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The Himalaya is truly the world's greatest mountain range

The Himalayas - the world's great mountain rangeThe Himalayas are vast. So where do mere mortals begin to explore the world's great mountain range?

Hindu scriptures say that in "a hundred ages of the gods" you could not do justice to the Himalayas. Knowing where to go in an area 10 times the size of some US states is daunting.

Mount Everest gets most of the headlines, but the Himalayas are vast, especially when you include the mountain ranges west of the Indus; the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram. This almost 2,500 mile-long crescent, stretching from Kyrgyzstan to Myanmar, is a geography of superlatives - the highest mountains, the deepest gorges, tracts of wild forest, the rolling high plateau of Tibet, and, in Bhutan and the Indian state of Assam in the eastern Himalayas, some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet.

Then there are the people. It is true that in some areas the Himalayas are wild and barely populated, but in most there is an incredible diversity of cultures that have adapted to surviving in an environment that can be exceptionally hostile as well as incredibly beautiful. These huge peaks are also the meeting point for three of the world's great religions: Islam in the west, Hinduism to the south and Tibetan Buddhism to the north.

It's an incredibly dynamic region. New roads and airports are making some areas more easily accessible, such as the famous Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Political shifts also have altered horizons. Mountains along the northern border of Myanmar have recently become accessible for the first time in decades, while visa restrictions in Tibet have made travelling there more difficult.

Trekking is also changing. Many assume walking in the Himalayas is only for rugged types who enjoy roughing it. That may have been true in 1953, when Everest was first climbed and trekking tourism didn't exist. Now there are new ways to experience the Himalayas: luxury lodges for those looking to take in the views with a bit of comfort; treks that focus as much on culture as scenery; and new lodges and homestays for those who want to relax and get beneath the surface of Himalayan life. The walking itself is usually not too difficult, apart from the altitude, of course. It's the altitude, along with problems of traveling in one of the least developed regions of Asia that puts off some people. Staying healthy in the Himalayas is certainly more difficult than it is at home, but if you're used to walking and are cautious about gaining altitude, then you're unlikely to have any problems. And the rewards are spectacular!

 

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