The trans-Himalaya is the high-lying area just behind the main peaks of the towering Himalayan Mountains, home to the highest peaks in the world. Notable places of the trans-Himalayas include the Tibetan Plateau, the Ladakh area of the Northern Indian Himalayas (Indus Valley) along with the Lahaul-Kinnaur-Spiti region and in north-western Nepal the Dolpo/Dolpa, Mustang, Manang, Humla and Mugu areas
The landscape of the trans-Himalayas
The trans-Himalayas are characterized by very dry, arid and barren conditions, since it’s in the rain-shadow of the main Himalayan Mountain Range, where very little monsoon rain, coming in from the Bay of Bengal in July and August, reaches the trans-Himalayan areas. The altitude of the trans-Himalayan area is generally between 2,500 meters (8,500 ft) and 5,500 meters (18,000 ft). The average elevation is about 4,500 meters (15,000 ft), well above the tree-line.
Life in the trans-Himalayas
In the Dolpo trans-Himalayas (Nepal) the main livelihood has traditionally been the salt trade. It is very hard to grow crops in these altitudes, but livestock such as yaks and sheep are also raised, grassing on various high-altitude pastures.
On the Tibetan Plateau, many inhabitants live as nomads. Recently, the Tibetan nomads are starting to see their pastures, and their nomadic way of life, increasingly hard to sustain due to climate change. An ecological and cultural disaster looming!
The people living in the trans-Himalayas are largely Buddhists of the Tibetan sort. It is Buddhism mixed with ancient animism. Many old rituals are still preformed daily. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is regarded as the reincarnation of previous Gods and is the revered and worshipped spiritual leader.
The trans-Himalayas – Getting there
Getting to the trans-Himalayas has been very difficult throughout history, which have helped to preserve the unique culture of the people living there. Many weeks of mountain walking were required. Nowadays there are airplanes, roads and even a train (Beijing – Lhasa) that can take you there.
Getting to the Indian trans-Himalayas is most easily done by flying in from Delhi to Leh. There is also a drivable road crossing the Himalayas. This road crosses several passes in excess of 5,000 meters (16,500 ft) and is closed throughout wintertime. It is the second highest motorable road in the world!
The Nepal trans-Himalaya is dotted with small air-strips, allowing STOL (Short Take-off and Landing) aircraft to fly in. But there are no scheduled flights to these remote places.
In Nepal a graveled road has now been built from Lo Manthang, “the capital of Mustang” to the Chinese border point at the Korala Pass. Lorry trucks ply regularly on this road and work is currently going on to connect the road with the main Nepalese road system which comes up to Beni.
There is also the 900 km Sino-Nepalese “Friendship Highway” that can take you up and through the Tibetan Plateau. The drive from Kathmandu to Lhasa usually takes about 5 days to complete. It is filled with stunning views of snow-capped mountain peaks, lakes, grassing yaks etc.