India is home to one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the Himalaya Mountains, which boast the world’s highest and most famous mountain peak, Mt. Everest.
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.
Himalayan National Park
Characterized by dazzling high ridges, glaciers, deep gorges, alpine meadows and valleys with closed virgin forests, the Great Himalayan National Park with an altitudinal variation from 1,300m to 6,100m in Kullu district is one of the best destinations for Himalayan flora and fauna lovers. Supporting a diverse wildlife of over three hundred species of birds and over thirty species of mammals, the region was declared a national park in 1984.
One third of the park area is under forest, mainly along the Nalas and their tributaries. The forests vary from sub-tropical, to alpine, to dry alpine shrub types. Himalayan forests of ‘Chir’ Pines, Conifers, Oaks, Firs, Rhododendrons and Junipers can be encountered within the park. The presence of undisturbed Oak forests at low and middle altitudes is worth noticing here, for it is rare outside the park. Alpine meadows above 3,800m hold a high diversity of herbaceous species, many of which have medicinal and aromatic properties of great commercial value.
The excellent habitat shelters a large number of mammals and peasants. One of the few known viable populations of Western Tragopan, a highly endangered species of pheasants, lives in this protected environment. It is possibly the only place in the Himalayas where the ‘Bharal’ (blue sheep) occurs virtually side-by-side with the Himalayan ‘Thar’. The largest population of the Himalayan Thar endemic to India is in this park. The endangered Musk Deer can also be found here. Herdsmen have also reported the elusive and highly endangered Snow Leopard
The best seasons for visiting the park are summer from April to June and autumn from September to November. The relatively high density of wildlife in the area assures the visitors of sighting the Monal, Western Tragopan, Musk Deer, Goral, Bharal, and the Himalayan Thar. The rainy season from July to August and the winter season from December to March are not advisable periods to visit the park.
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