the vegetation for their daily requirements for survival. This includes agriculture, livestock grazing subsistence harvests, freshwater and erosion monitoring, etc.

In short, their effective community management practices have made the Himalayas habitable for diverse cultures under the same umbrella.

Conclusion

Altogether, the Himalayas feature as the biogeographic lifeline of India. Its dynamic features and giant like structure is indeed a crown for the Indian nation. To visualize their snow-covered texture is itself miraculous and blissful.

The article above has discussed the different attributes of these mountains including geographical location, climate, soil, etc. Additionally, it has also depicted the rich biodiversity and the major passes in and between the Himalayan ranges.

And at last, the article has charted some brief yet significant features of the Himalayas. These are must for students applying for competitve exams like UPSC, IAS etc as its in their Geography section.

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