Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 April 2022
This chapter considers the observation, comparison and visual representation of a range of altitudinal limits in the Himalaya: plants, animals, crops and human habitation. These limits were addressed especially through the lens plant geography. The chapter begins by examining the absolute limits of vegetation and attempts to divide up the Himalaya using a vocabulary of verticality borrowed from the horizontal (tropical, temperate and arctic). The second section extends these debates to animals. The third section examines debates over the ‘tropicality’ of the Himalaya, and inconsistences in the line of perpetual snow. The fourth section considers the altitude limits of cultivation, firewood and human habitation. The final section considers attempts to represent and understand these altitude limits visually by considering charts made by William Griffith and Richard Strachey. The chapter argues that as much as from abstract scientific interests, observations of altitude thresholds were wrapped up with the concerns of empire. Ultimately, applying existing horizontal divisions meant simultaneously overwriting pre-existing local cosmologies, and broader South Asian imaginings.