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Title:Fun Facts
Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya

History:

  • The first Europeans to set foot in the Himalayan region were the troops of Alexander the Great in 329 B.C. Although, they did not reach the main ranges of the Himalayas, they crossed the Hindu Kush and the Pamir.
  • In 1272, the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, traveled across the Pamirs and the Taklamakan desert with his father and uncle, and reached China. Here, they served in the court of the Emperor Kublai Khan for several years before returning to Venice. Later Marco Polo wrote an account of his travels called “Il Milione” which was translated into English and called “The travels of Marco Polo”. The book became an instant success, though many were skeptical of his fantastic stories.
  • In the 14th century, the Mongol invader, Tamerlane crossed the Himalayas and invaded India right up to Delhi. His reign of terror kept resonating in India centuries after he left.
  • In Tibet, Mount Everest is known as Chomolangma, which means “Mother of the Universe”. In Nepal, the local name is Sagarmatha, which means “Forehead of the Sea”.
  • The Tibetan plateau is known as the “Roof of the world”. Earlier the title referred to the Pamir.
  • Ladakh is believed to mean “Land of Passes”.  

Geography:

  • The Himalaya is the source of the Indus Basin, the Yangtze Basin and the Ganga-Brahmaptura, which are three of the worlds primary river systems.
  • 75% of Nepal is covered by the Himalayas.
  • Nanda Devi is the highest peak that is entirely within India.
  • The 70 km Siachen Glacier at the India-Pakistan border is the second longest glacier in the world outside of the polar region.
  • The Himalayas continue to rise 1 cm every year.
  • The headwaters of four of the great rivers of north India namely, Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra and Sutlej, lie within 45 miles of the Manasarovar shores.

Explorations and Expeditions:

  • In 1865, the Royal Geographic Society renamed Peak XV of the Himalayas as Everest. This was on the recommendation of Sir Andrew Waugh, the then Surveyor General of India, who wished to honour his predecessor, Sir George Everest.
  • The name of the peak K2 was derived from the surveyor’s mark used by the Great Trigonometric Survey. Since it lacked a local name, the name Mount Godwin-Austen was suggested in honour of the explorer Henry Godwin-Austen. Though the Royal Geographic Society rejected the name, it continues to be used occasionally.
  • The first successful ascent of an Eight-Thousander was by a French expedition led by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal on 3 June 1950. However, their success came at a heavy price. Gangrene caused Lachenal to lose all his toes, while Herzog lost all his toes and fingers.
  • On 29 May 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hilary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
  • The Sikkimese consider the summit of the Kangchenjunga to be sacred. Out of consideration for their religious sentiment, the first three expeditions to ascend the peak stopped a few feet short of the summit.
  • On October 16, 1986, Reinhold Messner became the first person to climb all fourteen of the Eight-Thousanders.
  • The Annapurna peaks are considered one of the most dangerous mountains, having the highest climbing mortality rate of 40% among the ‘Eight-thousanders’.
  • Among the ‘Eight thousanders’, Nanga Parbat and K2 have the second and third highest climbing mortality rates.
  • 1996 is considered the deadliest year of Everest climbing as 15 people died while coming down from the summit, eight on 11 May alone.

Trade and Commerce:

  • The Silk Road was an extensive network of trade routes connecting the Asian continent with the Mediterranean world. The German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, coined the term in 1877. Offshoots of the Silk Road lay over the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan ranges. Although the routes were initially created for the trade of silk between China and Rome, later they were used for trading various other products. They also became important paths for cultural and religious exchanges. For example, the transmission of Buddhism to China from India occurred through the Silk Road.
  • Some of the mountain passes that lay within the long distance international trade routes through the Himalayas lacked supplies, shelter and even fodder for the pack animals. Thus, a supplying centre was set up at either end of the passes. For example, Srinagar and Kargil served the two ends of Zozi-La, while Manali and Keylang served the Rohtang Pass.
  • In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Khyber pass was the most frequented route of all the long distance international caravan trade routes out of India.
  • The Treaty of Tingmosgang was concluded between Ladakh and Kashmir in 1684 after Kashmir had helped Ladakh to withstand an invasion by a mixed Tibetan-Mongol force. According to the treaty, Kashmir obtained monopoly of purchasing pashm and other kinds of wool from Ladakh. Restrictions were also put, allowing only the Kashmiri merchants appointed by the Ladakhi court to enter the western provinces of Tibet and obtain pashm.
  • In 1834, Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu invaded Ladakh from the desire of breaking into the Ladakh-Kashmir monopoly of the pashm trade. Thus, the state of Jammu & Kashmir was formed as it exists today.
  • Until very recently, trans-border trade existed between the distinct economic zones all along the Greater Himalayas. The cis-Himalayan people along the southern flank of the range supplied the nomadic herdsmen of southern and western Tibet with foodgrains they were unable to produce themselves in exchange for salt from the salt lakes of Tibet, and wool from the Tibetan sheep.
  • The nomadic herdsmen of Tibet used to carry their stock-in-trade of salt on the back of their sheep, the chang-luk, to fixed points where they exchanged goods with their cis-Himalayan trading partners. These rendezvous points later became sites of regular fairs.
  • One of the most bizarre trade routes in the world was the frozen Zanskar river during winter. The frozen river formed a path called “Chadar” that was used by the Zanskar villagers to carry their loads of butter to the markets of Leh.
  • As a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the centuries old trans-border trade has been reduced to a trickle.

Religion and Mythology:

  • According to Hindu mythology, Mount Kailash is the abode of Lord Siva and his consort Parvati. The Tibetan Buddhists refer to the mountain as Kangri Rinpoche, meaning the Precious Snow Mountain. Among the Bonpo, the mountain is known as Yungdrung Gutseg, which means the Nine Stacked Swastikas Mountain. Hindus believe that this mountain is the physical manifestation of the legendary Mount Meru, the central axis of all worlds.
  • Hindus believe Brahma, the Great Creator, conceived Lake Manasarovar in his mind, hence the name. In Tibet, it is known as Mapham Tso (the Lake Unrivalled), or Yu Tso (the Turquoise Lake).
  • The smaller lake beside Manasarovar is called Rakshas Tal (the Demon Lake) by Hindus, and is considered inauspicious, as it is associated with Ravana. Tibetans call it Langak Tso, Lake of Five Islands, and consider it the natural partner and other half of Mapham Tso (Manasarovar).
  • Bon is the oldest spiritual tradition of Tibet. The people who practice this religion are called Bonpos. A raging debate exists over whether Bon inspired Tibetan Buddhism or vice versa. The Menri Monastery-in-exile in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, is the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bon religion.
  • The Tsurphu monastery, 80 miles west of Lhasa, is considered the historic seat of the Karma Kagyupu school of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Karmapa Dusum Khyenpe. He is credited with the introduction of “tulku”, the concept of the reincarnated self to be found and installed as successor. This school dominated the political and spiritual life of Tibet till the mid 17th century, when they gave way to the Dalai Lama incarnates of the Gelugpa sect.
  • Jokhang temple in Lhasa is Tibet’s most sacred temple.
Customs and Traditions:
  • There is an ancient Tibetan tradition of concealing “termas” (hidden treasure) to be rediscovered by “tertons” (treasure finders) at some later appropriate time. Several ancient religious texts that were concealed centuries ago have been found, providing valuable insights into the ancient culture of the region.
  • Sky burial is a traditional Tibetan funerary practice, where the dead are neither cremated nor burnt, but taken to the cemetery (which is usually on a high mountain top) and exposed to the elements and birds of prey. This practice is called “Jagor” which literally means ‘feeding the birds’. The sky burial evolved out of practical consideration as in most of Tibet the ground is too rocky for grave digging and timber is too scarce. According to custom, undertakers strip the corpse of all flesh and smash up the bones in accordance with the Buddhist ethos of destruction of the ego and impermanence of all earthly things.
  • Polygamy, both polyandry and polygyny, exists in several pockets of the Himalayas. It has been observed that there exists a positive correlation between the practice of polygyny and the size of a man’s holdings. Having several wives is considered a status symbol, while it also provides additional labour force. Polyandry is practiced by tribes like the Khasa in the Jaunsar Bawar area of Uttar Pradesh, and the people of Kinnaur, Lahaul, and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. As these regions have very little cultivable land, polyandry, especially fraternal polyandry has an economic and practical basis. In many of these places, the ratio of women to men is so skewed that polyandry has become a prevalent custom.

Miscellaneous:

  • The yak is the male while the female is called dri.
  • The wild yak is known as drong in Tibetan. The drong was semi-domesticated and crossbred with the cow to produce the yak and dri.
  • The curious grunting noise that yaks make is thought to be responsible for their name, Bos grunnniens or ‘grumbling ox’.
  • Pashm (Cashmere) is the soft warm undercoat of the pashmina, a particular breed of domestic goat. The pashm grows only during the bitter cold winter of the Trans-Himalayas.
  • Throughout its history, the Kashmir shawl industry has been completely dependant on the high pastures of Ladakh, Tibet and central Asia. In the 19th century, experiments conducted to introduce the breed of sheep elsewhere proved uniformly unsuccessful. Recent developments in biotechnology have enabled the production of pashm in the less severe climatic conditions of Scotland and Australia.
  • In the beginning of summer, the melting snow on the top of a mountain pass is often cleared by driving a herd of yak over it.
  • In the Giu village in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, is displayed the mummy of a Buddhist lama, that was discovered by the border police while digging a border surveillance post. The mummy, which was in a yogic position, was found to be in extremely good condition, with even the hair on the head intact. However, there were no signs that the body had been preserved. DNA analysis of the body revealed that it was over 500 years old!
Contents:
History
Geography
Explorations and Expeditions
Trade and Commerce
Religion and Mythology
Customs and Traditions
Miscellaneous