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Himalayan histories: Tales behind the world’s most magnificent mountain region

Mon, 11 Jul 2022

What are the Himalayas?

The Himalayan mountains are home to some of the world’s highest peaks including the legendary Mount Everest and the incredible K2 summit. This region stretches an impressive 1,550 miles, separating the subcontinent of India to the south from the plateau of Tibet to the north. Best known for its record-breaking peaks, jagged-edged slopes, glacier valleys and crystal river gorges, this mountain range boasts incredible biodiversity and unrivalled physical topography.

How were the Himalayas formed? 

The Himalayan mountains were formed over 50 million years ago and still continue to shift, grow and develop today. This is the result of turbulent tectonic activity happening underneath the Earth’s crust, causing the Indian and Eurasian plates to collide and overlap, spilling out to form mountains. 

What is the history of the Himalayan mountains? 

At the crossroads of Asia, the Himalayas have a distinct micro-culture caused by a coming together of Central Asian, Iranian, Indian and East Asian communities. For centuries, the Himalayan mountains have been immortalised in mythology, art, literature and even hold a special religious significance. 

Pilgrims have journeyed to this immense landscape for worship and reverence. For Hindus, the Himalayas symbolise the vastness of the human soul, mirroring the universal connection of human consciousness in every living being. The Nepalese call Mt. Everest “Sagarmatha” which can be translated as “Goddess of the Universe” or “Forehead of the Sky.” 

According to Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, the Himalayan mountains were the most important of the pre-Buddhist deities, acting as warrior-protectors to the Tibetan kings. Also serving as the source of Asia’s greatest water network – forming the Ganges, Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Mekong and Nujian rivers – the mountains have long been worshipped as a life-giving force of nature.

In contemporary times the Himalayan mountains are still revered as one of the world’s most impressive attractions and the greatest challenge to any keen mountaineer

Myths and legends of the Himalayan mountains

The Yeti

Perhaps the most popular mythological creature known to mankind, the Yeti is an ape-like giant purported to be a native inhabitant of the Himalayas. Popularised in the early 20th century by British explorers, the Yeti has been long known in local Nepalese folklore. 

The terrible creature goes by many names in different corners of the globe including Bigfoot, Sasquatch and even the Abominable Snowman! Walking tall on two feet, this wild hairy beast is said to be over seven feet in height, leaving behind enormous footprints in the snow. Nonetheless, the elusive Yeti is yet to be seen alive despite a monastery in Khumjung claiming to house the remains of its skull.

Lakhe

Lakhe, meaning demon, is one of the most celebrated cultural symbols of the Newar community of Nepal. The great myth behind the Lakhe (or Majipa Lakhe) comes from a nearby town called Majipa, which is haunted by flesh-eating demons known by that name. One fateful day, a Lakhe falls in love with a young girl in town and starts visiting her disguised as a human. Eventually, his guise is revealed and the beast is captured. Instead of punishing him, the king of Majipa offers him impunity and a life with his lover if he promises to give up his demonic ways to protect the children of Majipa from other carnivorous Lakhes.

You can still see traditional Lakhey dances performed in Newa communities today, especially at the festival of Indra in early September, the biggest religious street festival in Kathmandu. Dancers parade throughout town, wearing huge, blood-red Lakhe masks made of paper mache and yak’s hair. Believed to ward off evil spirits, city dwellers offer food and ritual items to the dancers as they move through the city accompanied by the thundering music of drums, cymbals and gongs. 

Discover the Himalayan mountains for yourself

With such wild beauty and rich local traditions to experience first-hand, choose to explore this spectacular country on foot, where each step brings you closer to authentic Nepal. Browse our carefully curated holiday packages to the Himalayas and book your break today.

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