Himalayas: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal + Chinese Tibet

Tawang, India. As I sit here at 10,000 feet on the veranda overlooking the cloud-covered mountain range before me, I study over my books on this spectacular mountain range. I am a long way from New York.  Let me share with you what I am learning!

The Himalayas is a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has many of Earth’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest (today’s Nepal and China). The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 23,600 feet.

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The Himalayas are inhabited by over 50 million people spread across five countries: Bhutan, China (including Tibet), India, Nepal and Pakistan. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal and the largest city in the Himalayas. Some of the world’s major rivers – the Indus, the Ganges and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra – rise in the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to roughly 600 million people.

The Himalayan population belongs to four distinct cultural groups, who throughout history have systematically penetrated the isolated indigenous Himalayan population. Those migrating cultures – Hindu (Indian), Buddhist (Tibetan), Islamic (Afghanistan–Iranian) and Animist (Burmese and southeast Asian) – have created here their own individual and unique place. Their current arrangement, though with a few exceptions, is linked to specific geographical regions, and the relative altitude at which they occur.

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A number of Vajrayana Buddhist sites are situated in the Himalayas, in Tibet, Bhutan and in the Indian regions of Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Spiti and Darjeeling. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, including the residence of the Dalai Lama. Bhutan, Sikkim and Ladakh are also dotted with numerous monasteries. The Tibetan Muslims have their own mosques in Lhasa and Shigatse.

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The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the region, helping to keep the monsoon rains on the Indian plain and limiting rainfall on the Tibetan plateau. The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, with many Himalayan peaks considered sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism.

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The name of the range derives from the Sanskrit Himālaya (हिमालय, “Abode of Snow”), from himá (हिम, “snow”) and ā-laya (आलय, “receptacle, dwelling”). They are now known as the “Himalaya Mountains,” or simply the “Himalayas.” Formerly, they were described in the singular as the Himalaya. This was also previously transcribed Himmaleh, as in Emily Dickinson’s poetry[ and Henry David Thoreau’s essays.

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The mountains are known as the Himālaya in both Nepali and Hindi (both written हिमालय), the Himalaya (ཧི་མ་ལ་ཡ་) or ‘The Land of Snow’ (གངས་ཅན་ལྗོངས་) in Tibetan, the Himāliyah Mountain Range (Urdu: سلسلہ کوہ ہمالیہ‎) in Urdu and the Ximalaya Mountain Range (Chinese: 喜马拉雅山脉; pinyin: Xǐmǎlāyǎ Shānmài) in Chinese.

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The eastern side of Kanchenjunga is in the Indian state of Sikkim. Formerly an independent Kingdom, it lies on the main route from India to Lhasa, Tibet, which passes over the Nathu La pass into Tibet. East of Sikkim lies the ancient Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan.

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The Himalayas continue, turning slightly northeast, through the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh where Tawang lies, as well as Tibet, before reaching their easterly conclusion in the peak of Namche Barwa, situated in Tibet inside the great bend of the Yarlang Tsangpo river.

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Further west, the border with India follows the Sarda River and provides a trade route into China, where on the Tibetan plateau lies the high peak of Gurla Mandhata. Just across Lake Manasarovar from this lies the sacred Mount Kailash, which stands close to the source of the four main rivers of Himalayas and is revered in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Jainism, and Bonpo.

In the newly created Indian state of Uttarakhand, the Himalayas rise again as the Garhwal Himalayas with the high peaks of Nanda Devi and Kamet. The state is also an important pilgrimage destination, with the source of the Ganges at Gangotri and the Yamuna at Yamunotri, and the temples at Badrinath and Kedarnath.

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The next Himalayan Indian state, Himachal Pradesh, it is noted for its hill stations, particularly Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj, and Dharamshala, the center of the Tibetan community in exile in India. This area marks the start of the Punjab Himalaya and the Sutlej river, the most easterly of the five tributaries of the Indus, cuts through the range here.

Further west, the Himalayas form most of the southern portion of the Indian administered State of Jammu & Kashmir. The twin peaks of Nun Kun are the only mountains over 7,000 m (4.3 mi) in this part of the Himalayas. Beyond lies the renown Kashmir Valley and the town and lakes of Srinagar. Finally, the Himalayas reach their western end in the dramatic 26,000-foot peak of Nanga Parbat, which rises above the Indus valley.

The western end terminates at a magnificent point near Nanga Parbat (“Killer Mountain”) where the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindu Kush ranges intersects. It’s situated in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

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The great ranges of central Asia, including the Himalayas, contain the third-largest deposit of ice and snow in the world, after Antarctica and the Arctic. The Himalayan range encompasses about 15,000 glaciers, which store about 2,900 square miles of fresh water. Its glaciers include the Gangotri and Yamunotri (Uttarakhand) and Khumbu glaciers (Mount Everest region), Langtang glacier (Langtang region) and Zemu (Sikkim).

In recent years, scientists have monitored a notable increase in the rate of glacier retreat across the region as a result of climate change. For example, glacial lakes have been forming rapidly on the surface of 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 during the dry seasons.

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The vast size, huge altitude range and complex topography of the Himalayas mean they experience a wide range of climates, from humid subtropical in the foothills to cold, dry desert conditions on the Tibetan side of the range. For much of Himalayas – that on the south side of the high mountains, except in the furthest west, the most characteristic feature of the climate is the monsoon.

Heavy rain arrives on the south-west monsoon in June and persists until September. The monsoon can seriously impact transport and cause major landslides. It restricts tourism – the trekking and mountaineering season is limited to either before the monsoon in April/May or after the monsoon in October/November (autumn). The best time to visit Tawang in India is said to be October, November and December; these are the months helicopter service is most available. In Nepal and Sikkim, there are often considered to be five seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn (or post-monsoon), winter and spring.

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The northern side of the Himalayas, also known as the Tibetan Himalaya, is dry, cold and generally wind swept particularly in the west where it has a cold desert climate. The vegetation is sparse and stunted and the winters are severely cold. Most of the precipitation in the region is in the form of snow during late winter and spring months.

The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan Plateau. They prevent frigid, dry 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.

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At high altitudes, the elusive and previously endangered snow leopard is the main predator. Its prey includes members of the goat family grazing on the alpine pastures and living on the rocky terrain, notably the endemic bharal or Himalayan blue sheep. The Himalayan musk deer is also found at high altitude. Hunted for its musk, it is now rare and endangered.

The critically endangered Himalayan subspecies of the brown bear is found sporadically across the range as is the Asian black bear. In the mountainous mixed deciduous and conifer forests of the eastern Himalayas, Red panda feed in the dense understories of bamboo.

SERIES ON/FROM TIBET IN INDIA, SEPTEMBER 2019 IN 20 PARTS

  1. The Dalai Lama & Dr. Kazuko: A 47-Year Friendship
  2. Tibetan Children’s Village: Step One to Success
  3. India: Great Protector of the Tibetan People
  4. With Incredible Tibetan Orphans, Reflecting on How I Got Here
  5. Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India
  6. Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery 
  7. First Trip to Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas
  8. Dharamshala for Americans: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Hometown
  9. Himalayas: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal + Chinese Tibet
  10. Himalayas: Once Greater Tibet, Now Tragically Divided 
  11. Meet American Lobsang Sangay, President of Tibet
  12. Dr. Kazuko: Planning Nine Orphanages Globally Through Gaia
  13. Viewpoint: Whatever Faith Tradition, It’s All About Kindness
  14. Orphanage Burns in Indonesia; Matt Luce Pledges to Rebuild
  15. At Fifty, I Gave Away My Wealth; at Sixty, My Possessions
  16. Autumn Elegant Evening to Highlight Charity Efforts Around World
  17. New Look: Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness at Tenth Year
  18. Luce Leadership Experience Looks to Israel after Greece, Indonesia Trips
  19. Charities at Twenty Confer Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Kazuko
  20. New Look: Orphans International Website Refreshed for 20th Anniversary

SERIES ON PILGRIMAGE: FOLLOWING FOOTSTEPS OF BUDDHA ACROSS INDIA IN 15 PARTS

  1. On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
  2. Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where the Prince Became The Buddha
  3. Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
  4. Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Vultures’ Peak Where Buddha Preached
  5. Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
  6. Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
  7. Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
  8. Buddhism and the Universal Concept of Social Responsibility
  9. Help Me to Support Education & Orphan Care in Bihar, India
  10. Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
  11. Yoshimitsu Nagasaka Photo Exclusive: The Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya
  12. Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
  13. On the Banks of the Ganges: Reflections of a Journey in Time
  14. My Pilgrimage Complete: Life Continues Like a Wheel
  15. Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.

SEE ALSO

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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