To the Hindus the Himalaya have been a perpetual source of wonder and veneration; to the peoples of far south, east and west, the Himalaya have been the symbol of India. In a very special measure the Himalaya is India’s national mountain as the Ganga is its national river.
The Himalaya have contributed greatly to the soil formation and fertility, meteorology, social and economic life and isolation of India from the neighbouring countries.
(a) Tourist Abode:
When the neighbouring lands are suffering from scorching heat in summer, the lower and upper ranges of the Himalaya, because of their height, enjoy a very cool and pleasant climate. Owing to the intense heat in the plains, India has developed a number of hill stations, especially in the Shivaliks. The important ones are: Almora, Chakrata, Dalhousie, Dharmashala, Dehradun, Gulmarg, Kalimpong, Landsdowne, Darjeeling, Shimla, Musoorie, Solan, Chail, Nainital, Ranikhet, Kasauli, etc.
These attract a large number of tourists during spring and summer season. The enchanting beauty of the people, the prospects of living in luxurious houseboats, the scenic beauty all round, the facilities for skiing and skating, mountaineering have all conspired together to make Kashmir valley a “paradise” among the world’s famous tourist resorts. Other valleys of similar importance are the Kishtwar, the Chambal, the Kulu, the Kangra and many others.
(b) Climate Influence:
The Himalayan Mountains isolate the deeper interior of Asia from the influence of warm air from the south, and it protects India from the cold blizzard generated by the continental winter high pressure system of north-eastern and Central Asia.
To the Himalayas India owes the prominent features of her climate. By reason of its altitude and situation directly in the path of monsoon, it is most favourably conditioned for the precipitation of all their contained moisture either as rain or snow. It intercepts the monsoon clouds advancing from the southern seas, and precipitates heavy rains on the Indian Plains.
(c) Birth-place of Rivers:
Snow-fields and glaciers of enormous magnitude are nourished on the higher ranges which, together with the rainfall in the middle Himalaya, feed a number of perennial rivers which course down to the plains in hundred of fertilizing tributaries.
These sacred rivers along with numerous tributaries have their sources here. In this manner the Himalaya, by turning all rain water to these mighty effluents, have protected northern India from the general desiccation which has spread over Central Asia. Without Himalaya, India would have been a bleak country with no big rivers and no rainfall.
(d) Source of Fertile Soil:
Running water and frost have been constantly eroding the great Himalayan ranges. This debris, after being removed by numerous rivers, is ultimately deposited over the great plains of northern India. It is estimated that the Ganga carries about 300 million tonnes of silt per year (i.e. about 9 lakh tonnes a day).
The Indus carries more than 10 lakh tonnes of silt per day and the load of Brahmaputra is even greater. The fertile plains of the Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam have all been the products of this eroded material, producing a wide variety of agricultural crops.
(e) Richness of Fauna and Flora:
The Himalayan region is very rich in animal and forest resources. In the front of the outer Himalaya lies the Tarai jungle the abode of many wild beasts like yak, leopard, bear, and sambhar on the west; panthers and tigers in the central part; and elephants, tigers and mithuns on the east. These attract a large number of hunters and provide good game.
Beside, owing to a variety of climatic conditions, the Himalayas are rich in forest resources. On the lower reaches largely found are the tropical and sub-tropical forests yielding good timber, while on the middle and upper reaches are found the coniferous and deciduous soft and hard woods, yielding wood for match-sticks, paper pulp, resin, turpentine oil, and various medicinal herbs, etc.
But unfortunately the means of livelihood in the high Himalayan region are very precarious. The cultivated land is very limited, and even this is fragmented.
Level land being scarce, the people have developed what is called terraced cultivation on hilly slopes at different levels, especially in the western and central portions; while Jhuming or shifting cultivation is practised in Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, etc., both of which systems involve strenuous labour.
Rice, madua are the staple crops though maize, barley, wheat, potatoes, chillies, tobaccos and ginger are also grown in some places. Opium poppy is grown in the hilly regions of Assam and the eastern frontier hill areas.
A wide variety of fruits is grown over the region, especially in Kashmir and Kumaon hill districts, and in Assam, In Kashmir, fruits like apples, pears, grapes, mulberry, walnut, cherries, peaches, apricot, currants, gooseberry, raspberry and strawberry are grown. In Kashmir, saffron is grown in the Rampur plateau of Kashmir and Kishtwar in Jammu. In Assam oranges, pineapple and papaya are the most important fruits grown.
(f) Source of Water Supply and Hydro-electricity:
The Himalayas give birth to mighty rivers whose waters have been utilised for purposes of irrigation and for power. The Jamuna Canal and the harnessing of the Satluj and other five Punjab rivers made India dependent more than ever on the resources of the Himalayas. The economy of the Punjab and the western desert region of the Rajasthan and western region of Uttar Pradesh became related to the flow of water from these mountains.
These are the sites where large projects (known as the multi-purpose Daus) have been and are being developed. The Mandi project was the first attempt in this direction. The post-independence schemes, the Bhakra-Nangal, the Kosi, and the Rihand dam projects have the generation of electric power as one of their main purposes.
(g) Storehouse of Mineral Resources:
The Himalayan region contains commercially valuable minerals. Copper, lead, zinc, bismuth, antimony, nickel, cobalt and tungsten are known to occur in both the eastern and western Himalaya. The Himalayas promise gold, silver, and precious and semiprecious stones (including sapphires, beryl, and kyanite), limestone, bauxite, gypsum, bentonite and magnesite. Coal and petroleum are other mineral fuels found in the region.
(h) Other Economic Resources:
On the lower slopes of the Himalayas (particularly in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh) green pastures have made sheep and goat rearing an important occupation of the Gadi shepherd. Sericulture is also carried on. Pashmina wool is obtained from Kashmir. Up to independence, the Himalayan region remained largely undeveloped, as it was fragmented into petty kingdoms and principalities.