Hindu Kush

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Hindu Kush

(hĭn`do͞o ko͝osh), a high mountain system, extending c.500 mi (800 km) W from the Pamir Knot, N Pakistan, into NE Afghanistan; rising to 25,236 ft (7,692 m) in Tirich Mir, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Glaciated and receiving heavy snowfall, the mountains have permanently snow-covered peaks and little vegetation. Meltwater feeds the headstreams of the Amu Darya and the Indus rivers. The irrigated valleys are heavily populated, and extensive lumbering has greatly reduced the forests on the southern slopes. The system is crossed by several high-altitude passes; once used by Alexander the Great, Timur, and others in their invasions of India, they are now trade routes. The Hindu Kush were called the Caucasus Indicus by the ancient Greeks.

Hindu Kush


a mountain system in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Length, about 800 km; width, 50-350 km; maximum height, 7,690 m (Mount Tirich Mir in Pakistan). The most important ranges are the Baba, the Paghman, and the Hindu Kush proper. The latter is divided orographically into the western, central, and eastern Hindu Kush, the borders of which are the valleys of the Surkhab and Kokcha rivers. The western Hindu Kush is relatively low, the typical height being 3,500-4,000 m. The ranges of the central Hindu Kush (heights to 6,059 m) are located to the east and northeast of Kabul; their southern spurs and the Hindu Raj range form the complex mountain region of Nuristan. The eastern Hindu Kush in its western part exceeds 6,000 m and has large glaciers; on the east extends a desolate high mountain plateau, recalling the landscapes of the eastern Pamirs; its altitude is about 4,000 m, with mountains slightly raised above it. The lowest pass is the Baroghil Pass (3,777 m). The height of the snowline is about 5,000 m.

Geological structure and mineral resources. The Hindu Kush is a complexly subdivided horst anticlinorium within the limits of the Alpine geosynclinal (folded) region. Its geological composition includes gneiss, crystallized shale, marble, and quartzite of the Precambrian period; Paleozoic limestone, sandstone, and clay shale with lava horizons; and sedimentary (sandy-clay, carbonate, volcanogenic, and other) series from the Mesocenozoic period. An important role in the structure of the axis zone of the Hindu Kush is played by the massifs of granitoid, dating from the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic. The ancient deep fault along which the Parwan chain of valleys is located is also of great structural significance. To its north, folds were formed in the Upper Paleozoic; to the south, in the Mesozoic. However, the major tectonic movement, which produced the present structure of the Hindu Kush, took place in the Neocene-Anthropogenic period. Great seismicity is characteristic of this area.

The mineral wealth of the Hindu Kush includes coal (northern part), high-quality iron ore (deposits at Hajigak in the Baba range), polymetal ore, and beryllium (Nuristan); there are deposits of gold ore, lapis lazuli, barites, sulfur, graphite (Badakhshan), celestine, and talc.

Climate. The climate of the Hindu Kush is varied, with clearly differentiated vertical zones from the semiwilderness and steppe zone in the foothills and wide valleys between mountains to the high-mountain nival or cold deserts of the Tibetan type. The northern and northwestern slopes are located in the zone influenced by the western shift of air masses. The precipitation on these slopes is 400-800 mm per year; on the southern and southwestern slopes, about 300 mm. The eastern regions of the Hindu Kush are the driest; in the inner mountain valleys, precipitation is about 50 mm. The most humid area is the southeast Hindu Kush (Nuristan), which is influenced by the summer monsoon (as much as 1,000 mm of precipitation per year); it has semihumid subtropical characteristics. The high-mountain climate is especially severe and results in extensive glaciation (6,200 sq km). Fed by melting snow and glaciers, the rivers of the Hindu Kush are of the mountain type, with their highest level in spring and summer. The Turano-Indian watershed passes through the Hindu Kush and is an important climatic and landscape boundary.

Landscapes. The landscapes of the Hindu Kush are varied, since their altitude zonality is substantially different on the northern and southern slopes of the ranges. The northern slopes are occupied in the lower zone by ephemeral high grasses with wormwood and, in places, pistachios in gray-earth soil. In the central zone, bushy mountain steppes are widespread, or clumps of mountain xerophyte with sparse thickets of savin in mountain-brown and red-brown soils. The highest zone is mountain dry steppe or thin desert vegetation of the Tibetan type in mountain-desert gray earth (cold desert) containing a slight amount of humus. On the more humid southeastern slopes there are dry deciduous forests with an undergrowth of bushes in subtropical brown soil. Higher, up to 2,500 m, there are broad-leaved forests of the Indo-Himalayan type (evergreen oak and the like). Still higher, up to 3,300 m, coniferous (pine, fir, cedar) or mixed forests predominate. The subalpine zone reaches 3,700 m, with creeping junipers, rhododendrons, and, in moist spots, cereal meadows. In drier places, clumps of mountain xerophyte are found. The highest zone has alpine cereal and kobresia meadows.

Animal life is varied: the characteristic representatives of mountainous Asia are found, such as the snow leopard, mountain wolf, leopard, mountain goat, wild goat, markhor, bharal, and Pamir argali; birds include the snowy vulture, Tibetan snow pheasant, and mountain goose. In the southeast, representatives of Indo-Himalayan fauna predominate, such as the Himalayan bear, lynx, marten, and wild boar.

I. G. ARKHIPOV (geological structure and mineral resources), M. P. PETROV, and IU. K. EFREMOV

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