Covering close to 600,000 square kilometres, the Himalayas are a mountaineer’s playground. With over 50 mountains exceeding 7,000 metres and home to ten of the world’s 14 highest peaks, the choice and range of required skill sets provides a challenge for explorers of all abilities.
Some of the earliest people to venture into the Himalayas were traders and pilgrims. Like most who have visited the area, pilgrims took to the mountains in search of a test. Through religion, they saw the Himalayas as an environment of physical extremes. They believed that the more testing their pilgrimage was, the more worthy they became of salvation. And what place is more testing than the Himalayas?
Divided into three geological zones – the Outer Himalayas, the Middle Himalayas and the Great Himalayas – the environment ranges from the tropics down below to the jagged peaks that cut into the clouds. Passing through five countries –India, Pakistan, China, Bhutan and Nepal – it is no wonder the Himalayas are so varied. The further down you explore into valleys shadowed by steep slopes, the more variety in life you’ll find – from the mountain-dwelling creatures who have adapted to suit this unique environment to the settlements and villages below the snow line who live off the resources from the mountains.
Initially it was believed that the earliest human inhabitants lived in the area no earlier than 5,200 years ago. Now, however, evidence in the form of ancient footprints solidified into mud dates the start of mountain life between 7,400 and 12,600 years ago. While the high-altitude areas of the Himalayas are not the easiest places to live, at this time the region would have been more humid, and agriculture could have been better supported higher up in the mountains.
The climate continues to change to this day, shaping a new version of the Himalayas. With growing concern over the implications of global warming, nations surrounding the mountain range are working together to protect the land they not only admire, but depend on. More than 240 million people have made the peaks and crags their home, and amid the climate crisis are seeing some of the most dramatic impacts take a toll on it.