It is impossible to trek in the Indian Himalayas without fully understanding the landscape of the Himalayas. Why? Knowing the landscape allows you to have better orientation and deeper knowledge of the surroundings you are in and this does matter!
Is a clearer understanding of the landscape of the Himalayas going to help you while you are trekking? Not sure, though you might impress your trekking friends by pointing out some amazing geographical features.
On a deeper level, you may also recognize some of the philosophical insights the Buddha spoke of like every single thing is under constant change even what may look like the most static objects such as mountains and glaciers. Furthermore, the Buddha suggested that every single object is bound to in an interwoven relationship with the other. You’ll find he was right! Each landscape feature changes the other constantly. All of them are interconnected and none of them has ‘life’ or justification of its own.
So here is a quick overview of some of the geographical features which determine how the landscape of the Himalayas has been shaped and still is being shaped. We’ll make it as simple as possible…
The landscape of the Himalayas by features:
A cirque is a large area that looks like a semi-circle. It is created where large amounts of ice accumulate for long periods. In the past, it was from this place that the glacier was created and began its’ descent downhill. Usually, there is more than one cirque on each of the Himalayan Mountains. Today, when very few glaciers remain the melting snow fills up this area and we can find some beautiful lakes which are called ‘Tarns’.
Arête is a steep ‘wall’ created when two glaciers slip downhill from both sides of the mountain. It means that both sides of the ridge there is a cirque. Arête, the wall, can be recognized by its steep edges which crawl uphill and downhill like a snake.
The horn is the sharpest peak which is created by 2 (or more) glaciers that slip downhill from a few sides of the mountain. The horn is surrounded by a few cirques where the glaciers once were.
Col is the ridge, the lowest point along the arête.
5. U shaped valley ( Or simply ‘U-valley’)
U Valley is carved when the glacier starts to slip downhill. When the glacier melted we can see its impact on the landscape. A huge flat area resembling a plateau surrounded by the arête walls is the U valley. At the top of the U valley, we will always find the semi-circle cirques.
6. Hanging Valley
A hanging valley is carved by a small tributary glacier that joins with a valley carved out by a much larger glacier (or the main glacier). It is a shallow valley and carved by a small glacier and thus the elevation of this valley floor is ‘hanging’ high above the elevation of the valley floor carved out by the main glacier below. The floor of the hanging valley is relatively flat and thus the contour lines on the topographic map are more widely spaced than those contours representing the sides of the valley. The close spacing of the contour lines at the edge of the hanging valley indicates a steep drop-off, which is where the waterfall is located.
Moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of glacial debris it could be clay, silt, sand, gravel, cobbles, boulders or any other forms of soil and rock. This debris may have been plucked off a valley floor as a glacier advanced downhill during the years. Moraines may be composed of debris ranging in size from silt-sized glacial flour to large boulders.
There are a few types of moraine let’s review two of them:
- Lateral moraines occur on the side of the valley and can even be between two glaciers.
- Terminal moraines occur at the end of the valley.