THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE OR A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY, HOWEVER YOU VIEW THE HIMALAYAS YOU’LL BE SURE NEVER TO EXPERIENCE AN ADVENTURE ABOVE THEM. OPEN TO TOURISTS LIKE NEVER BEFORE, NOW IS THE TIME TO START PLANNING YOUR GREAT HIMALAYAN ADVENTURE.
The Himalayas rise above all other places on Earth. Crowned by the most famous mountain in the world, Mount Everest, this range contains the majority of world’s highest peaks. It’s also home to arguably the best known mountain dwellers, Sherpas, whose fame rests on their hardy endurance at altitude.
Nowadays, this ultimate mountain landscape is accessible to you like never before.
Since the late 1980s, the Himalayas have slowly opened its doors to western adventurers in search of their next challenge. Here, we offer a brief guide to these mountains, information to inspire and support the beginning of your journey to a fantastic climbing adventure in the Himalayas.
Let’s explore just what makes these mountains so special, so enticing and so the place you should visit in your lifetime.
Jump to Himalayas Travel Tips
General Information about THE HIMALAYAS
All 14 of the world’s eight-thousander mountains, peaks exceeding 8,000 m (26,247 ft), exist in the Himalaya region. These include: Mount Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Dhaulagiri and Nanga Parbat. These mountains are explored in more detail below, along with links to the in-depth articles on them.
- Click here for our list of must read books and guidebooks on the Himalayas.
- Top 5 Long Distance Hikes in the Himalayas
The Himalayas stretch in downward curve across southern and central Asia largely creating both a geographical and political border.
The Himalayas stretch over 2,500 km (1,550 miles) between Nanga Parbat (8,125 m/ 26,658 ft) and the Indus river in Kashmir in the north-west to Namjagbarwa (7,756 m/ 25,445 ft) in Chinese Tibet in the east.
The width of the range varies between 200-400 km (125-250 miles), with a more sudden rise from the Indo-Gangetic Plain in the south, separating the northern parts of India from the Tibetan plateau of China.
The Himalayas define the borders between a number of powerful, and not so cordial nations. India, China (including Tibet), Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bhutan all claim sovereignty over portions of the mountain range. Often, the countries’ border lines run along the mountains’ ridgelines: so geography informs politics.
However, long-running political animosity exists between India and Pakistan, and also with China and many of its neighbours. This leads to tense accords and agreements, whose delicacy is demonstrated by incidents such as the shooting incident on Cho Oyu in 2006.
For many westerners, the route into the Himalayas has been through Nepal, though Tibet has also become more open to hikers and climbers.
The traditional name, Himalaya, means the ‘abode/dwelling place of snow’ in Sanskrit. This immediately gives you an idea of the weather conditions predominant there, as well as the impactive appearance of the permanent snowpack.
Nine out of the fourteen eight-thousanders are found in the Himalayan range proper, the rest standing in the Karakoram Range to the north-west. This range, along with the Hindu Kush, is often considered a part of the larger Himalaya region, and so in other accounts all 14 mighty peaks are called Himalayan.
In the end, the definition matters little, as they all exist as part of a connected mountain chain that, if taken to the level of tectonic plates, stretches half way around the world.
The Himalayan range supports some 750 million people living in the watershed area (where rivers begin on mountain slopes, valleys and ridges). These are becoming increasingly supported economically by the mountains through the explosion in tourism (though not always for the better).
The mountains provide fresh water for a fifth of the world’s population, being the starting point for three major river systems: the Indus, the Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin and the Yangtze Basin. The mountains also hold significant spiritual and cultural significance for the indigenous populations, something all visitors are asked to respect.
The Himalayan mountain range was formed by the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian continental plate over the last 30 to 50 million years.
This makes the range young in mountain building terms, and it is still growing at over 1cm per year. This form of mountain orogeny (folding of the Earth’s crust through plate collision) is a very common type of mountain formation type, contrasting with those ranges that are built by the action of volcanoes or normal fault blocks (such as many in the western United States).
Key Mountains in the Himalayas.
Country: Nepal / Tibet
Altitude: 8848 metres (29,029 ft)
This mountain peak is the highest in the world. It is also known as Sagarmārthā in Nepali, meaning ‘head in the sky’, Chomolungma or ‘Holy mothers’ in Tibetan and Devgiri or ‘holy mountain’ in Sanskrit.
The first successful ascent of Mount Everest occurred in 1953, by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa mountaineer.
Today, the most popular trekking option is the Everest Base Camp Trek.
- Visit our Everest Profile Page
- Check out this infographic about the 1953 First Ascent
- Who was the first man to climb Everest?
Country: India / Nepal
Altitude: 8586 metres
Also called Kangchen Dzö-nga, this mountain’s name means the ‘five treasures of snow’, in reference to its five distinct peaks. It is ranked the third highest mountain peak in the world (after Everest and K2 (8,611m/ 28251 ft)).
It is located on the boundaries between North Sikkim in India and the Taplejung District of Nepal. The first successful ascent of this mountain was carried out in 1955, by British climbers Joe Brown and George Band. Band was also a member of the 1953 successful Everest expedition and a close friend of Hillary.
The area around Kanchenjunga is rarely frequented by trekkers and hikers so remains a relatively unspoilt, quiet option.
Country: Nepal / Tibet
Altitude: 8516 metres
Lhotse, which translates from Tibetan as ’South Peak’, is the fourth highest mountain in the world. Lhotse is located at the head of Western Cwm en route to Everest, and its name reflects it diminutive status, arguably unjustified, due to its proximity to the great mountain.
It is a part of the Everest massif and was first successfully climbed by Swiss climbing pair, Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss back in 1956.
Country: Nepal / Tibet
Altitude: 8462 metres
Makalu, also called ‘The Great Black’, is located on the Tibet border, east of Mount Everest. It is the fifth highest mountain peak in the world and was first successfully climbed by French mountaineers Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy, on 15 May 1955.
Country: Nepal / Tibet
Altitude: 8201 metres
This Himalayan mountain peak, known as Qowowuyag in Chinese, means the ‘Turquoise Goddess’. It is the sixth highest peak in the world.
The first successful ascent of Cho Oyu took place in 1954, although interestingly an earlier attempt was made by the 1952 British Joint Himalayan Committee expedition, which was aimed to prepare for the successful attempt on Mount Everest the following year.
Altitude: 8167 metres
Dhaulagiri means the ‘dazzling, white, beautiful mountain’ in Sanskrit, and is the seventh tallest mountain in the world. This Himalayan giant was first successfully climbed by on 13 May 1960 by Kurt Diemberger and five others.
It is located in central Nepal on the west of the Kaligandagi River. Dhaulagiri was rejected by Maurice Herzog’s French expedition, who decided there was no viable route and turned their attention to Annapurna instead.
Altitude: 8156 metres
The Manaslu mountain is also known as Kutang, meaning ‘Mountain of the Spirit’. It is ranked as the eighth tallest mountain in the world, though the accounts of its true height vary by up to 11 m (36 ft). It is located in central Nepal (east of Pokhara) and the first successful ascent of this mountain was on 9 May 1956 by Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu, who were part of a Japanese expedition.
There is a wealth of trekking available around Manaslu, such as the Manaslu Circuit Trek.
Altitude: 8126 metres
Known locally as Deo Mir, meaning ‘the abode of fairies’ , Nanga Parbat translates from Urdu as ‘the naked mountain’. It ranks number 9 in the highest mountain peaks of the world. It was first ascended (solo) in 1953, by Austrian climber Herman Buhl. Considered to be the westernmost peak of Himalayan range, Nanga Parbat is located in northern Pakistan, overlooking the Indus River.
Albert F. Mummery’s expedition of 1895 on Nanga Parbat was the earliest attempt on an eight-thousander, though the famous British climber and his two Ghurka companions died in the attempt. Another famous death on the mountain was the tragic demise of Reinhold Messner’s brother Günther, when the two were descending following a successful attempt at reaching the summit.
Altitude: 8091 metres
The ‘goddess of the harvests’ is thought to be ‘full of food’. It is the 10th tallest mountain in the world and is located in central Nepal, north of Pokhara. It was the first mountain over eight thousand metres to be climbed, being the infamous Herzog adventure of 1950. Alongside Maurice Herzog, Louis Lachenal reached the summit, though this French expedition also included other legends of Gallic mountaineering: Lionel Terray and Gaston Rebuffat.
There is plenty of trekking in and around the Annapurna massif, such as the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary Trek.
Some Important Mountaineers and Climbs IN the Himalayas
One of the first attempts on Mount Everest was carried out by a British team which included the mythical George Mallory & Sandy Irvine in 1922 and 1924.
The duo died on the North Face before they could complete their 1924 mission, although there is a school of thought that says they fell while descending following a successful ascent. This is regarded as a romantic viewpoint, probably coloured by the quasi-mythical status that Mallory, in particular, has acquired over the years. George Mallory’s bleached but well-preserved body was recovered in 1999.
In 1936, British mountaineer, Noel Odell (1890–1987) successfully completed the first ascent of Nanda Devi (7,816 m/ 25,643 ft, ranked 23rd). Until 1950, this was the highest peak to have been summited. Odell was reportedly also the last person to see Mallory and Irvine alive, high up on Everest in 1924.
Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man ever to successfully ascend Mount Everest's peak, together with his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay. They reached the summit on 19 May 1953.
Austrian Hermann Buhl (1924–1957) is another notable mountaineer. He accomplished the first successful ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953.
The final part of this adventure he embarked on alone and, crucially, without an artificial supply of oxygen. He also went on to achieve the first ascent of Broad Peak (8,051 m/ 26,414 ft) before dying in a fall on Chogolisa (7,665 m (25,148 ft) in 1957. His body has never been found.
The first American to successfully summit all the fourteen eight-thousanders was Ed Viesturs. He was the twelfth person to summit these peaks, and the sixth climber to do it without bottled oxygen. The first to climb them all was Reinhold Messner, completing the list in 1986.
Tips for Travelling to the Himalayas
When to go
Even though the Himalayas cover a large geographical area, it is generally best to visit the area from late October until early May, depending on the exact location and altitude of the trek.
In the summer, conditions and the weather become decidedlt more treacherous, and each mountain area has relatively short windows for safe adventures. Check with the area you wish to go to for more details. The town of Ladakh, for example, only has tourist facilities open between May and September.
How to get there
Some of the entry points to the Himalayas include: Delhi, Kathmandu, Islamabad (Pakistan), Lhasa (Tibet) and Paro (Bhutan). Check from your location to know if there are any airlines flying directly to any of the entry points before you book and then decide on how you would move afterwards.
Which country (or not)?
Each country has its pros and cons for visiting. Nepal is arguably the most easily accessible, though Tibet is becoming ever more open. Pakistan is a country in which you should seek current advice from your own government, as there is recent history of dangers to foreign visitors.
But Bhutan is the most reclusive destination in the Himalayas. In making efforts to retain their strong national identity and traditional values, a minimum daily spend of £100, along with various tourist levies are designed to keep the influx of people to this destination to a minimum.
Mountaineering itself has been banned in Bhutan by their king, in respect of supposed mountain-dwelling deities. High-altitude treks, such as the challenging the Snowman trek, are still possible.
Organised tour or go it alone?
While you may be able to afford the costs of going on your own, there are several other advantages for choosing a professional adventure guide tour.
It is essential to pay attention to the details of what is included in each package, because not all operators provide meals, transfers, equipment, etc. Research their experience and any other significant factors, such as mountain rescue and insurance cover.
Some of the most basic things you need to take along with you on your trip include: multiple layers of clothing and pairs of socks, durable trekking boots, hand warmers, under-gloves and mittens, trekking poles, gaiters, 40-litre daypack (with rain cover), sleeping mat, head torch with spare batteries, UV protection sunglasses, sun cream, lip salve and hat, blister care/plasters, wet wipes and tissues, pocket knife/multi-bladed tool, watch with altimeter/GPS, emergency blanket, water bottles, snacks (energy bars, nuts), dry sacks, freezer bags and binoculars.
However, if you are taking on any high altitude or multi-day adventures, be sure to research the equipment list and, if in doubt, over prepare.
A few more tips for a successful adventure:
• Be physically fit: before you embark on your adventure, ensure you’re sufficiently fit for what lies ahead. High altitude, cold weather and exhaustion can be very dangerous to anyone that is insufficiently physically prepared.
• Choose wisely: don’t let the excitement cloud your judgement. Ensure that the adventure you choose suits you, your budget and your physical capacity.
• Go with company: instead of attempting to embark on this trek alone, join a group or a holiday tour group.
• Check the weather: before you leave, pay attention to the atmospheric weather conditions and forecasts, and prepare yourself for them. Once on the mountain, if you’re ever in doubt, take the safe option.
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