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The Indian Himalayas

The arc-shaped Himalayas extend along the entire northern boundary of India and carve just as far across the Indian subcontinent as they do deeply into the life around them. The term "Himalaya" -- a Sanskrit word meaning "the Abode of Snow" -- was coined by the Indian pilgrims who traveled in these mountains in ancient times. For centuries, the inhabitants of India have been fascinated by this mountain chain. The feeling is a mixture of admiration, awe and fear; and for the Hindus of India, the Himalayas are also "the Abode of God". There are numerous pilgrim routes that have brought the Hindu pilgrims to these mountains since time immemorial.

The Indian Himalayas cover a vast area along the northern frontiers of the country and span five Indian States -- Jammu and Kashmir , Himachal Pradesh , Uttar Pradesh , Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh -- from west to east. For the mountain people living in these states, the Himalayas continue to be the predominant factor in their lives. Having acted as a natural and political barrier for centuries, the Himalayas have isolated a number of communities, cultures and customs.

The Indian Himalayas mark the crossroads of Asia's three main religions. Kashmir -- formerly a paradise on earth -- is largely influenced by Islam. The foothills of Jammu, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh form the northern boundary of Hinduism. The entire Trans Himalayan region, from Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) through Tibet and onto the eastern state of Sikkim, has seen a dominating influence of Buddhism.

The true divisions of the Indian Himalayas are based on the mountain ranges rather than the state boundaries. From west to east, the Indian Himalayas can be divided into:
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  • Kashmir
  • Ladakh
  • Zanskar
  • Lahaul and Spiti
  • Chamba
  • Kinnaur
  • Kumaon
  • Garhwal
  • Sikkim
  • Arunachal
A great variety of tribes and cultures have developed in the Indian Himalayas. This has been aided by the fact that the mountain people have mostly lived in valleys isolated from the rest of the world, with entry and exit points lying over high mountain passes. As a result, they have been able to develop their own distinct cultures and traditions.

Offering some of the finest trekking and mountaineering challenges, the Indian Himalayas are a hot spot among climbers and trekkers throughout the world. Since most of India's northern boundary lies in these mountains, many areas close to the international borders have been declared off-limits for tourists, especially for foreigners. Territorial disputes and trouble caused by militants are other reasons why access to some parts of the Indian Himalayas is restricted.

However, those parts that are accessible offer some spectacular terrain: high mountain ranges; deep valleys; a fantastic variety of vegetation ranging from dense tropical forests of the lower foothills to alpine and sub-alpine vegetation in the higher reaches and from the rain forests of the east to the desert vegetation in the barren Trans Himalayas. For the visitors to the region, there are fantastic trekking and mountaineering opportunities, some breathtaking journeys along some of the highest roads in the world, and a glimpse of the life that thrives in the heart of the highest mountain range on earth.


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