When and how were the Himalayas formed?

The Himalayas or Himalaya is regarded as the tallest mountain range in the world. Its name is derived from a Sanskrit word that means “abode of the snow,” as this natural wonder has the third-largest deposit of snow and ice after the North and South Poles. The Himalayas mountain range extends for approximately 2400 km, and spans throughout Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, and Bhutan. It is also home to nine of the ten tallest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest, which is the tallest peak in the world with a measurement of 8848 meters in length.

The peak of Mount Everest is most notable for being one of the biggest challenges for humankind, as only a few were able to climb to the top due to harsh weather conditions that are considered too dangerous for most humans to experience. The first official ascent of humans to Mount Everest only happened in 1953, when expedition veterans Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay used the less dangerous southeast ridge route to climb to the top. The other climbable route, the north ridge, was successfully climbed in 1960 by a Chinese mountaineering team led by Wang Fuzhou.

The mountain range of the Himalayas is also the source and the starting point for several major rivers in the world, such as the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra rivers. Besides the rivers, the range is also a location for magnificent lakes, like Lake Manasarovar, Lake Rakshastal, and Yamdrok Tso. The Himalayas serve as the natural border of India, and it has played a huge role in sketching or creating the culture and lifestyle of the country.

In addition, the mountain range has a great significance to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. One of the most notable religious buildings built on the Himalayas is Paro Taktsang, a sacred placed for Buddhists and the area where Padmasambhava, an 8th-century Buddhist master, founded Buddhism in the country of Bhutan. In Hinduism, the Himalayas serve as the personification of Ancient India’s Ruler of the Himalayan Kingdom, GirirajHimavat.

Despite its long history with religion and culture, the Himalayas range is a relatively younger mountain range compared to the others. In fact, it is theorized to be the youngest out of all major mountain ranges, as it has an estimated age of around 50 million years. For comparison, the oldest mountain range in the world is said to be the Barberton Greenstone Belt, which has an approximated age of 3.6 billion years old. A lot of research went into the understanding of the formation of mountains in the Himalayas. It is generally believed to have been formed as the result of a collision between two tectonic plates, namely the Indo-Australian and Eurasian.

According to a German scientist named Alfred Wagner, particularly in his Theory of Continental Drift, there had been only one large continent on Earth that existed about 335 million years ago, and its name is Pangaea. This landmass then began to break up and move either towards or away from each other. Then, about 200 million years ago, the area that will soon be called India was just an island floating off the coast of Australia. This island was separated from Asia by the Tethys Ocean, which eventually became the opening for the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. As Pangaea began to break, the Indian plate started to drift towards Asia to the north. The plate traveled more than 6000 kilometers in 150 million years before finally colliding and joining with the Eurasian plate. The Tethys Ocean eventually went out of existence, having been closed by the Indian plate as it moved further to the north and towards the Eurasian plate.

When the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate collided, neither of the two plates could be subducted, a process that allows one plate to go on top of the other because their crusts have low density. Instead, the two colliding ends of the plates were folded upwards and created a fault line along the threshold, thus forming the Himalayan mountain range.

Surprisingly, the Indian plate is still drifting towards the north, and it continues to do so with a speed of 67 millimeters per year. As a result of the continuous drifting of the plate, the height of the Himalayan range is also increasing, although it only increases with a rate of 5 millimeters per year since it is impeded by erosion and gravity that prevents it from growing taller faster. Because of the movement of the Indian plate, it makes the area around the Himalayas susceptible to seismic activities like landfalls, avalanches, or earthquakes. Recurring earthquakes in the mountain range served as evidence of the continuous movement, and it will continue to grow in the future. As such, the area is becoming more dangerous for living beings.