population, settlement, and economic patterns within the Himalayas have been
greatly influenced by the variations in topography and climate, which impose
harsh living conditions and tend to restrict movement and communication.
People living in remote, isolated valleys have generally preserved their
However, improvements in transportation and
communication, particularly satellite television programs from Europe and
the United States, are bringing access from the outside world to remote
valleys. These outside influences are affecting traditional social and
Nearly 40 million people inhabit the
Himalayas. Generally, Hindus of Indian heritage are dominant in the
Sub-Himalayas and the Middle Himalayan valleys from eastern Kashmir to
Nepal. To the north Tibetan Buddhists inhabit the Great Himalayas from
Ladakh to northeast India.
In central Nepal, in an area between
about 1830 and 2440 m (between about 6000 and 8000 ft), the Indian and
Tibetan cultures have intermingled, producing a combination of Indian and
Tibetan traits. The eastern Himalayas in India and nearby areas of eastern
Bhutan are inhabited by animistic people whose culture is similar to those
living in northern Myanmar and Yunnan province in China. People of western
Kashmir are Muslims and have a culture similar to the inhabitants of
Afghanistan and Iran.
The economy of the Himalayas as a whole is
poor with low per capita income. Much of the Himalayas area is characterized
by a very low economic growth rate combined with a high rate of population
growth, which contributes to stagnation in the already low level of per
capita gross national product. Most of the population is dependent on
agriculture, primarily subsistence agriculture; modern industries are
Mineral resources are limited. The Himalayas has major
hydroelectric potential, but the development of hydroelectric resources
requires outside capital investment. The skilled labor needed to organize
and manage development of natural resources is also limited due to low
literacy rates. Most of the Himalayan communities face malnutrition, a
shortage of safe drinking water, and poor health services and education
land is concentrated in the Tarai plain and in the valleys of the Middle
Himalayas. Patches of agricultural land have also been carved out in the
mountainous forested areas. Rice is the principal crop in eastern Tarai and
the well-watered valleys. Corn is also an important rain-fed crop on the
Other cereal crops are wheat, millet, barley, and
buckwheat. Sugarcane, tea, oilseeds, and potatoes are other major crops.
Food production in the Himalayas has not kept up with the population growth.
The major industries include processing food grains, making
vegetable oil, refining sugar, and brewing beer. Fruit processing is also
important. A wide variety of fruits are grown in each of the major zones of
the Himalayas, and making fruit juices is a major industry in Nepal, Bhutan,
and in the Indian Himalayas.
Since 1950 tourism has emerged as a
major growth industry in the Himalayas. Nearly 1 million visitors come to
the Himalayas each year for mountain trekking, wildlife viewing, and
pilgrimages to major Hindu and Buddhist sacred places. The number of foreign
visitors has increased in recent years, as organized treks to the icy
summits of the Great Himalayas have become popular. While tourism is
important to the local economy, it has had an adverse impact on regions
where tourist numbers exceed the capacity of recreational areas.
Historically, all transport in the Himalayas has been by porters and pack
animals. Porters and pack animals are still important, but the construction
of major roads and the development of air routes have changed the
traditional transportation pattern.
Major urban centers such as
Kathmandu, Simla, and Srinagar, as well as important tourist destinations,
are served by airlines. Railways link Simla and Darjiling, but in most of
the Himalayas there are no railroads. The bulk of goods from the Himalayas,
as well as goods destined for places within the Himalayas, generally come to
Indian railheads, located in the Tarai, by road. The pack animals and
porters transport goods from road heads to the interior and back.