People live in the Himalayas
The mightiest mountain range on earth
The name "Hima'al-aya" comes from Sanskrit and means "home of snow". The high mountains of the Himalayas extend from east to west in a slight semicircle over 2500 kilometers. The mountains run along the Indian-Chinese border, bordering five countries: Pakistan, India, China, Nepal and Bhutan.
The so-called "roof of the world" consists not only of high peaks but also of fertile high plateaus. More than 50 million people live here - many from agriculture, but tourism has also become a lucrative source of income.
The continental plates of Asia and India collided 40 to 50 million years ago, creating the first mountains in what is now the Himalayan region. But it wasn't until two million years ago that the mountains began to pile up to their present height, when the Indian plate was pushed further and further below the Asian continental margin.
The incredible force with which the continental plates are still pushed together ensures that the Himalayas continue to grow - up to two centimeters a year. This also causes frequent earthquakes in the region. These seismic tremors make the Himalayas a dangerous habitat for its inhabitants.
If you add the peaks of the Karakoram mountain region in Kashmir, all 14 eight-thousanders in the world are located in the Himalayas, including the highest mountain in the world - Mount Everest at 8,848 meters - and hundreds of peaks over 7,000 meters high.
The mountains of the Karakoram are part of the Himalayan system, but are seen by many as a mountain range in their own right.
Settlement of the Himalayas
The ancient holy scriptures of India date the colonization of the Himalayas to around 2000 BC. However, there is still speculation about the origin of the first settlers. Presumably it was Indo-European peoples who came from the steppes of Central Asia.
From the 15th century onwards, two powerful currents acted on the hill tribes in the Himalayas. The Hindu influence from the south competed with the Buddhist teachings of the Tibetan peoples from the north.
In the western part of the Himalayas, in the Ladakh and Zanskar regions, the Tibetans became predominant, they also invaded Nepal. A number of Tibetan feudal states emerged, including Dolpo, Mustang and Khumbu. These regions still exist today.
Over the decades, the Hindu princes of the plains and the Tibetan royal families continued to strengthen their political power. The residents were the ones to suffer, they were massively exploited.
The colonial powers came to the Himalayas in the middle of the 19th century. They also tried to influence the mountain people. Great Britain, Russia and China tried to expand their domains.
The British shaped life in Nepal and Bhutan in particular. The region was opened to colonial trade, and the British used the Silk Road network as trade routes. In India they introduced the tea plantations in Darjeeling and the apple groves in Himachal Pradesh.
It was only with Indian independence in 1947 that the peoples of the Himalayas were largely liberated from colonial rule. Since then, countries like Nepal and Bhutan have tried more or less successfully to pursue their own political course.
However, the neighboring states of China, India and Pakistan repeatedly influence political events in the Himalayan region.
Mixing of cultures
Three important cultures meet in the Himalayas: the Buddhist monastery culture of Tibet, the Islamic societies - especially from Pakistan - and the Hindu culture of India. The Hindus understand the Himalayas as the northern border of Bharatavarsha, as the holy northern India was called earlier.
The Buddhists, on the other hand, regard the mountains as a sacred land, in which places of legendary primal power contain knowledge that is reserved for people with the appropriate spiritual training. Finally, in the Indus Mountains to the west, Muslims claim an area in which the holy places of their ancestors are located; therefore there are numerous mosques there.
A large number of local cultures result from the intermingling of these different traditions. The mixing of Tibetan, Muslim and Hindu influences is most clearly visible in Nepal to this day.
Hinduism dominates in Nepal's lowlands and low mountain ranges, Buddhism in the high regions and there are also a few smaller Muslim groups here and there. According to a 2001 census, Nepal comprises around 75 different ethnic groups and more than 52 languages and dialects.
The spirituality of the Himalayan mountains
Travelers who visit the Himalayas often experience their very special spirituality and close connection with the mountains from the inhabitants of the region. The Hindus, for example, who live in the north and south of the gigantic mountain tops, see the Himalayas as the home of the gods. They believe that the great deities of Tibet and India live there and influence one another.
The heights of the mountains connect the spiritual with the earthly space - heaven with earth. For example, the deity Shiva resides on the summit of Mount Kailash, which is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists.
Many pilgrims to what is probably the most sacred mountain in the Himalayas to go around it. For Buddhists, the 108-fold circumnavigation of the mountain is considered the path to immediate enlightenment.
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