The middle himalayas : Pir Panjal range
One of the world’s longest mountain chains , the Himalayas stretch nearly 2,600 kilometres – from Afghanistan through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and parts of Myanmar, to Tibet. The main Himalayan range remains snow-bound throughout the year, and holds nine of the world’s ten highest mountains. The highest – Mount Everest – is at 29, 029 feet , the highest mountain in the world, and still rising. These mountains, formed as the Indian land mass slides under the Eurasian land mass, are the source of seven major rivers – all flowing through the Indian subcontinent – and feeding a quarter of the world’s population.
This blog describes the region of these mighty ranges known as the Western Himalayas. These consist of three distinct mountain ranges separated from one another by wide valleys of great beauty. The range south of the main himalayan range is the Pir Panjal range, stretching from the state of Kashmir through Himachal into Utaranchal. The southern-most range is the Dauladhar range stretching from Himachal in the west to the Garhwal Himalayas in the east. One gets from one valley to the other through mountain passes, some over 17,000 feet high. In the Pir Panjal range Mount Kailash rises to 21,570 feet. This mountain is sacred to the Hindus as it is believed to be the abode of the destroyer Shiva, his spouse Parvati, and their children.
Baspa : tributary of the Sutlej
Far below rush hundreds of small and large snow-fed streams which form tributaries of the four great rivers that flow through north-west India—Chenab , Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The Chenab originates in the Lahaul and Spiti region of Himachal, winds northward into the state of Jammu and Kashmir and goes on to meet the Indus river in Pakistan. The Ravi originates in a glacier in the mid Himalayan range, flows through Jammu and Kashmir and joins the Indus. The Beas originates in the Kulu region of Himachal, flows just south of the Dauladhar range, past the residence of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Kangra district, through the state of Punjab where it joins the Sutlej and eventually the Indus. ( It was on the banks of this river that Alexander the Great gave up his dream of the conquest of India ). The Sutlej originates in Tibet , flows through the Kinnaur region of Himachal, through Punjab and goes on to meet the Indus.
As one motors through the sharply winding roads of the state of Himachal , one cannot but notice the steep inclines of the hills and mountains. These inclines often go up at an angle of 85 degrees and demonstrate dramatically the folding of the earth’s crust as the land masses mentioned earlier press against each other, culminating in the last fold – the main Himalayan range. It is hard to believe that all this was once ocean floor. Nonetheless, the sedimentary and metamorphic rocks thrown up by the great collision provide ideal soil for the cultivation of many types of fruits, particularly apples. The trees have to be grown on steps, some just 6 feet wide, cut into the hillsides. Transporting the harvests up these steep hillsides to the motorable road high above is done through small cable cars .
Where the land has not been cleared for cultivation, temperate forests abound . The trees are mainly coniferous – pine, spruce, fir& cypress – with deodhar and the colourful rhododendrons being ever present. Apart from the beauty they impart to the mountain slopes, these trees perform the vital function of retaining the soil and boulders that constitute this very steep terrain . One can see the effects of indiscriminate deforestation in the massive landslides that have rolled boulders the size of small houses into the rivers and streams below.
These snow fed rivers and streams are home to two species of trout. They are not large fish but certainly among the most flavor-ful I have ever tasted. Some of these fish are grown in small trout farms , next to streams. The modus operandi is to direct some of the fast flowing, oxygen rich water through small tanks constructed on the stream edges, and containing fish fry in various stages of growth. Thereafter, the water is re-directed back into the stream
I spent some time in a small resort on the banks of the Tirthan river — tributary of the Sutlej, in Kulu district. Eight kilometers up what passes for a road, was the Great Himalayan National Park. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and covers 1170 square kilometers on the slopes of the Dauladhar range. The park gate is at 5000 feet, the park rises sharply to 19,500 feet, and the entire area is thickly forested, with some alpine meadows in the higher reaches. Since only the hardiest of trekkers attempt to reach and make a full crossing of the park, this is one park that is free of the usual hordes of visitors. I have rarely seen a wild-life sanctuary so pristine and so beautiful. Over 180 species of birds are to be seen , including the rare and very colourful Western Tragopan , Monal and Kaleej, Cheer, and Kokash pheasants. Equally rare are the Blue sheep , Musk deer and the elusive Snow leopard – 31 species of mammals in all.
Great Himalayan National Park
Paradise fly catcher
All valleys and foothills of the Himalayan ranges are extremely beautiful. However, it is the western himalayas, particularly in Himachal, that present them in their best light, thus making them truly the abode of the Gods.
( The mountain ranges continue north of the himalayas, into central Asia. In this region, generally known as Bactria, history has been made and re-made since ancient times, and will be the subject of my next blog . Stay posted ).