A fresh view of the Himalayas
When Westerners look at the Himalayas, they see the world’s highest mountain chain. But for Asians, they are above all a magnificent water tower. Their eyes and thoughts turn to the sparkling glaciers, countless waterways and majestic rivers of this gigantic chain, to the highest springs on the planet, and the most sacred lakes. A billion lives depend on this water resource; to see the Himalayas as a providential water tower is to see them as the locals do.
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Despite their subtropical latitude, the string of mountains that forms the Himalayas features more than 15000 glaciers. They feed into a similar number of waterways which go on to form three of Asia’s greatest rivers: the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.
It is estimated that the daily quantity of fresh water coming out of the Himalayas would fill a rectangle a kilometre wide, six kilometres long and a kilometre high….if this water were transported in road tankers, the convoy would reach to the moon and back. The Himalayas are indeed ‘Asia’s magnificent Water Tower’.
The Himalayan hydrographic network is simple. The three Himalayan rivers spring from the same region of the Tibetan plateau, on the slopes of Mount Kailash. As a consequence, despite its modest altitude of 6638 m, this mountain is the most sacred of all. Here, all mountains are worshipped because they are the home of benevolent Gods. For example, the goddess Annapurna of Plenty grants good harvests thanks to the rains she brings. But none can match Mount Kailash.
This mountain is more than a haughty pyramid; it is the fulcrum which allows communication between the human and godly levels. Even if we’ve known since the topography of Mount Everest was measured that Mount Kailash is not the world’s highest mountain, nevertheless as Water Mother ‘she’ remains the most important.
In choosing Mount Kailash as the world’s axis, all the local peoples, regardless of ethnicity, show the importance of water in their perceptions. Up there is where the world and its network of rivers is organised. From this Roof of the World flows the benevolence of the Gods.