AskDefine | Define himalayas

Dictionary Definition

Himalayas n : a mountain range extending 1500 miles on the border between India and Tibet; this range contains the world's highest mountain [syn: Himalaya Mountains, the Himalaya]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl sa sc=Deva, from sc=Deva + sc=Deva.

Proper noun

  1. A mountain range of south-central Asia extending about 2,414 km (1,500 mi) through Kashmir, northern India, southern Xizang (Tibet), Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan; includes nine of the world’s ten highest peaks, including Mount Everest.


a mountain range of south-central Asia

Extensive Definition

Above the tree line are the Northwestern, Western, and Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows, which yield to tundra in the higher Himalayan range. The alpine meadows are the summer habitat of the endangered Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia).

Origins and growth

The Himalayas are among the youngest mountain ranges on the planet. 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 called 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/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/year, and over the next 10 million years it will travel about 1,500 km into Asia. About 20 mm/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/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.

Glaciers and river systems

The Himalayan range encompasses about 15,000 glaciers, which store about 12,000 km3 of freshwater. The 70 km long Siachen Glacier at the India-Pakistan border is the second longest glacier in the world outside the polar region. Some of the other more 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 for 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 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 Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin. Its two main rivers are the Ganga and the Brahma and the Yamuna among 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 Ganga and the Brahmaputra meet in Bangladesh, and drain into the Bay of Bengal through the world's largest river delta.
The eastern-most 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, the Yangtze and the 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. 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. Although the effect of this won't 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.
According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the sources of Asia's biggest rivers could disappear by 2035 as temperatures rise and India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades. In India alone, the Ganga provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.


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. The largest lake is the Pangong Tso, which is spread across the border between India and Tibet. It is situated at an altitude of 4,600 m, and is 8 km wide and nearly 134 km long. A notable high (but not the highest) lake is the Gurudogmar in North Sikkim at an altitude of 5,148 m (16,890 ft) (altitude source: SRTM). Other major lakes include the Tsongmo lake, near the Indo-China border in Sikkim(India), and Tilicho lake in Nepal in the Annapurna massif, a large lake in an area that was closed to outsiders until recently.
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. For more information about these, see here.

Impact on climate

The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. They prevent frigid, dry Arctic winds from 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 deserts.
The mountain ranges also prevent western winter disturbances from Iran from traveling further, resulting in snow in Kashmir and rainfall for parts of Punjab and northern India. Despite being a barrier to the cold northernly winter winds, the Brahmaputra valley receives part of the frigid winds, thus lowering the temperature in the northeast Indian states and Bangladesh. These winds also cause the North East monsoon during this season for these parts.
In turn, the weather phenomenon called Jet Stream affects our image of the highest peaks on earth. The strong stream of winds from the west pass through Everest, creating a familiar plume of snows blowing from the summit, and visible from a great distance.

Mountain passes

The rugged terrain of the Himalaya makes few routes through the mountains possible. Some of these routes include:

Impact on politics and culture

It should be noted that almost half of the humans and livestock of India live on one-third of the landscape within 500km of the Himalayan range.(pdf,3mb)
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.


Himal is Nepalese for "snow-covered mountain" and is used to name the various mountains of the Himalayas. In Nepal, these are as follows:
  • Sagarmatha Himal
  • Annapurna Himal
  • Ganesh Himal
  • Langtang Himal
  • Manaslu Himal
  • Rolwaling Himal
  • Jugal Himal
  • Gauri Sankar Himal
  • Kanjirowa Himal
  • Khumbu Himal
  • Dhaulagiri Himal

Notable Peaks of the Himalayan System (includes outlying ranges)

Notable Himalayan mountaineers

  • George Mallory (1886–1924) Attempt at first ascent of Mount Everest; died on North Face.
  • Noel Odell (1890–1987) British. First ascent, in 1936, of Nanda Devi, which remained the highest summited peak until 1950.
  • Bill Tilman (1898–1977) British. First ascent of Nanda Devi in 1936. In 1934, first person to penetrate Nanda Devi sanctuary
  • Frank Smythe (1900–1949) British. Mount Blank, Kamet, and early attempt on Kangchenjunga.
  • Eric Shipton (1907–1977) British. With Bill Tillman, first to penetrate Nanda Devi sanctuary. Discovered route to Everest over Khumbu Glacier.
  • John Hunt (1910–1998) British. Leader of 1953 expedition of Mount Everest.
  • Tenzing Norgay (1914–1986) Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer. First man on Everest's summit along with Edmund Hillary.
  • Maurice Herzog (b. 1919) First person to summit an Eight-thousander, Annapurna, in 1950. Lost all toes and most fingers due to frostbite. Peak not climbed again until 1970.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary (1919–2008) New Zealand mountaineer and explorer, the first man on Everest's summit along with Tenzing Norgay.
  • Tom Bourdillon (1924–1956) member of British Everest expeditions 1951, 1952, and 1953, reached from summit of Everest three days before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally conquered it.
  • Hermann Buhl (1924–1957) First ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953 (feat accomplished solo and without oxygen). First ascent of Broad Peak. Died in fall on Chogolisa, body never found.
  • Willi Unsoeld (1926–1979) United States. First ascent of Everest from West Face, 1963. Daughter Nanda Devi Unsoeld killed during Nanda Devi expedition 1976. Died during avalanche on Mount Ranier, 1979.
  • Chris Bonington (b. 1934) First ascent of Annapurna (South Face), 4 ascents of Everest.
  • Nawang Gombu (b. 1936) Indian mountaineer. First person to climb Everest twice: 1963 and 1965.
  • Jim Whittaker (b. 1936) United States. First American to summit Everest.
  • Reinhold Messner (born 1944) Italian mountaineer. First man to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders.
  • Jerzy Kukuczka (1948–1989) Polish mountaineer. Ascended all fourteen eight-thousanders faster than anybody else, establishing ten new routes.
  • Nazir Sabir Pakistani mountaineer. First ascent of two eight thousanders (Broad Peak & Gasherbrum II) in a single attempt.
  • Swami Sundaranand (b. 1926 India) Climbed 25 mountains with little or no equipment from 1950-1990 to experience open eyed Samadhi using the ancient techniques of the Himalayan Yogis. Noted also for his extensive photography of the Indian Himalayas. Land has been secured in Gangotri, India, for a museum dedicated to his rare Himalayan photos and documentation of the Himalayan Glaciers with a special emphasis on environmental protection of the region.
  • Jaime Viñals First Central American person to climb Mount Everest.
  • Casey Mackins An English mountaineer who climbed Mt Everest by a new route without oxygen from Tibet in 1984 and then again from Nepal in 1990 during his famous Sea to Summit expedition where he became the first person to climb Everest starting from sea level (the Bay of Bengal).
  • José Antonio Delgado Sucre(1965–2006) was the first Venezuelan mountaineer to reach the summit of five eight-thousanders. He was one of the most experienced climbers in Latin America. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela.
  • Ed Viesturs (b. June 22, 1959) is the first American, and 12th person overall, to summit all fourteen mountains over 8000 meters (collectively known as the eight-thousanders), and the sixth climber to do it without bottled oxygen.
  • Pemba Dorjie (born c. 1977) a Sherpa who currently holds the world record for the quickest climb to the summit of Mount Everest from camp. On May 21, 2004 Dorjie set that record, with a total time of 8 hours and 10 minutes.
  • Appa Sherpa (born c. 1960) On May 16, 2007, successfully summited Mt. Everest for the 18th time, breaking his own record for most successful ascents.
  • Krzysztof Wielicki (born 1950) Polish mountaineer, the fifth man to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders. Three of them (Mount Everest, Kangchenjunga and Lhotse) he ascended as the first man ever to do it in winter.


Several places in the Himalaya are of religious significance in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the Himalaya have also been personified as the god Himavat, the father of Shiva's consort, Parvati.
  • Haridwar, the place where the river Ganga enters the plains.
  • Badrinath, a temple dedicated to Vishnu.
  • Kedarnath, where one of the 12 Jyotirlingas is located.
  • Gaumukh, the source of the Bhagirathi (and hence, by extension, the Ganga), located a few miles above the town of Gangotri.
  • Deoprayag, where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi merge to form the Ganga.
  • Rishikesh, has a temple of Lakshmana.
  • Mount Kailash, a 6,638 m high peak which is the abode of the Hindu Gods Shiva and Uma and is also venerated by Buddhists. The peak is forbidden to climb, it is so scared it is circled at its base. Lake Manasarowar lies at the base of Mount Kailash, and is the source of the Brahmaputra.
  • Amarnath, has a natural Shiva linga of ice which forms for a few weeks each year. Thousands of people visit this cave during these few weeks.
  • The Vaishno Devi is a popular shrine among Durga devotees.
  • A number of Tibetan Buddhist sites are situated in the Himalaya, including the residence of the Dalai Lama.
  • The Yeti is one of the most famous creatures in cryptozoology. It is a large primate-like creature that is supposed to live in the Himalaya. Most mainstream scientists and experts consider current evidence of the Yeti's existence unpersuasive, and the result of hoaxes, legend or misidentification of mundane creatures.
  • Shambhala is a mystical city in Buddhism with various legends associated with it. While some legends consider it to be a real city where secret Buddhist doctrines are being preserved, other legends believe that the city does not physically exist and can only be reached in the mental realm.
  • Sri Hemkund Sahib - Sikh gurudwara where Guru Gobind Singh is claimed to have meditated and achieved enlightenment in a previous incarnation.



The Himalayan Journal published by Himalayan Club

Further reading

  • Swami Sundaranand Himalaya: Through the Lens of a Sudu Published by Tapovan Kuti Prakashan (August 2001) ISBN 81-901326-0-1
  • Michael Palin, Himalaya, Weidenfeld Nicolson Illustrated (2004) ISBN 0-297-84371-0
  • John Hunt, Ascent of Everest, Hodder & Stoughton (1956) ISBN 0-89886-361-9
  • Everest, the IMAX movie (1998), ISBN 0-7888-1493-1
  • Swami Tapovan Maharaj Wanderings in the Himalayas, English Edition, Pulished by Chinmaya Publication Trust, Madras-3 (1960) translated by T.N. Kesava Pillai, M.A.

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