In a memorable verse of the ‘Kumarsambhava’, the famous Sanskrit poet Kalidasa compares the Himalaya to a gigantic measuring rod striding the earth between two oceans. The snow-capped peaks are indeed the most impressive feature. Himalaya, a Sankrit word, which means ‘ The Abode Of Snow’ and all other names used to describe this mountain range associate it with eternal snow – “Himvan”, “Himvat”, “Himachal” and “Himadri”.
Interestingly, a vast shallow sea, the Tethys, existed where the Himalaya stands today. The submerged landmasses on either side started pushing towards each other, giving birth to these mountains. This was a relatively recent occurrence in the geographical time frame, so the Himalaya is considered a young and fragile land formation.
Scientists speculate that the whole process took five to seven million years. Fossil finds at heights of over 26,000 feet support these theories. The Himalaya has risen about 6,600 feet in the past 20,000 years and continues to rise at the rate 3-4 inches a year.
No other chain can boast of peaks of 26,000 feet. In the Himalaya there are 14 such peaks and hundreds of summits over 23,000 feet high. The range of mountains stretches 1,700 miles across an area between Assam and Kashmir. In the east, Namche Barwa stands sentinel; the western extremity is guarded by the awesome Nanga Parbat.
The Himalaya is the source of many great rivers of the Indian subcontinent. The Indus or Sindhu (the river rising out of a lion’s mouth) rises in the trans-Himalayan Tibetan Plateau, as does the Brahmaputra. The Ganga and Yamuna, with their countless colourful Himalayan tributaries, are inextricably intertwined with local myths and legends.