H I M A L AYA M O U N TA I N S
L I F E
The Eastern Himalaya >
from the lush forests of Namdapha and the Siang Gorge in the east to the barren mountain sides along the Kali-Gandaki Gorge to the west, >
encompasses within its boundaries not only a tapestry of ancient mountain kingdoms
but also a landscape of densely forested valleys and snow-covered peaks.
This region contains nine of the world’s 14 highest peaks including Kangchenjunga -‘The Five Treasures of Snow’.
At 8585 metres it is the world’s third highest peak and straddles the border of India and Nepal.
A cauldron of complex cultures, varied languages and multi-religious affinities, the Eastern Himalaya is an ethnological paradise. The harsh climate and relief of the region has been instrumental in preserving the cultural identities of people living in these areas for millennia. Although the majority here belongs to the Indo-Mongloid stock, they speak languages ranging from Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic to Tibeto-Burman and follow religions as diverse as Hindusim, Buddhism and Christianity with a large number still animistic in belief.
Epicentre of socio-cultural activities in the house, the kitchen fire not only helps keep the house warm but also allows smoking of meat, which is usually kept on a rack above it for drying in most traditional tribal houses of Northeastern India. Here, an Adi family in Arunachal Pradesh uses the kitchen fire to keep themselves warm and dry.
Introduced by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century, masked dances also known as chham are sacred performances that are supposed to protect the onlookers from misfortune. The dances are of various types all of which involve dancers in colourful silk robes playing the roles of deities, demons, heroes or animals. Accompanied by loud instrumental music they typically draw large crowds.
Found mostly in the temperate belts of the Northern Hemisphere, primulas are a group of flowering plants with about 500 species worldwide. The group derives its name from the word primus which means first, referring to the flowers being the first to bloom in spring. The species here, Primula denticulata or Drumstick Primrose is amongst the more common species in the Eastern Himalaya and is also grown as an ornamental plant worldwide.
Widespread across most temperate regions of the world, rhododendrons reach their highest diversity in Asia with about 80 species in India alone. The name rhododendron means â€˜red treeâ€™ in Greek, referring to the red flowers commonly associated with the species. Leaves of this evergreen species usually shelter insect fauna, which often help in pollination. However, some species have adopted ornithophily where birds such as this Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella help transfer pollen from one plant to another.
Named either after the great Greek hero, Titan or for the map-like pattern on its wings, the Edwardâ€™s Atlas Moth Archaeoattacus edwardsii is found in the tropical forests of South and Southeast Asia. In terms of the total surface area of the wings, it is the largest Lepidoteran in the world. In case of danger, it uses a unique defense strategy- it drops to the ground and hovers its wings slowly, making the apical ends of its forewings appear like a snakeâ€™s head in motion.
With reptile systematics in its infancy, the Eastern Himalaya still hold many new species such as this Japalura which awaits being identified and included in the official count for the genus. India is home to 8 of the 28 species of Japalura known to occur worldwide. This one could perhaps be number 9. Between 1998 and 2008 sixteen new species of reptiles were discovered in the Eastern Himalaya.
H I M A L AYA M O U N TA I N S
L I F E
Kamal Bawa Sandesh Kadur
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment