Himalaya (properly Himalaya; from two Sanskrit words meaning' snow-abode'), the southern escarpment of the great Central-Asian plateau in so far as it falls between the Indus and the Brahmaputra. Thus limited, it extends from 73° to 95° E. long., over a distance of some 1500 miles. The Himalayas are not a single range, but a system of for the most part parallel ranges lying obliquely to the general direction of the system. They front the plain of the Ganges in northern India like a stupendous mountain-wall. On the east the system is connected with the mountain-ranges of south-west China and northern Burma and Siam. On the north it is backed by the lofty plateau of Tibet, 10,000 to 17,000 feet high. At its north-western extremity it runs up into the Pamir plateau, from which radiate also the Hindu-Kush and the Kuen-Lun Mountains. The southern foot of the system rests upon the plain of the Ganges, which nowhere rises more than 1000 feet above sea-level. The edge of the outermost hills is skirted as far west as the Gauges by the Terai, a belt of swampy grass-land, 10 or 15 miles wide. Next above the Terai lies a belt of forest, called the Bhabar. Above the Bhabar rise the foot-hills of the Himalayan system, generally designated the Siwa-lik Hills. They vary in height from a few hundred feet up to 4000, and present steep faces to the plains. It is on the north side of the Siwalik foot-hills that the first mountains appear. They rise up abruptly to elevations from 7000 to 10,000 feet. On these ranges stand the sanatoriums, Simla, Darjiling, Almora, etc.
In the Himalayas proper two main axes can be determined with tolerable distinctness. One, the southern, contains the line of the great snowy peaks ; the other, the northern, forms the watershed between the rivers of India and of Tibet. The mountains in the southern chain are amongst the loftiest in the world; a very great number of them exceed 20,000 feet (3| miles) in height. Mount Everest (29,002 feet) is the highest measured mountain in the world. Other lofty peaks are God win-Austen (28,265), Kinchin-jinga (28.156), Dhawalagiri (26,286), Nanda-Devi (25,700), and Trisul (23,400). The chain of great snowy peaks is, strictly speaking, a series of mountain-groups, each of which is connected with the watershed chain to the north by a transverse snow-clad ridge. These transverse spurs form deep valleys on either side in the space between the two chains; and these deep valleys are the cradles of the great rivers of northern India - the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, etc.
The snowy region of the Himalayas is plentifully studded with glaciers, one in the western part of the system being 36 miles long. In the same region they descend to 11,000 and 12,000 feet, in the eastern part of the system not lower than 13,000 and 14,000 feet; and on the Tibetan side they are seldom found to come lower than 15,000 and 10,000 feet. The snow-line, too, ranges higher on the Tibetan side than on the Indian. Whereas, on the watershed chain, it seldom descends lower than 18,000 feet, and on the tableland remains at 20,000, on the southern faces of the mountains it runs at 15,000 or 16,000 feet. The watershed chain has been little explored ; it lies chiefly within Tibetan territory. It forms an almost continuous line of peaks, its crest being probably over 18,000 feet in elevation. So far as is known, it is only broken by one pass of less altitude than 16,000 feet, namely the Dras pass (11,300) leading from Kashmir. The Niti Pass (16,676), SB. of Ladak, connects India with East Turkestan.
The Himalayas possess few lakes. In the east, north of Sikkim, are Yamdok-cho, or Palti, 45 miles in circumference, with an island, 2000 to 3000 feet high, in the centre; and Chomto-dong, 20 miles long by 16 broad, at an altitude of 14,700 feet. More to the west lie the holy Tibetan lakes of Manasarowar and Rakas Tal, which give birth to the river Sutlej. Besides these there are Nainital in Kumaon and the Lake of Kashmir. In nearly all parts of the Himalayas metallic ores exist; but only gold, iron, copper, and lead are extracted. Gold is largely mined in Tibet; copper and iron ore are worked in Kumaon and Garwhal.
Within Indian territory most of the inhabitants of these mountains are Hindus. The Tibetan portions are occupied by peoples of Turanian stock. In Hindu mythology these majestic mountains are invested with great sanctity; thousands of pilgrims travel year after year to the holy sources of the Ganges. The temples they visit stand beside the glaciers from which the river emerges, at Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badri-nath. See works by Medlicott and Blanford (3 vols. 1879), A. Wilson (1875), and Strachey (1890).