Dummy’s Guide to the Himalaya
THE GREAT MOUNTAIN COMPLEX OF THE HIMALAYA : The Western/ North Western Flank.
The Himalaya are a part of an extremely complex mountain system which includes the highest peaks on the planet. Created by great Tectonic plate movements millions of years ago, when the Indian plate collided with the Eurasian plate, the Himalaya are still rising. Most of the Ranges I mention below are regarded as separate ranges and are as such but in the broadest sense we have taken all the Mountain Systems between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia and refer to them as the Himalaya, the name stemming from the Sanskrit words “Him” snow and “Alay” home.
The epicenter of this system lies somewhere in between the wild mountains north of Kashmir and the nodal orogenic uplift known as the Pamir Knot in Tajikistan. From the Pamir Knot rise the great ranges of Central Asia and they meet the Great Himalaya at the epicenter. The Great mountain wilderness north of Kashmir right upto the Pamirs are till today one of the least explored region on the planet. The last great Explorers of this region were mostly Europeans in the pre – Independence era. The physical factors aside, sadly, there are political reasons today which keep a large part of this great mountain wilderness off limits to explorers.
Starting from the West, from the arid hills of Afghanistan comes the Hindu Kush. Its brown treeless slopes rise up and get higher and steeper as the approach the meeting point of the giants. The Hindu Kush still has a hint of Middle Eastern deserts even below the Glaciers of the 7708 m high Tirich Mir. The term Hindu Kush derives from Persian stands for “Hindu Killer” probably in reference to the unknown number of Indian slaves who perished in the cold and snows of these mountains while sold into slavery in the Central Asia.
To the North of the Hindu Kush lie the rounded domes of the Pamirs. This is still a mysterious and almost polar region of several mountain ranges linked together, and to other ranges, by a north-south range which includes the peak of Muztagh Ata whose name means “The Father of Snowy Mountains” standing at 7509 m. The Arabs used to refer to the Pamirs as the “Bam i Duniya” or the Roof of the World. The name Pamirs comes from the Persian reference to these mountains.
Moving eastwards of the Pamirs we have the Kun Lun. It rises over the Tarim Basin in the Takla Makan desert and rise up as it moves towards the epi center. The highest peak of the Kun Lun is the Luishi Shan standing at 7167m. Overlooking the great Silk Route of Cathay they have always been historically regarded as the southern frontier of the Chinese empire. The Kun Lun were named after a semi-mythical reference in classical Chinese texts to the source of the Yellow River.
Where all these ranges meet lies the Karakoram. Mightiest of all these ranges, they radiate from an amphitheater of peaks called Concordia which holds three of the worlds highest peaks in the world. The Karakoram is a perpendicular wilderness where only mountaineers can venture. Glaciers thirty miles long and a quarter mile deep lie in the valleys. These Glaciers here are the largest that can be found outside of the Polar regions. The highest peak of the Karakoram if of course the K2 standing at 8611 m. The name Karakoram comes from the Turkic term “Black Gravel”, Kara being the Turkic term for “Black” very similar to the Hindi “Kala”.
South of the Karakoram is the Ladakh Range which is considered a sub-range of the Karakoram itself as per Encyclopedia Brittanica though some consider it a part of the Great Himalaya. South of this Range is the Zanskar Range, which is a sub-range of the Great Himalaya, which seperates the Ladakh region from Kashmir and Jammu regions.
Joining from south west in the Mother Range the Great Himalaya, culminating in its giant sweep from across Nepal at the formidable Nanga Parbat standing at an imposing 8126 m. What makes this mountain so formidable is that it rises vertically from around the base of the Indus to its imposing height. This is same sweep of the most formidable mountains on the planet which includes the highest peak on the planet Mt. Everest. The Great Himalaya range stretches from the Nanga Parbat in the North West to the Namche Barwa in the East.The range varies in width from 400 kilometres (250 mi) in the west to 150 kilometres (93 mi) in the east.
Moving southwards we have the Pir Panjals which though considered a part of the Greater Himalaya, are as noble as a range can be and in another part of the world would have been a seperate Range itself. Though not high as per Himalayan standards it is the first snowcovered peaks tha you encounter moving up from Northern India. Compared to the barren mountains that lie north of it the Pir Panjals are all green and bountiful. The Pir Panjal gets more snow than anywhere in the Western Himalaya. The Pir Panjal gets its name from the Pir Panjal Pass, which was named according to one theory after “Five” “Panj” and “Saints” “Pir” or five pious brothers who lived around there. Another theory alludes the name to the Kashmiri word for a Pass “Pansal” and “Saint” “Pir”, a saint whose grave was supposed to be on this Pass.
South of the Pir Panjal we have the Dhauladhar Range though some consider the Dhauladhar to be a part of the Pir Panjal itself. The Dhaula Dhar is also reffered to as the Lesser Himalaya.
Finally the these Ranges give way to the gentle Sivalik Hills which finally merge into the Great Indian plains.
Major Inputs and extracts from the John Keay Classic : Where Mountains and Men Meet
PHOTO (Map) : A classical map of the Western Himalaya without national boundaries. Sourced from John Keays : Where Mountains and Men Meet :
NOTE : As mentioned before all scholars do not agree on the classification of these Ranges/ sub-Ranges. However a majority of them would agree on what I state above. The above article has been compiled from various sources.