Sunday, July 1, 2007

Where the earth meets the sky - the Himalayas.


I remember, as a kid, visiting Yellowstone National Park with my family. One of the highlights for me on that trip was a drive to neighboring Grand Teton National Park. I still remember my first sight of the Tetons on that drive. From my vantage point in the car, I could see the entire range of snow capped mountains. It was a magnificent view and obviously one that has stayed with me all these years! Over the years, I have seen many a snow capped moutain range. I had a bird's eye view of Mount St. Helen's on a flight from Vancouver to San Francisco and many a view of the Cascade Mountains, on a trip to Seattle, including its highest peak - Mount Rainier. I've been to the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, the Alps and the Andes. I have even flown in a Cessna over the snow capped volcanoes that ring Lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand.

But I have a feeling that all these experiences, as memorable as they are, will be eclipsed by seeing and being in the presence of the majestic Himalayan Range. I have deliberately timed this trip to go in the autumn as I've read that this is time of year that one can get the clearest views (i.e., not shrouded by clouds) of the mountains.

The term "Himalaya" is a Sanskrit word that means "the Abode of Snow" and was believed to be coined by ancient Indian pilgrims who travelled in these mountains.
The Himalyan Range of mountains separate the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau and stretches 2,400 km across six nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is 450km at its widest point.

The range is home to the world's highest peaks including the 14 tallest mountains in the world which are collectively referred to as the "Eight-thousanders" because they all top 8,000m in height. Included on this list, of course, is the mighty Everest which stands at an impressive 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) - nearly 5.5 miles above sea level!!

The Himalayas are also the source source of several of the world's major river systems - the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Yangtze.

The Himalayas have a major impact on the climate of both the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. The mountains prevent frigid, dry Arctic winds from blowing south into the Indian subcontinent, which keeps South Asia much warmer than corresponding temperate regions in the other continents. This explains the relatively mild temperaturs in Kathmandu in October.

The Himalayas also prevents monsoon winds from travelling northwards from the Indian subcontinent, resulting in heavy rainfall in the Terai region that spans India, Nepal and Bhutan just south of the mountains and the dry, arid terrain in the Tibetan plateau that lies north of the range.

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 that began about 70 million years ago, when the north-moving Indo-Australian Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate. The Indo-Australian plate is still moving at 67 mm/year and as a result, the Himalayas continue to rise by about 5 mm/year, making them geologically active. The movement of the continental plates also makes this region seismically active, leading to earthquakes from time to time.

Hopefully, there won't be any earthquakes happening while I'm there and I'll be able to capture that memorable moment of me standing with Everest in the backdrop!!