The Himalayan mountain range stretches from Kashmir in the west to Burma in the east, in a vast arc across the north of the Indian subcontinent. It effectively divides the plains of North India from the high altitude plateau of Tibet.
Geologically, the Himalayas represent the point of collision between the tectonic plate of India and the Asian continent. When two continental plates collide, they push upwards to form a mountain range. The Himalayas are thus the result of violent tectonic action, and are characteristically jagged and lofty as a result. The reason for their extraordinary height is attributed to the fact that this collision took place only recently when measured in geological terms (between 40 and 50 million years ago). The mountains are thus very young and have not had time to erode down to more modest levels.
View to the Himalayas, near Simla, Himachal Pradesh.
Because of the violence of this collision, the depth of the mountain range that makes up the Himalayan range is in excess of 200 miles through most of its length. This has in turn created a unique environment with its own plants and animals. Human societies in these regions are similarly distinctive, with cultural traditions unique to the region.
The Himalayas and water
Environmentally, the Himalayas play a remarkable role. The snows melt in summer (from mid April until July), feeding the great river systems of the northern subcontinent with cool and abundant water. This is at a time of year when the plains are parched and dry, and when rains are not due until mid July. Similarly, when the monsoon arrives in North India, the forests of the Himalayan foothills absorb much of the surplus water, sparing the plains from extensive flooding.
The awesome dimensions of this mountain range have shaped beliefs and culture throughout the region. Hinduism accords enormous importance to the Himalayas, the lofty abode of the gods, through myths, beliefs, legend and folklore.