The Himalayas, which in Sanskrit means “abode of snow,” is a mountain system in Asia that rises sharply from the Gangetic Plain, in many parts over 8000 meters high. It forms a broad, continuous arc for nearly 2,600 kilometers along the northern fringes of the Indian subcontinent and the south of the Tibetan Plateau (Qing Zang Gaoyuan). It extends from the bend of the Indus River in the northwest to the Brahmaputra River in the east, averaging 320 to 400 kilometers in width.
The Himalayan range consists of three coextensive sub-ranges, with the northernmost and highest known as the Great or Inner Himalayas. It forms the earth’s highest region that features nine of 10 highest peaks in the world. Those nine include Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain, on the Nepal-Tibet border. The second and third highest peaks are also located in the Himalayas—the K2 or Mt. Godwin Austen on the border between China and and a territory claimed by India and Pakistan, and the Kanchenjunga on the Nepal-India border, respectively. Other peaks are Dhaulagiri and Annapurna 1 in Nepal, Nanga Parbat in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Jammu and Kashmir, and Nanda Devi or “bliss-giving goddess” in India.
A large land area occupying 18 countries that serves as home to some three billion people, or almost half of the Earth’s population, benefits from the Himalayas. This is because some of the world’s major river systems begins from the Himalayas and forms their combined drainage basin. In this way, the Himalayan range profoundly shaped the cultures of South Asia. Three of the religions borne from this area—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism—even believe that the mountains are sacred.
Geologically, the Himalayas is believed to be created from the impact of the tectonic plates of the Indian subcontinent traveling northward at a rate of about 15 centimeters per year toward the plates of the Eurasian continent about 40 to 50 million years ago. The collision of the two land masses created the Himalayan arc as the lighter rocks from the seabed were pushed and uplifted to become mountains.
Below are the notable peaks of the Himalayan system. They are ranked according to elevation.
Known as Sagarmatha or “head of the world” in Nepali and Chomolungma or “goddess mother of the snows” in Tibetan, Mt. Everest is the most famous of the Himalayan mountains due to its title of being the highest mountain in the world. It is located on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau (Qing Zang Gaoyuan), on the border of Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Its massif includes neighboring peaks Lhotse, Nuptse, and Changtse.
The mountain got its official English name in 1856 from the Royal Geographical Society upon a recommendation by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. It was known as Peak XV until then, when it was named for Sir George Everest, the former surveyor general of and Waugh’s predecessor. Although Waugh believed in keeping local names for mountains when available and Tibetans had called Mt. Everest “Chomolungma” for centuries, Waugh was unaware of this because both Nepal and Tibet were closed to foreigners. Thus, the name Everest was declared official.
Its naming coincided with an official announcement of the mountain’s height, taken as the average of six separate measurements made by during the Great Trigonometric Survey of British India in 1850. Its height was determined to be 8,848 meters, although this is now being disputed. In fact, experts believe that the mountain is still rising a few millimeters each year due to geological forces. Global Positioning System (GPS) has been installed on Mt. Everest to accurately detect rates of geological uplift, however small.
Mt. Everest attracts many well-experienced mountaineers as well as novice climbers. Some of them visit the mountain as a tourist, but some seriously want to reach the mountain’s peak. At the close of the year 2010, about 3,142 individuals had completed 5,104 ascents to the summit.
Today, there is an established climbing route that to the top of the mountain. These are not technically difficult to climb. However, the trip to Mt. Everest’s summit is not without dangers. It still poses dangers such as altitude sickness, rough weather, avalanche, and strong wind. As of the year 2010, 219 people have been recorded as having died during the climb to its peak.
Also known as Mt. Godwin Austen, Savage Mountain, or Mountaineer’s Mountain, the K2 rises 8,611 meters above sea level. It is the second tallest mountain the world. It is described as looking like “an almost regular cone of ice and limestone resting on a granite base.” Located smack in West Himalayas’ Karakoram Range, it sits on the border between China and Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory claimed by neighboring countries India and Pakistan.
The mountain has several local names—Chogori, Lambha Pahar, Dapsang, and Kechu (an accented pronunciation of K2). It was in the year 1856 when T. G. Montgomery, of the Survey of India, named it to indicate that it is one of the 35 mountains of the Karakoram Range. It was also measured during that year. In 1861, it got another appellation as Mt. Godwin Austen, a tribute to British soldier and topographer Henry Haversham Godwin Austen, who is also recognized as the second European to visit the area. It was Achilles Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli who first succeeded in climbing to the mountain’s summit.
Today, K2 is also called the Savage Mountain because of the sheer difficulty of making the trek up to its peak. The name also stuck because of the mountain’s somewhat dark reputation as the eight thousander with the second-highest fatality rate for climbers. A staggering 25 percent of people who tried reaching K2’s summit died on the journey.
This mountain is the third highest in the world, and it shares its name with a whole section of the Himalayas. The name translates to “five treasures of snows,” referring to the five known peaks in this area. Located between Nepal and Sikkim, India, the mountains are believed to represent the five repositories of God—gold, silver, gems, grain, and holy books.
Before the Great Trigonometric Survey of India, most men believed that Mt. Kanchenjunga was the highest mountain in the world. This was officially debunked in 1852, however, when the survey calculations came to the conclusion that Mt. Everest surpasses its height by a few hundred meters. Mt. Kanchenjunga was subsequently named as the third-highest.
As early as 1929, expeditions had been sent to climb this mountain. That year, a Bavarian group attempted to climb it, but failed. It was only after about three decades later that the team of British mountaineers led by Charles Evans breached the area near mountain’s peak. To honor local religious beliefs, however, the team stopped a few meters short of the summit—a practice that most successful summit parties observe to this day.
Mt. Lhotse, or South Peak, is the fourth highest mountain in the world. It is connected to Mt. Everest through the South Col. Its main summit rises up to an altitude of 8,516 meters above sea level. Its other peaks also surpass the 8,000-meter mark: Lhotse Middle in the East is 8,414 meters above sea level, while Lhotse Shar is 8,383 meters above sea level. It is located at the border between Tibet and the Khumbu region of Nepal.
Officially known as Makaru and Makalungma in Limbu, or The Great Black, Mt. Makalu is another Himalayan mountain that belongs to the very short list of Himalayan eight thousanders. It is the world’s fifth highest mountain, with a a height of 8,481 meters above sea level. It straddles the area between Nepal and China, just 19 kilometers southeast of Mt. Everest, on the Nepal-China border. Makalu is an isolated peak, and it is particularly notable because the summit is shaped like a four-sided pyramid.
Its two notable subsidiary peaks are just shy of the 8,000-meter mark. Kangchungtse, also known as Makalu II, is 7,678 meters above sea level and lies about three 3 kilometers to the main summit’s north-northwest. Meanwhile, Chomo Lonzo’s height is placed at 7,804 meters. It is located about five kilometers north-northeast of the main summit.
Mt. Cho Oyu is also known as Qowowuyag in Tibet, meaning “turquoise goddess.” The sixth of the world’s highest peaks, it measures a height of 8,201 meters above sea level. It can be found within the Himalayas straddling the border between Nepal and China, just 20 kilometers west of Mt. Everest.
While not as famous as some of its neighboring mountains within the Himalayas, Mt. Cho Oyu is nevertheless very vital in the life of people living around it, and perhaps even in the economy of Tibet and Nepal. A pass near this mountain, known as Nangpa La is actively utilized as the main trading route between the Tibetans and the Khumbu’s Sherpa. Due to Mt. Cho Oyu’s proximity to this pass, as well as its comparatively gentler slope at its northwest ridge route, it also gained a reputation as the easiest eight thousander to climb. As such, it is a popular destination for professionally guided parties who simply want to experience a laid-back trek up an icy Himalayan mountain.
In the history of mountain climbing in the Himalayas, Mt. Cho Oyu appears to have been considered for an exploration quite late. The first attempt to scale it was made only in 1952 by a team organized and financed by the Joint Himalayan Committee of Great Britain. This expedition was led by Eric Shipton. It also included avid mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tom Bourdillon, who went on the Mt. Cho Oyu trip to prepare for their ultimate goal of reaching Mt. Everest’s summit the following year. Their attempt failed to make it to the top. However, only two years later, Herbert Tichy, Joseph Jochler, and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama succeeded in reaching its summit.
Mt. Dhaulagiri or White Mountain is located in Northern Nepal, rising 8,172 meters above sea level. An Austrian/Swiss team was the first to attempt to climb it, an effort that resulted in the successful staging of an assault on its peak in 1960. This mountain is also known as Dhaulagiri I, which refers to the highest peak in its massif alternately addressed as the Dhaulagiri Range, or the Dhaulagiri. This massif extends 120 kilometers, with Dhaulagiri I anchoring its the easternmost section.
Mt. Manaslu is another eight thousander. Its name means “mountain of the spirit” in Sanskrit, from the word “manasa” connoting “intellect” or “soul”. Also known as Mt. Kutang, it ranks eighth among the world’s tallest mountains. It rises to a height of 8,156 meters above sea level. It is recognized as the highest peak in the Lamjung District, in the west-central part of Nepal, about 40 miles east of Annapurna.
Mt. Manaslu is known for its long ridges and valley glaciers that offer humans with easily navigable routes to the peak from all directions. The summit itself is very distinct, towering over the surrounding landscape. The region offers a variety of trekking options, among them the Manaslu trekking route, which offers breathtaking views of ten peaks and meanders through an ancient salt-trading route. The highest point reached in this route is the Larkya La, with an elevation of 5,235 meters.
As of May 2008, the mountain has been climbed 297 times. It has claimed the lives of 53 people. Today, the Manaslu Conservation Area has been established for the conservation and sustainable management of this delimited area. A Japanese team was the first to climb the Manaslu, thus, “just as the British consider Everest their mountain, Manaslu has always been a Japanese mountain.”
Another mountain peak at the Himalayas, in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Mt. Nanga Parbat, meaning “naked mountain” from the Sanskrit words “parvata” (or “mountain) and “nanga” (or “naked”), is the ninth highest in the world and second highest Pakistani mountain. It reaches an altitude of 8,125 meters and is considered the most treacherous of the Himalayas. It has caused many fatalities among climbers in the first half of the twentieth century, earning it the name Killer Mountain. It was first scaled in July 1953 by a German-Austrian expedition.
Mt. Annapurna is a massif of the Himalayan mountain system, located in north central Nepal. It is one of the highest massifs in the world. It spans a length of 56 kilometers and culminates to two peaks, Annapurna 1 and Annapurna 2. Annapurna 1 reaches a height of 8,091 meters and is ranked tenth among world’s highest mountains. It features 13 other peaks that rises to more than 7,000 meters, plus 16 more that tops the 6,000-meter mark. Annapurna 2 is 7,937 meters below sea level.
The entire massif and its surrounding area are protected within the Annapurna Conservation Area. This is the first and largest conservation area in Nepal. It is also home to several world-class treks, including the Annapurna Circuit.
French mountaineers were the first to reach the summit of Annapurna 1 in 1950. The Annapurna peaks are notorious within the mountain climbing community and are known as the most dangerous mountains to climb because of the death toll among expeditions that attempted to climb the mountain. It was only sine 1990 when Mt. Kanchenjunga surpassed the death rate of Annapurna.
As of 2007, 153 treks to the summit had been completed on Annapurna 1, with 58 climbing fatalities. This 38-percent fatality to summit ratio is the highest of any of the eight thousanders. Many mountain climbers consider the ascent route on its south face to be the most difficult of all climbs.
Gasherbrum I, which reaches a height of 8,080 meters above sea level, is also known as the Hidden Peak or K5. Gasherbrum II, meanwhile, is just slightly smaller at a height of 8,035 meters above sea level and is also known as K4. They are the 11th and 13th highest peaks in the world, respectively. Both mountains are located along the the Pakistan-China border and both are part of the Gasherbrum massif. They are located in the Himalayan Karakoram region.
Many believe that Gasherbrum means “shining wall,” which is apparently taken as a reference to the highly visible face of the neighboring Gasherbrum IV. In fact, the name comes from the words “rgasha,” meaning “beautiful”, and “brum,” meaning “mountain. Hence, its name actually means “beautiful mountain.”
Gasherbrum I was designated as K5 by Montgomery in 1856 during the Great Trigonometric Survey of India. William Martin Conway gave it its alternate name, Hidden Peak, in reference to its extreme remoteness. The mountain’s peak was first successfully reached in 1958 by an American expedition. Gasherbrum II’s summit was first conquered in 1956 by an Austrian expedition.
Broad Peak, the 12th highest mountain on Earth, has an elevation of 8,051 meters. The name is not accepted by the Balti people when literally translated to Faichan Kangri.
Frequently spelled Shishapangmaor Shisha Pangma, as well as referred to as Gosainthan, Mt. Xixabangma is the 14th highest mountain in the world. It rises to a height of 8,013 meters above sea level. Today, it is recognized as the lowest of the eight thousanders.
Mt. Xixabangma is the last of the Himalayan eight thousander peak to be climbed. This is because of it is located entirely in Tibet, where there are very stringent restrictions on visits by foreigners that are imposed by Tibetan and Chinese authorities.
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