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Splendour of Himalaya: Valleys to steepest inclines

The inspiring presence of Himalayan massifs has less to do with magnitude than the subtle nuances of nature out of which they rise.

Stephen Alter

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Mountains are often defined by their height, though the summit of a peak is nothing more than the point where it ends, giving way to clouds and sky. The true substance and structure of a mountain rests beneath, amidst the cliffs and crags that fall away into fluted snowfields and sunsculpted ice. More than elevation, other elements of a mountain help establish its presence — the contours of its ridges, the angle of its slopes, the solidity and depths of its foundations as well as the meadows and forests that grow at its feet. When we measure and calculate the complex geometry of a mountain, all its various dimensions must be taken into account, including where it stands in relation to other peaks. 

 The Himalaya may be the tallest mountain range on earth but to focus on altitude alone limits our perspective and lessens their significance. The splendour of these mountains exists as much in their valleys as it does on the steepest inclines. The inspiring presence of Himalayan massifs has less to do with magnitude than the subtle nuances of nature out of which they rise: The trickle of a glacial stream flowing through channels of ice; translucent crystals of quartz embedded in a granite boulder; a twisted juniper root clutching loose moraine; or a herd of wild sheep silhouetted on a distant pass.

  As we approach the Himalaya and observe their physical features, our eyes trace each fretted profile, where sunlight dazzles off the snow and casts uneven shadows on the rocks. At times, these mountains seem almost alive for they are always changing. The clatter of falling stones echoes the process of erosion or the scrambling hooves of an ibex gaining purchase on a precipitous ledge. The boom and thunder of an avalanche disperse clouds of white particles that float like mist yet settle and harden as firmly as concrete, burying whatever lies beneath. 

 The Himalaya contains places of terrifying beauty, vertiginous terrain and extremes of weather that inspires both awe and fear. With their immense grandeur, they appear to have been around in perpetuity despite the fact that these are among the youngest mountains on earth and continue rising several millimetres every year. Constantly pushing upward, they have formed a series of arcs that stretch from the arid borderlands of Baltistan to the tropical jungles of Arunachal Pradesh.

  The Himalaya span a distance of roughly 2,500 kilometres in length and between 350 and 150 kilometres in breadth, rising to a maximum height of almost 9 kilometres above the level of the sea. Altogether, fourteen of the world’s tallest summits exceed 8,000 metres and ten of these are located in the Himalaya. The other four are in the neighbouring Karakoram. More than half of the fifty highest peaks on earth lie along the Himalayan chain. Five nations—China, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan—include a portion of the Himalaya within their borders, though many of these boundaries are in dispute and the exiled government of Tibet still lays claim to much of the territory occupied by China.

  Just as the spelling and pronunciation of the Himalaya has been debated for centuries, ever since the Sanskrit name was first transliterated into English, geographers have struggled to define these mountains with any coherence or consistency. While most writers, like myself, limit the Himalaya to the mountains that stand between the river Tsang Po or Brahmaputra in the east and the Indus in the west, others allow for a more flexible definition, often including parts of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush as well as some of the mountains further eastward.

  Regardless of these discrepancies, the two giant peaks that bookend the Himalaya are Namche Barwa in southeastern Tibet and Nanga Parbat at the northwestern edge of Kashmir. An equally difficult question is where to draw a line for the northern and southern limits of this range. For example, Mount Kailas, the most sacred mountain of all, sometimes called the ‘keystone’ of the Himalaya, is technically situated in the trans-Himalayan region to the north. On the other hand, the Shivalik foothills to the south are considered a separate range, though they merge with the Himalaya at many points. Similarly, the Duar Range, the ‘doorway’ to higher mountains in north-eastern India, is virtually contiguous with the Himalaya. Both the Bhabar and Terai, consisting of grasslands and jungle, below an altitude of 500 metres, that skirt the central foothills, are an integral part of the Himalaya, as are the upper margins of the Tibetan Plateau, where the northern slopes of the mountains level out at 4,000 metres. Nevertheless, whatever ambiguities are found on maps, these mountains rise above the contentious and confusing boundaries of cartography and politics that divide them. 

 ‘In a thousand ages of the gods, I cannot tell you all the glories of the Himalaya,’ exclaimed a Vedic sage, while another wrote: ‘As the sun dries the morning dew, so does the mere sight of the Himalaya dissipate the sins of man.’ However remote and ineffable the mountains may seem, nothing on earth exists in isolation and it is our story as much as theirs—whatever we choose to tell of these high places and our place amongst them. 

Origin myths from different regions of the Himalaya seek to explain the formation of the mountains. According to Verrier Elwin’s Myths of the NorthEast Frontier of India, the Hruso tribe (also known as the Aka) in Arunachal Pradesh believes that the world was created out of two eggs. When these hatched, one produced the sky, which was male, and the other the earth, which was female. When the sky tried to copulate with the earth, he discovered that she was too large for him to take her in his arms, so he asked his terrestrial lover to make herself smaller. As she did, her pliable body was drawn together and folded into hills, mountains and valleys. ‘When the Sky made love to the Earth, every kind of tree and grass and all living creatures came into being.’

Excerpts from Stephen Alter’s book, ‘Wild Himalaya’ (Aleph).

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Environmentally Speaking

Intense rains in Delhi NCR to continue says IMD

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Delhi NCR is witnessing intense rainfall for the last two days and it has brought a noticeable change in the temperature. The rains will continue in the coming days as per the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), India.
The continuous showers have waterlogged many areas causing traffic jams in Delhi, Gurugram, and Noida regions.
The minimum temperature in Delhi, on Friday is supposed to be 23 degrees and the maximum temperature is predicted to be 28 degrees.
Concerning the waterlogged roads and intense traffic jams, the Gurugram administration issued an advisory asking private and corporate offices to work from home, while schools and colleges remained closed on Friday to avoid the hassle.
There has been a dip of seven degrees in the temperature in the NCR regions, making people feel the chill, especially during the night.
Even the air quality has improved so much in the city, according to the data from the Central Pollution Control Board. The AQI on Friday morning stood at 50, which is considered ‘very good.’

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Due to a landslide in Nepal’s Achham district, about 450 km (281 miles) west of the capital city of Kathmandu, many homes were destroyed and many people have fallen victim to it as some of them are injured and some have lost their lives. Officials said on Sunday that the rescuers in Nepal battled against the torrential rains and pulled bodies from the wreckage of homes buried because of the landslide, and it has been reported that 22 people have lost their lives while 10 have been injured so far.

According to the official data, at least 70 people have been killed and 13 have gone missing across the country in flash floods and landslides this year alone.

The police, military and volunteers are still looking for the missing people in Achham district. Authorities have recovered the body of a fisherman who was swept away due to the landlide and reached the Kailali district due to the overflowing Geta river.

Yagya Raj Joshi, an official in Kailali, said about 1,500 people displaced because of the floods were sheltered in public buildings.

Local media broadcasted images of swathes of farms inundated by flood waters, a destroyed suspension bridge and villagers wading through chest-deep water.

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Light to moderate rain and gusty winds are expected to hit the national capital on Thursday

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Heavy rain lashes Delhi as roads waterlogged

Delhi has seen a marginal dip in the temperature on Thursday morning as the national capital has witnessed light to moderate rain and gusty winds with a speed of 30–40 km/h. This even resulted in an improvement in air quality, which was classified as satisfactory.

The maximum temperature is expected to be around 30°C while the minimum is to be 25°C, which when compared to Wednesday was 33.6°C and 26.4°C respectively.

RK Jenamani, India Meteorological Department (IMD) scientist, said a depression that formed over Odisha and moved towards northwest India sent easterly winds with moisture towards Delhi-NCR and led to a three-day spell of rain. He said, “As this depression has moved closer, we are seeing the effect of these strong easterly winds, which has led to an increase in the speed of surface winds locally. The moisture is also leading to cloudy skies, which has led to a drop in the mercury. “

The intensity of rain will reduce from Friday evening, with no rain expected from September 17 to 20.

An AQI between zero and 50 is considered “good”, 51 and 100 “satisfactory”, 101 and 200 “moderate”, 201 and 300 “poor”, 301 and 400 “very poor”, and 401 and 500 “severe”. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the Air Quality Index (AQI) was at 63 on Thursday morning at 7 a.m.

The monitoring agency, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, said on Wednesday that the satisfactory level of AQI is expected to last till Saturday. They said, “For the next three days, peak wind speed is likely to be around 14–29 km/h, causing moderate dispersion and AQI is likely to be within the range of’satisfactory’ due to expected light/trace rain spells.”

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IMD predicts heavy rainfall in isolated locations

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In its most recent weather update, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall in isolated locations across Uttarakhand, east Rajasthan, West Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, central Maharashtra, Konkan, and Goa on Wednesday.

The weather service also forecasted isolated heavy rains, thunderstorms, and lightning in Gangetic West Bengal and Odisha on Wednesday, Jharkhand on September 18, and Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim on September 15 and 16.

East Madhya Pradesh, ghat areas of central Maharashtra, and Konkan, as well as Goa, may see rain over the next five days.

On September 14 and 15, the Met Department warned of isolated very heavy rainfall over West Madhya Pradesh, ghat areas of Madhya Maharashtra and Gujarat, and Konkan and Goa from September 14 to 16. According to the IMD, isolated extremely heavy rainfall is expected over ghat areas of central Maharashtra on September 15.

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Environmentally Speaking

UN Secretary pays a visit to the flood areas of Pakistan

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On the final day of a two-day trip to raise awareness of the disaster, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited several flood-ravaged areas in Pakistan.

Floods caused by heavy monsoon rains and glacier melt in the northern mountains have killed over 1,391 people and destroyed homes, roads, railway tracks, bridges, livestock, and crops.

Huge areas of the country have been inundated, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. According to the government, nearly 33 million people’s lives have been disrupted. The damage in Pakistan is estimated to be $30 billion, and both the government and Guterres have blamed the flooding on climate change.

The UN Secretary-General arrived in Sindh province on Saturday before flying over some of the worst-affected areas on his way to Balochistan, another badly affected province.

“It is difficult not to feel deeply moved to hear such detailed descriptions of tragedy,” Guterres said after landing in Sindh, according to a video released by the office of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Pakistan needs massive financial support. This is not a matter of generosity, it is a matter of justice.”

Guterres was seated next to Sharif in a video released by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, looking out the window of an aircraft at flood-damaged areas. “Unimaginable,” Guterres said as he looked around at the devastation.

In July and August, Pakistan received 391 mm (15.4 inches) of rain, nearly 190% more than the 30-year average. The southern province of Sindh has received 466% more rain than usual.

Guterres stated on Saturday that the world needs to understand the impact of climate change on low-income countries.

“Humanity has been waging war on nature and nature strikes back,” he said.

“Nature strikes back in Sindh, but it was not Sindh that has made the emissions of greenhouse gases that have accelerated climate change so dramatically,” Guterres said. “There is a very unfair situation relative to the level of destruction.”

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Cloudburst in Pithoragarh district, at least 50 houses submerged

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At least 50 houses were submerged in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district after a cloudburst in Dharchula. A person was killed in a cloudburst that occurred near the India-Nepal border at around 1 a.m. on Saturday.

The aftermath and the Kali river in the area were captured on video. Pithoragarh Police shared a video clip on Twitter and stated that about 50 houses in Khotila village had been submerged. The video posted in the post showed the river in full rage.

In another post, the police warned residents against going near the river and advised them to avoid the river bridges. “It is very important to act with caution with the river reaching the danger level,” the post read.

According to Pithoragarh district magistrate Ashish Chauhan, one woman died. Water was said to have entered several homes. Another video shared by the Uttarakhand Police Fire Service showed a house collapsing into the river. Rescue efforts are underway, according to the fire department, the State Disaster Response Force, police, and administration.

Such incidents occur frequently in Uttarakhand, a hill state known for its pilgrimage sites, raising questions and concerns about climate change.

Several other states, including Karnataka and Maharashtra, are also dealing with flooding in various parts of their respective states. Recently, videos from Bengaluru showed flooded streets and helpless residents, reminding us that even metro cities are vulnerable and lack a mechanism to keep the civic system running in emergencies.

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