The Himalayas are a mountain range that lies in Asia. The towering mountains that make up the Himalayas separate the Indian Subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. The Himalayas also contain some of the tallest mountains in the world including Everest.
The Himalayas stretch across 5 countries in Asia. These countries are Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, and China. Owing to the presence of some snow-capped mountains, the Himalayas also form some of the most wonderful rivers in these countries.
The word Himalayas is derived from the Sanskrit word “Himā-laya”. The word “Hima” refers to snow while the word “a-laya” means “dwelling”. So the word the Himalayas refers to the resting place of snow.
How were the Himalayas Formed?
The astonishing mountains like Everest, Annapurna, and others that make up the Himalayas did not exist millions of years ago. Such a long time back, India was not attached to Asia but was floating off the coast of Australia. Other parts of Asia, were intact.
It was approximately 220 million years ago that India started to float northwards to Asia. After traveling around 6,000 kilometers, India collided with Asia around 40 to 50 million years ago. The collision led to the Indian landmass going beneath the Asian one. At the same time, the Asian landmass moved up. A combination of the movement of the Asian and Indian landmasses resulted in the formation of the Himalayas.
Scientists believe that the coastline of India was denser and more firmly attached to the seabed in comparison to Asia. As a result, Asia’s softer soil was pushed up rather than India’s.
The Himalayas have not stopped growing fully. The Indian tectonic plate is still moving northward slowly causing a growth in the Himalayas. The fact that the Himalayas are moving can be confirmed by the occurrence of earthquakes in and around the areas of the Himalayas.
Glaciers in the Himalayas
The Himalayas have a large deposit of ice and snow. This deposit of ice and snow, after Antarctica and the Arctic, is the highest in the world. There are 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas. There is a reservoir of 12,000 km3(2,900 cube mi) of fresh water in these glaciers.
The Khumbu glaciers of the Mount Everest region are the most famous glaciers of the Himalayas. Similarly, the Langtang glacier of the Langtang region is another notable glacier in Nepal. Gangotri, Yamunotri (Uttarakhand), and Zemu (Sikkim) are the popular glaciers in the Himalayas that lie in India.
Scientists have observed a notable increase in the rate of glacier retreat across the Himalayas and other areas with many snow deposits. Most of this has resulted due to global climate change.
For instance, there are have been many glacial lakes that have formed on the surface of glaciers in Bhutan Himalaya. This effect has been greater in the last few decades. The effect of this process will only materialize in the years to follow. But it has a potential for disaster for the thousands of inhabitants who rely on these glaciers that in turn feed the rivers in the dry seasons.
Lakes in the Himalayas
The Himalayan region is blessed with hundreds of picturesque lakes. The larger lakes of the Himalayas lie on the northern side of the main range. The most famous of these lakes is the holy lake of Manasarovar which lies quite close to Mount Kailash in Tibet. This lake covers an area of 410 km2 (160 sq mi) and lies at an altitude of 4,590 m (15,060 ft).
Lakes in Tibet
Other wonderful lakes in Tibet include Lake Rakshastal with an area of 250 km2 (97 sq mi) and slightly lower at 4,575 m (15,010 ft), Pangong Tso with an area of 700 km2 (270 sq mi) and an altitude of 4350 meters and Yamdrok Tso with an area of 638 km2 (246 sq mi) and an altitude of 4441 meters, and Lake Puma Yumco with an area of 280 km2 (110 sq mi) and at an elevation of 5,030 m (16,500 ft).
Lakes in Nepal
Many wonderful lakes of the Himalayas lie in Nepal as well. Tilicho Lake, which is nestled beautifully in Annapurna massif, is one of the highest lakes in the world. Other beautiful lakes that also make for a wonderful visit are Rara Lake in western Nepal, Shey-Phoksundo Lake in the Shey Phoksundo National Park of Nepal, and Gokyo Lakes in the Solukhumbu district of Nepal.
Some of the lakes of the Himalayas have a real threat of a glacial lake outburst flood. The Tsho Rolpa glacier lake (altitude of 4,580 m (15,030 ft)) in the Rolwaling Valley, in the Dolakha District of Nepal, is one of them. Tsho Rolpa has grown considerably over the last 50 years due to glacial melting.
Lakes in India
Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim and Lake Tsongmo, near the Indo-China border in Sikkim, are two gorgeous lakes of the Himalayas in India.
The Climate of the Himalayas
The Himalayas cover large swathes of an area. The altitude range of the Himalayas is also quite large. It also has a complex topography. Due to these reasons, the Himalayas experience varying degrees of climates. These range from humid subtropical in the foothills to cold, desert conditions on the Tibetan side of the range.
For every 1,000 m (3,300 ft) rise in altitude in the Himalayas, the temperatures fall by 6.5 °C (11.7 °F). This results in a variety of climates in the Himalayas. They range from nearly tropical to alpine vegetation in the permanent snow lines.
The topography of the region also affects the local climate of the Himalayas. The leeward side of the Himalayas like the Upper Mustang, which is protected from the monsoon by Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs, receives very little rainfall. The annual precipitation in the Upper Mustang is merely 300 mm (12 in).
The windward side of the Himalayas like Pokhara sees an annual rainfall of 3,900 mm (150 in). Thus although annual precipitation is generally higher in the east than in the west, local variations are often more important.
The Himalayas also block cold, dry winds from the south into the Indian subcontinent. This makes South Asia relatively warmer in comparison to other temperate regions on various continents. The Himalayas, which bar the monsoon from traveling in the northern direction, cause a significant amount of rainfall in the Terai region.
The Climate of the Himalayas on the Southern Side
Nepal and Sikkim make up the southern side of the Himalayas. In this region, the monsoon is a characteristic part of its climate. Heavy rain, which is the feature of the monsoon, starts in June and lasts until September.
The monsoon has the potential to disrupt transportation in the Himalayas by causing major landslides. It also hampers tourism in these seasons. Due to this, people prefer trekking and mountaineering in the spring season (April/May) or the autumn season (October/November).
There are five seasons in the southern Himalayas- summer, monsoon, autumn (or post-monsoon), winter, and spring.
The Climate of the Himalayas on the Western Side
In the extreme western part of the Himalayas i.e. to the west of the Kashmir Valley and the Indus Valley, the monsoon is not a characteristic of the climate. The highest precipitation is observed in the months of the spring season. In Srinagar, 723 mm (28 in) of rainfall is observed. This is close to half of the rainfall in locations like Shimla and Kathmandu. The wettest months in the western side of the Himalayas are March and April.
The Climate of the Himalayas on the Northern Side
The Tibetan Himalayas often referred to as the Northern side of the Himalayas, are dry, cold, and see a lot of wind. The climate on the western side of the Tibetan Himalayas is almost cold desert-like. The vegetation is thinly dispersed. The winters here are bitterly cold. Whatever precipitation is seen in this region is observed in the form of snow, particularly around the late winter and spring months.
Religion in the Himalayas
Various religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism dominate different parts of the Himalayas. Paro Taktsang in the Himalayas of Bhutan is believed to be the founding place of Buddhism in Bhutan.
In the Kashmir region of the Himalayas, both the Muslim and Hindu faith is seen.
In Hindu mythology, the Himalayas have always been portrayed as the king of all mountains. They are often referred to as "Giriraj Himavat" - father of two deities of Hindus- Ganga and Parvati.
There are various Vajrayana Buddhists in the Himalayas. These sites are present in Tibet, Bhutan, and in the Indian regions of Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Spiti, and Darjeeling.
Tibet is the region in the Himalayas where the influence of Buddhism is most dominant. There are approximately 6,000 monasteries in Tibet. Tibet is also the home to the Dalai Lama. Several monasteries are there in Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh.
Culture in the Himalayas
There are 4 distinct cultural groups in the Himalayas. They are Hindus, Buddhists, Islamic, and Animists. These four cultural groups have assimilated in a few parts of the Himalayas. This has created unique cultures around the Himalayas. However, mostly the arrangement of the cultures of these various groups is linked to specific geographical regions.
The Culture of Jainism in the Himalayas
There are many cultural aspects of the Himalayas. Mount Ashtapad in the Himalayas is a sacred place for adherents of people of Jainism. In this mountain, the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhdeva is believed to have attained moksha.
Legend has it that the son of Rishabhdev -Emperor Bharata Chakravartin- built three stupas and twenty-four shrines of the 24 Tirthankaras. The idols were also ornately designed with precious stones over these shrines and were called Sinhnishdha.
The Culture of Hinduism in the Himalayas
The Himalayas, as regarded by the Hindus, are the father of the goddess Parvati and the river Ganga (or the Ganges). The temples of Pashupatinath and Muktinath are two places for the Hindu pilgrimage in the Himalayan region. These places are also often referred to as Saligrama, which are sacred black rocks.
The Culture of Buddhism in the Himalayas
The Himalayas also have a great historical significance for Buddhists. Paro Taktsang has a special place in the history of Bhutanese Buddhism. This place is regarded as the one where Buddhism started in Bhutan.
Muktinath, which is revered by Hindus, is also religiously significant for Tibetan Buddhists. The folklore of Tibetan Buddhism has it that the trees in the poplar grove that are present in Muktinath came from the walking sticks of eighty-four ancient Indian Buddhist magicians. Saligrams, in the Buddhist traditions, are believed to be representatives of Gawo Jagpa- the Tibetan serpent deity.
Diversity in the Culture of the Himalayas
The culture of the people in the Himalayas is also reflected in their architecture, languages, dialects, beliefs, rituals, and clothing. The architecture of the houses of the people in the Himalayas mirrors their needs as well as beliefs.
The Himalayan people carve some wonderful handwoven textiles to display colors and patterns. These textiles and their intricacies are unique to their ethnic backgrounds, truly reflecting their culture.
Finally, jewelry is also another indication of the culture of the people in the Himalayas. The Rai and Limbu women (in the Himalayas of Nepal) decorate themselves with big gold earrings and nose rings. This is a reflection of their wealth and prosperity.
Tourism in the Himalayas
Due to its awesome geography, towering mountains, picturesque lakes, and unique culture, the Himalayas are a popular place for travelers.
Trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal
Nepal is a country with some of the best trekking trails in the world. These trails take you to many of the highest peaks in the world. Nepal is home to 8 out of the 14 peaks that are more than 8000 meters in the Himalayas.
The Everest region and Annapurna Region are the most popular places for trekking in Nepal. These regions see the most number of trekkers in Nepal. These regions are filled with views of many mountain ranges like the Mahalangur range, Annapurna, and Dhaulagiri range.
These two regions are culturally rich with monasteries and temples like Tengboche Monastery and Muktinath temple. Besides, these places also have some of the most wonderful lakes like Khayer Lake, Tilicho Lake, and Gokyo lakes.
There are plenty of other places in the Himalayas of Nepal where you can trek to. These places include off-the-beaten-track destinations like Kanchenjunga Base Camp, Langtang Region, Manaslu Region, and the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in Nepal- Rara Lake.
Touring the Himalayas of Tibet
The Himalayas of Tibet also have tremendous beauty in the various lakes, glaciers, and mountains. In addition, there is a cool way of getting to the Base Camp of Mt. Everest on a road trip.
Tibet is also known as the “Water Tower of Asia”. Tibet is also home to some of the most picturesque lakes in the world like Mansarovar, Qinghai, Namtso, Pangong Tso, and Rakshastal.
You can also go to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Norbulingka, Potala Palace, and Jokhang Temple in the Himalayas of Tibet. Potala Palace, which was the residence of Dalai Lama in the past, built on the side of Ri Marpo ( Red Mountain) is another very important of the Himalayas of Tibet.
Finally, you can also get to see some of the most beautiful artifacts while you are in Tibet. Thangka paintings, frescoes, Woodblock printing, coral prayer beads, and statues of Buddha are the various forms of artifacts in Tibet.
Touring the Himalayas of Bhutan
Bhutan is another of the countries that are gifted with the cultural as well as the natural beauty of the Himalayas. The fact that Bhutan is a carbon-negative country also gives it a beautiful atmosphere touch.
The Himalayas of Bhutan have a lot of places that are ideal for the tourism industry. These places include Tiger’s Nest Monastery (n Paro at an altitude of 3120 meters), Memorial Chorten, Zilukha Nunnery, Takin Sanctuary, Textile Museum, Heritage Museum, Traditional School of arts & crafts and Tashichho Dzong
Mountaineering in the Himalayas
Mountaineering in the Himalayas has always brought many travelers to the various countries across which the Himalayas exist. Many people like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa achieved immortality for being the first people to climb Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953.
This has brought many other mountaineers and fame-seekers to scale the various mountains of the Himalayas. After scaling Everest, many people reached the highest points of other tall mountain peaks like K2 (Godwin Austen), Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, etc.
Annapurna, however, was climbed before Everest. Two French citizens- M. Herzog and L. Lachenal were the first people to climb Everest on June 3, 1950.
Many famous peaks in the Himalayas are forbidden to climb. These peaks include Mt. Machhapuchhre, Mt. Kanchenjunga, and Mt. Kailash. All of these mountains are of grave religious significance to the people of various tribes, ethnicities, and cultures.
Flora and Fauna of the Himalayas
The climate of the Himalayas differs according to its altitudes. There is a tropical climate at the base of the Himalayas whereas there are perennial ice and snow at the highest altitude of the Himalayas. The types of flora and fauna also vary according to climate and vegetation.
Animals of the Himalayas
Various exotic and endangered animals like the snow leopard, endemic Bharal or Himalayan blue sheep, the Himalayan musk deer, Himalayan tahr, the takin, the Himalayan serow, the Himalayan goral, brown bear, Asian black bear, Red panda, etc are found in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet.
Plants of the Himalayas
Hydrangea Hirta, oak forests, pine forests, rhododendrons, apple and box myrtle, and Juniperus Tibetica are some of the most popular species of plants found in the Himalayas. These plants are also protected in various conservation areas in the Himalayas including Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), Sagarmatha National Park, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, etc.
The Himalayas are located in the subcontinent. They have been a source of natural beauty comprising mountains, lakes, glaciers, rivers, plants, and animals. The Himalayas are also a rich source of cultural and historical learning. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas or explore the various places here, you can contact Sublime Trails. We will help you customize your trips so that you can enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the Himalayas. If you want to explore the real Himalayas in the Everest region in one day you can book our Everest base camp helicopter tour.