There are a few moments in my life that have taken my breath away and seeing the Himalayas for the first time protruding through the clouds on board my Indigo flight to Srinagar definitely ranks high up there on life-changing moments.
To witness one of the most fascinating natural wonders of the world was just mesmerizing. With each passing moment, the landscape changed, and the clouds gave way to the rugged snow-capped peaks standing firm in the distance. They were close to being eye level – and if I could stick my hand out the plane window, I could surely touch them. I am not surprised why the Nepali refer to the highest peak as Sagarmatha – the “Goddess of the Universe” or “Forehead of the Sky”. To see it so close was a privilege.
It is the world’s tallest and longest mountain range spanning 2400km across 6 countries (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Afghanistan and Pakistan).
I have put together this list of a few fascinating facts about the world’s most unique mountain range that holds interesting world records, home to distinct cultures and geographical marvels, along with a few of the images I snapped over my two flights.
1. It is the Highest Mountain range in the world.
The Himalayas cover about 0.4 per cent of the surface area of the Earth. It has 30 peaks that tower over 8000m, and Mount Everest and K2 are amongst the highest.
2. It is one of the Youngest Mountain Ranges in the world.
Close to 70 million years old, the Himalayas are the youngest mountains in the world. The mountain range was formed as a result of a collision between Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates.
3. An Abode of Snow
The Himalayas was named by joining two Sanskrit words — ‘Hima’, which means snow and ‘Alaya,’ which means abode, literally meaning ‘Abode of Snow’. It is one of the few places on Earth where the snow never melts.
4. It is the Most Restless Set Of Mountains
No other mountain range moves as quickly as the Himalayas. The Indo-Australian plate is presently moving at 67 mm per year and in the next 10 million years it is calculated to travel about 1,500 km into Asia. Scientists believe that these mountains will continue to grow in size and will become taller.
5. Winter and Summer are the only 2 seasons that occur here.
Due to the length, breadth and height of the mountain range, the Himalayas have a variety of geographical landscapes. Further up in elevation, you’ll find snow-capped mountains, but travelling along the base you’ll find lush green valleys and dense jungles. This also means that there are great changes in climate.
Near the peaks, it is cold and icy. Near the bottom, the climate is wetter and warmer. During the summers, the temperature remains quite salubrious making it an excellent summer holiday getaway. In the winter season, the region receives extreme snowfall with bone-chilling temperatures.
6. The rivers formed by the Himalayas are older than the mountains themselves
The Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers all originate in the Himalayas and are older than the mountains themselves. A total of 12000 cubic kilometres of fresh water is stored within the 15,000 glaciers that are found within the Himalayan range.
7. Colored Pencils on the Peak
Tenzing Norgay from Nepal and Edmund Hillary from New Zealand were the first people to climb to the peak of Everest in 1953. The duo had a total of 15 minutes to spend on top on Everest, which, rumour has it, gave Tenzing enough time to bury his daughter’s red and blue pencils on the peak.
8. A multitude of religions
Despite the sometimes harsh conditions, Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu people reside in the Himalayas in and outside of monasteries said to be more than 1,000 years old!
9. A God by Itself
In Hindu religion, the Himalaya is known as the Giri-raj, which means the “King of the Mountains”. The Hindu people consider the Himalayas as a sacrosanct place and believe it to be the dwelling place of Gods. It has got mentioned in the epic Ramayana, Mahabharat, Rig Veda, Skanda Purana and many other Puranas.
10. There are fossilized sea creatures
Although the Himalayan Mountains were formed 70 million years ago, Everest’s history actually goes back a lot further. The limestone and sandstone rock at the summit of the mountain was once part of sedimentary layers below sea level 450 million years ago. Explorer Noel Odell first discovered the fossils embedded within Everest’s rocks in 1924, proving that the mountain had once been below sea level. The first rock specimens from Everest were brought back by Swiss climbers in 1956 and by an American climbing team in 1963.
11. Two men summited 21 times
Two Sherpas, Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi, hold the joint world record for most Everest ascents. The pair have each managed to reach the summit an impressive 21 times. Phurba reached the top of the world three times in 2007 alone, and Apa has successfully summited the mountain almost every year between 1990 and 2011.
12. Third largest deposit of snow and ice
After Antarctica and the Arctic, the Himalayan ranges is home to the third-largest deposit of snow and ice on this planet.
13. The world’s second-most virgin places
Antarctica is the least visited place on earth – the Himalayas, are the second.
14. Medicinal Herbs
There are many medical herbs of the highest degree of purity in the Himalayas. Many of these have been extensively used in Ayurveda – one of the oldest known medical systems in the world which originated in India.