Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Fibre-glass life size model of elephant with 18-foot tusks that once roamed the Shivalik Hills

The Amazing History of the Shivalik Hills

If you’ve seen the photos of Himalayan Hideaway, you’ll know that it is nestled in the foothills above Rishikesh. (Haven’t seen the photos?  Go to www.hhindia.com or check out our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hideawayindia). Notice the greenery, the serenity.  Millions of years ago, however, it was quite a different story!

Shivalik Hills Fun Facts

Himalayan Hideaway is located in the Shivalik Hills, a mountain range of the outer Himalayas, about 2,400 km long and extending from the Indus River to the Brahmaputra River. In geological terms, the Shivaliks are the youngest part of the Himalayas and were formed around 25 million years ago.

If you remember your geography classes, then you’ll know that the Himalayas were created when the Indian tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian Plate, a process that began about 70 million years ago and is still a ‘work in progress’. Initially, there would have been a period of extremely violent seismic activity. Once things literally cooled down, the area became a suitable place for large prehistoric animals and the Shivalik Hills are a treasure trove of the fossils of those creatures. 

Giraffes and Giant Elephants and Hippos, Oh My!

What is startling about these fossils is that some are from types of animals we normally associate with Africa. For example there’s Sivatherium, or Shiva’s beast, a type of giraffe with four horns that became extinct about 8,000 years ago. Other amazing creatures include giant elephants with 18 foot tusks as well as apes, crocodiles, hippos and sabre tooth tigers. Most of these creatures would have died out during the ice age in the Pleistocene.

Another fascinating fossil is that of Colossochelys atlas, a giant tortoise that lived from the Miocene epoch (about 23 to 5 million years ago) through the Pleistocene (about 2 million years ago). It probably ranged from what is now western India and Pakistan to as far as Sulawesi and Timor in Indonesia. 

When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth

However some fossils of the Shivaliks are older than the hills themselves. Remember the Sauropods, the dinosaurs with long necks and tails, small heads and stocky legs? Their remains have been found in the area but we should not imagine them bounding around the mountain ranges. The Himalayas did not emerge until well after the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. To end up in the Shivaliks, the Sauropods must have hitched a ride on the Indian subcontinent as it broke away from Africa, Antarctica, and Australia and drifted north, but they would have been fossilised and extinct by the time of the collision with Eurasia.

Humans as Johnny Come Lately

Humans, of course, are the newcomers to the area. Stone tools around 2 million years old have been found in the area and would have been used by our Paleolithic forebears. When fossil remains of an ape-like creature turned up in the Shivaliks, some scientists thought they might have been from a human ancestor. But this view has now been discredited and scientists believe the bones are actually from an extinct orang utan-like creature called Sivapithecus.

Present Day Serenity

So, there you have it, the amazing history of the Shivalik Hills.  The next time you go to Himalayan Hideaway and soak up the serenity, just try to imagine the wild wonders that once existed in the lush Shivaliks.

Photo:  Copyright I, Vjdchauhan. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

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