The Himalayas (from the Sanskrit words hima, “snow,” and alaya, “abode”), the loftiest mountain system in the world, form the northern limit of India. This great, geologically young mountain arc is about 1,550 miles (2,500 km) long, stretching from the peak of Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 metres]) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir to the Namcha Barwa peak in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Between these extremes the mountains fall across India, southern Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. The width of the system varies between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 km).
Within India the Himalayas are divided into three longitudinal belts, called the Outer, Lesser, and Great Himalayas. At each extremity there is a great bend in the system’s alignment, from which a number of lower mountain ranges and hills spread out. Those in the west lie wholly within Pakistan and Afghanistan, while those to the east straddle India’s border with Myanmar (Burma). North of the Himalayas are the Plateau of Tibet and various Trans-Himalayan ranges, only a small part of which, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state, are within the territorial limits of India.
Because of the continued subduction of the Indian peninsula against the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayas and the associated eastern ranges remain tectonically active. As a result, the mountains are still rising, and earthquakes—often accompanied by landslides—are common. Several since 1900 have been devastating, including one in 1934 in what is now Bihar state that killed more than 10,000 persons. In 2000 another tremor, farther from the mountains, in Gujarat state, was less powerful but caused extensive damage, taking the lives of more than 20,000 people and leaving more than 500,000 homeless. The relatively high frequency and wide distribution of earthquakes likewise have generated controversies about the safety and advisability of several hydroelectric and irrigation projects.
The southernmost of the three mountain belts are the Outer Himalayas, also called the Shiwalik Range. Crests in the Shiwaliks, averaging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet (900 to 1,500 metres) in elevation, seldom exceed 6,500 feet (2,000 metres). The range narrows as it moves east and is hardly discernible beyond the Duars, a plains region in West Bengal state. Interspersed in the Shiwaliks are heavily cultivated flat valleys (duns) with a high population density. To the south of the range is the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Weakly indurated, largely deforested, and subject to heavy rain and intense erosion, the Shiwaliks provide much of the sediment transported onto the plain.
To the north of the Shiwaliks and separated from them by a fault zone, the Lesser Himalayas (also called the Lower or Middle Himalayas) rise to heights ranging from 11,900 to 15,100 feet (3,600 to 4,600 metres). Their ancient name is Himachal (Sanskrit: hima, “snow,” and acal, “mountain”). These mountains are composed of both ancient crystalline and geologically young rocks, sometimes in a reversed stratigraphic sequence because of thrust faulting. The Lesser Himalayas are traversed by numerous deep gorges formed by swift-flowing streams (some of them older than the mountains themselves), which are fed by glaciers and snowfields to the north.
The northernmost Great, or Higher, Himalayas (in ancient times, the Himadri), with crests generally above 16,000 feet (4,900 metres) in elevation, are composed of ancient crystalline rocks and old marine sedimentary formations. Between the Great and Lesser Himalayas are several fertile longitudinal vales; in India the largest is the Vale of Kashmir, an ancient lake basin with an area of about 1,700 square miles (4,400 square km). The Great Himalayas, ranging from 30 to 45 miles (50 to 75 km) wide, include some of the world’s highest peaks. The highest, Mount Everest (at 29,035 feet [8,850 metres]; see Researcher’s Note: Height of Mount Everest), is on the China-Nepal border, but India also has many lofty peaks, such as Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet [8,586 metres]) on the border of Nepal and the state of Sikkim and Nanda Devi (25,646 feet [7,817 metres]), Kamet (25,446 feet [7,755 metres]), and Trisul (23,359 feet [7,120]) in Uttaranchal. The Great Himalayas lie mostly above the line of perpetual snow and thus contain most of the Himalayan glaciers. "India" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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