Himalaya Mountain Passes

The Himalayas is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. Its revolution can be traced to the Jurassic Era (80 million years ago) when the world’s landmasses were split into two: Laurasia in the Northern hemisphere and Gondwanaland in the southern hemisphere. The landmass which is now India broke away from Gondwanaland and floated across the earth’s surface until it collided with Asia. The hard volcanic rocks of India were thrust against the soft sedimentary crust of Asia, creating the highest mountain range in the world.

Himalayan Rivers

Major Himalayan Rivers:Indus, Sutlej, Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra
Himalayan Coverage Area:2,250-km
Average Width:200-km
Himalayan Forests:Pine, Deodar, Fir, Oak, Rhododendron, Birch
Monsoon Season:Mid-June Till The End Of September

Five Sisters

Location :Indian Himalayas
Five Rivers :Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Sutlej
Ancient Names Of The Rivers : Vitasta, Askini, Irawati, Vipasha And Shatadru

Spear Headed by Glacier

Before the birth of Pakistan this configuration of rivers was one of the most magnificent features of the Indian sub-continent. Came 1947, the year of partition and roughly two thirds of the length of this river system was assigned to Pakistan. But the rivers still take birth on the Indian side and still go crashing through the Himalayas to create some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere in the world.

They are a source of life for man and beast alike, for the forests they nourish and the crops they irrigate on course. These mountain rivers have taken aeons crafting their valleys, spearheaded by glaciers, helped by natural upheavals like earthquakes and the movement of the earth’s plates and more recently, thwarted by dams and hydel projects. They command awe and reverence, not unmixed with fear.
Indian scientists studying Himalayan glaciers fear an acute shortage of natural drinking water in Himachal Pradesh state based on studies of the Beas and Baspa basins from 1962 to 2001.
About 67 percent of the nearly 12,124 square miles of Himalayan glaciers are receding and in the long run as the ice diminishes, glacial runoffs in summer and river flows will also go down, leading to severe water shortages in the region.

The Gangotri glacier, the source of the Ganga, India’s holiest river, is retreating 75 feet a year. And the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal, where Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay began their ascent of Everest, has lost more than 3 miles since they climbed the mountain in 1953.

Main Himalaya Range

This is the principal mountain range dividing the Indian subcontinent from Nanga Parbat in the west, the range stretches for over 2,000-km to the mountains bordering Sikkim and Bhutan in the east. The west Himalaya is the part of this range that divides Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh from Ladakh. The highest mountains here are Nun and Kun. In Kashmir the subsidiary ridges of the Himalaya include the North Sonarmarg, Kolahoi and Amarnath ranges.

Further east, the Himalaya extends across to the Baralacha range in Himachal Pradesh before merging with the Parbati range to the east of the Kullu valley. It then extends across kinnaur Kailas to the swargarohini and Bandarpunch ranges in Uttaranchal. Further east it is defined by the snow capped range North of the Gangotri glacier and by the huge peaks in the vicinity of Nanda Devi, the highest mountain in the Indian Himalaya. In Western Nepal the range is equally prominent across the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs, while in Eastern Nepal the main ridgeline frequently coincides with the political boundary between Nepal and Tibet.

Major Passes

The major passes over the main Himalaya range include the Zoji la, at the head of the Sindh valley; the Boktol pass, at the head of the Warvan valley; the Umasi la in the Kishtwar region; and Thekang la and the Shingo la between Lahaul and the Zanskar region of Ladakh. It also includes the Pin Parbati pass between Lahaul and the Zanskar region of Ladakh. It also includes the Pin Parbati pass between the Kullu valley and Spiti, while in Kinnaur it is traversed when crossing the charang la in the Kinnaur Kailash range.

In Uttaranchal, roads are being constructed to the main places of pilgrimage in the heart of the Himalaya. These include Yamunotri and the source of the Yamuna River, Gangotri at the head of the Bhagirathi valley, Kedarnath at the head of the Mandakini valley, and Badrinath in the Alaknanda valley. There are, however, many trekking possibilities across the mountain ridges and glacial valleys including tose bordering the Nanda Devi sanctuary.

The main Himalaya range extends east across central Sikkim from the huge Kangchenjunga massif, which includes Kangchenjunga I, the world’s third highest peak. The east Himalaya is breached by the headwaters of the Tista River, which forms the geographical divide between the verdant alpine valleys to the south and the more arid regions that extend North to Tibet. Trekking possibilities are at present confined to the vicinity of the Singali ridge, an impressive range that extends south from the main Himalaya and forms the border between India and Nepal.

In Darjeeling the treks include the route along the southern extremity of the Singali range, while in Sikkim the trails out of Yuksom explore the ridges and valleys to the south to the Kangchenjunga massif.

Pir Panjal Range

The Pir Panjal Range lies south of the main Himalaya at an average elevation of 5,000m. From Gulmarg in the North-west it follows the southern rim of the Kashmir valley to the Banihal pass. Here the Pir Panjal meets the ridgeline separating the Kashmir valley from the Warvan valley. From Banihal the Pir Panjal sweeps south-east to Kishtwar, where the combined waters of the Warvan and Chandra Rivers meet to form the Chenab River, one of the main tributaries of the Indus.

Passes in Pir Panjal

The main passes over the Pir Panjal include the pir panjal pass due west of Srinagar, the Banihal pass which lies at the head of the Jhelum River at the southern end of the Kashmir valley, and the sythen pass linking Kashmir with Kishtwar. In Himachal Pradesh the main passes are the Sach which links the Ravi and the Chandra valleys, and the Rohtang, which links the Beas and Kullu valleys with the upper Chandra valley and Lahaul. Roads are constructed over all these passes.

The Banihal is now tunnelled and another road has been made over the Sythen pass in Kashmir and the Sach pass in Himachal Pradesh. For trekkers there is still the attraction of the Kugti, Kalicho and Chobia passes between the Ravi valley and Lahaul, and the Hampta pass links the Kullu valley with Lahaul.

Dhaula Dhar Range

The Dhaula Dhar range lies to the south of the Pir Panjal. It is easily recognised as the snow-capped ridge behind Dharamsala where it forms the divide between the Ravi and the Beas valleys. To the west it provides the divide between the Chenab valley below Kishtwar and the Tawi valley which twists south to Jammu. This is the range crossed at Patnitop on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. To the east it extends across Himachal Pradesh forming the high ridges of the Largi gorge and extending south of the Pin Parvati valley before forming the impressive ridgeline east of the Sutlej River. Thereon it forms the snow capped divide between the Sangla valley and upper tons catchment area in Uttaranchal, including the Har Ki Dun Valley. Beyond the Bhagirathi River it forms the range between Gangotri and Kedarnath before merging with the main Himalaya at the head of the Gangotri glacier. There are many attractive trekking pases over the Dhaula Dhar. These include the Indrahar Pass North of Dharamsala: and in Kinnaur, the Borasu pass linking the Sangla valley to Har-ki-Dun in Uttaranchal.

Siwalik Hills

The Siwalik Hills, also known as Shiwalik Hills, lie to the south of the Dhaula Dhar, with an average elevation of 1,500 to 2,000m. They are the first range of hills encountered en route from the plains and are geologically separate from the Himalaya. They include the Jammu hills and Vaishno Devi, and extend to Kangra and further east to the range south of Mandi. In Uttaranchal, they extend from Dehra Dun to Almora before heading across the southern borders of Nepal. Most of the range is crossed by a network of roads, linking the Northern Indian plains with Kangra, the Kullu valley, Shimla and Dehradun.

Zanskar Range

The Zanskar range lies to the North of the main Himalaya. It forms the backbone of Ladakh south of the Indus River, stretching from the ridges beyond Lamayuru in the west across the Zanskar region, where it is divided from the main Himalaya by the Stod and Tsarap valleys, the populated districts of the Zanskar valley. The Zanskar range is breached where the Zanskar River flows north, creating awesome gorges until it reaches the Indus River just below Leh.
To the east of the Zanskar region the range continues through Lahaul & Spiti, providing a complex buffer zone between the main Himalaya and the Tibetan plateau. It continues across the North of Kinnaur before extending west across Uttaranchal, where it again forms the intermediary range between the Himalaya and the Tibetan plateau, which includes Kamet, the second highest peak in India. The range finally peters out North east of the Kali River – close to the border between India and Nepal.

On the Zanskar range, the Fatu La, on the Leh-Srinagar road, is considered the most easterly pass; while the Singge La, the Cha Cha La and the Rubrang La are the main trekking passes into the Zanskar valley. For the hardy Ladakh trader, the main route in winter between the Zanskar valley and Leh is down the icebound Zanskar River gorges. Further to the east, many of the Zanskar range passes to the North of Spiti and Kinnaur are close to the India-Tibet border, and are closed to Trekkers.

Ladakh Range

The ladakh range lies to the North of Leh and is an integral part of the Trans-Himalayan range that merges with the Kailash range in Tibet. The passes include the famous Kardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world, while the Digar La to the North east of Leh is at present the only pass open to trekkers.

East Korakoram Range

The East Karakoram Range is the huge range that forms the geographical divide between India and Central Asia. It includes many high peaks including – Teram Kargri, Saltoro Kangri and Rimo, while the Karakoram Pass was the main trading link between the markets of Leh, Yarkand and Kashgar. At present this region is closed to trekkers, although a few foreign mountaineering groups were permitted to climb there in the last decade.