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Dr. Harka Gurung's Contribution in Physical Geography

Authors:
Dr. Harka Gurung’s Contribution in Physical Geography
Narendra Raj Khanal, Ph.D.
nrkhanal@ent.com.np
Contribution
Dr. Gurung had a large number of published and unpublished books, atlas, monographs,
articles/papers and travelogues, paintings and drawings. A complete and systematic record
of all his contributions has still to be developed. However, attempt has been made to
prepare a list of his contributions so far reported in his books and articles. Based on the
information so far available, Dr. Gurung had written more than 29 books including atlas, 16
monographs and 30 articles (Table 1). Some of the books and monographs are the
compilation of many articles and travelogues. For example, there are 37 articles/papers
compiled in one book – Vishaya Vividh published by Himal Book, Himal Association in
2006. Similarly, there are 9 articles/papers in one monograph – Mountain Reflections:
Pattern and Development published by Mandala Publications in 2004. Those articles/
papers published in books and monographs are not counted here in Table 1. If these
articles/papers are also included, it shows that Dr. Gurung had written more than 80 articles/
papers/books on different themes.
Table 1. Number of Contributions by Type of Documents
SN Type Total Percentage
1 Post-Graduate Diploma Dissertation 1 1.2
2 Ph.D. Thesis 1 1.2
3 Book 29 34.9
4 Monograph 16 19.3
5 Article 30 36.1
6 Book Review 6 7.2
Total 83 100.0
Dr. Gurung’s contribution in different fields was driven by his job assignments in different
fields. When he worked as Lecturer in the Tribhuvan University, his academic contribution
was focused in physical geography. He had 12 contributions on physical geography especially
on geomorphology before 1971 (Table 2). In between 1971 and 1980, he joined National
Planning Commission, as Minister of Education and Tourism, and contributed more on
social and tourism sectors. After he joined Population Institute, University of Hawaii as a
Visiting Fellow and he focused his work on population, environment and development.
The Himalayan Review 38 (2007) 35-41
© Nepal Geographical Society
After the restoration of democracy in the country in 1990 and people’s democratic
movement, his focus was on social, political, economic and regional development and
issues of inclusive development.
Table 2. Contributions of Dr. Harka Gurung by Themes in Different Periods
SN Themes Before 1971- 1981- 1991- 2000 Total Percent
1971 1980 1990 2000 Onward
1 Physical 12 1 1 1 2 17 20.5
2 Environment and
Development 5 3 2 10 12.0
3 Population 1 3 1 2 7 8.4
4 Social 2 1 3 11 17 20.5
5 Economic 1 2 3 3.6
6 Tourism 1 1 1 4 1 8 9.6
7 Regional 1 2 3 6 7.2
8 Political 2 2 2.4
9 Atlas 1 1 4 6 7.2
10 Others 1 2 1 1 2 7 8.4
Total 15 7 13 17 31 83 100.0
Percentage 18.1 8.4 15.7 20.5 37.3 100
Contribution in Physical Geography
Geomorphology
The most important academic contribution of Dr. Gurung was on geomorphology. His
doctoral work was on the geomorphology of Pokhara valley. By analyzing the morphology,
sediment characterstics, river pattern, drainage density, discharge characteristics and
longitudinal profile of river channel, he concluded that the deposition of Pokhara valley was
under abnormal condition and challenged interpretations of the origin of Pokhara plain
(Gurung, 1970). Hegen (1959 cited in Gurung, 1970) observed that the Pokhara plain
was originated from the drying-up of a huge lake. According to Hagen, the last orogenetic
movement caused the entire Pahar region between the High Himal and the Mahabharat
Lekh to sink in opposition to the uplift of the Mahabharat Lekh. The subsidence resulted in
the formation of large lakes in the Pahar region south of the High Himal. Hagen placed
Pokhara Valley in the same category as the lacustrine valley of Kathmandu. Another
interpretation on the origin of Pokhara plain was made by Glennie and Ziegler (1963 cited
in Gurung, 1970). According to Dr. Gurung, the formation of the Pokhara plain was
consequent upon the uplift of the southern hills. The rise of this southern barrier diverted the
south-pluging Seti river laterally north-west to south-east retarding its excessive transporting
36 Dr. Harka gurung’s contribution in Physical Geography
power. As a result, river transported materials from the high mountain were deposited into
tectonic sedimentary trap around Pokhara behind the Barasami ridge. In contrary to the
concept of the process of the formation of Pokhara valley due to alluvial process forwarded
by Glennie and Ziegler, Dr Gurung considered that there has been a change in climate and
suggested that the gravel deposits of Pokhara as a legacy of a perigalcial past. He viewed
that avalanches on glacially over steepened hill-sides were active during the late stages of
the final dissolution of the Ice Age. Numerous screes were built-up and their transportation
was facilitated by gravity flow as well as vigorous pro-glacial streams. Although the present
region may have never been glaciated, it is probable that the large boulders were carried
by river-ice or drift-ice. The exceptional steepness could facilitate the overloaded proglacial
streams to descend long distances and traverse valley of the Seti at Pokhara provided a
receptacle to all these materials. He concluded that the plain of Pokara was built-up by a
large valley train emanating at the head of the Seti valley and the outwash in-fillings are the
remains of the abnormal phase.
In addition to the proposition on the origin of Pokhara plain, he had discussed different
morphometric properties of the hills (Pahar) and mountains around Pokhara valley. His
important observations were:
The highlands in the north have the higher relief value than the southern hills
The Yangdi-Madi anticlinal axis forms a morphological boundary between two
types of hill topography. North of the axis lie the well-dissected highlands and
southwards occur a series of strike-ridge in different directions
The scarp-and-dip topography of this area is not due to monoclinal structure but
rather due to thrust-fault
The gravel mass filling the pre-glacial valley of Pokhara has been worked-up by
the Seti into extensive terraces as well as steep gorges.
The glacio-fluvial deposits along the main Seti valley acted as barriers to the tributary
streams. As a result, many lakes were formed. However, the local slope, the amount
of debris and the erosive power of the stream are the major factors responsible for
the persistence and drain away of these lakes
There has been shrinking of Begnas and Rupa lake with the hill-wash
Dr. Gurung was not only the first rated field geomorphologist but he also had a
commanding theoretical knowledge on the process of landform evolution. He had
published an article on Orogenesis of the Himalayas in which he discussed the
theories of mountain building in relation to Himalaya orogenesis and the
palaeogeography of the Himalayas (Gurung, 1967). He had reviewed different
concepts, hypothesis and theories of mountain building. These included Continental
Sliding Theory, Continental Drift Theory of Wegener, Intrusion Theory, Theory of
Thermal Contraction, Holmes’s Hypothesis, Undation Theory of Bemmellan, the
Tectogene Concept of Hess and Plutonic Hypothesis of Billing. He pointed out
Narendra Raj Khanal 37
that these concepts explain partially not the whole and mountain building is neither a
product of one type of diastrophism. Forces as complex as the structure they create
have gone into the making of the most telling terrestrial landmark - the mountains. He
concluded that the mountains may be likened to the facial expressions of what
goes within the interior of the earth. He had also discussed the chronology of the
formation of different mountains in the Himalayas. He pointed out that the first
spasms of the birth of the Himalayas took place in the pre-tertiary upheavals, the
second upheaval in the Upper Eocene (Kirthar bed) and the third towards the end of
the Pliocene. The fourth Himalayan paroxysm (‘Siwalik folding’) took place towards
the close of the Pliocene and the fifth and final upheaval during the Pleistocene period.
He also concluded that the successive overloading of the Gangetic alluvial trough must
have some counter-effect on the unloading of the Himalaya and thus the Himalayas are
maintained by these two balancing factors.
Another important geomorphological study of Dr. Gurung was in the Chure range with
this author (Gurung and Khanal, 1988). Attempts were made to identify various
geomorphic processes, describe various landforms, assess change in land use, and
prepare geomorphic maps of the sample locations. The main findings and conclusions
of this study were:
The Chure has three distinct lithological zones – the upper, the middle and the
lower
Many of the rivers fall in the fourth order and the geological structure and the
basin shape seem major controlling factors in relief ruggedness
Both the surface runoff and sediment discharge from the hillslopes are very
high
The elevation of the Chure range from the adjoining plain is higher in the west
than in the east
Southern slope is much more steep than the northern one
Mass-wasting, hillslope slumping, surface erosion, and vertical as well lateral
cutting of the rivers are the major geomorphic processes
There is very high rate of surface erosion (2.11-4.23 cm per year)
The processes of change in land use are not very old. Forest land has been
converted into cultivated land. In a few cases, irrigated khet land has been
converted into dry pakho land due to decreasing water table and increasing
flood events
Since the area is inhabited by the recently migrated people from the hills and
mountains their experiences regarding geomorphic processes and damages is
short. Most of the vocabularies relating to physical environment used in the
hills are also used in this area which is geologically and morphologically very
different from the hills. Thus their efforts to mitigate geomorphic hazards are
not very effective.
38 Dr. Harka gurung’s contribution in Physical Geography
Mountain Landscape
Dr. Gurung had also discussed physical pattern of Nepal and tried to divide it into different
natural divisions (Gurung, 1968, 1971, 2004, 2005). He had divided Nepal into 8 natural
divisions. From south to north, these divisions are the Terai, the Churia hills, the Dun or
Bhitri Madhes (Inner Terai), the Mahabharat Lekh, the Pahar (Hills), the Main (high)
Himalaya, the Bhot Valley, and the Tibetan Marginal Mountains. He pointed out that there
are specific native terms for various elevation zones (pahar without snow, lekh with winter
snow, and Himal with permanent snow) and landforms (dun in the west, madhi in the
central, and khonch in the east for the Inner Terai) and recommended to use such terminology
first based on elevation zone and second based on regional name in classifying Nepal into
different landscape units. He emphasized that native appreciation of their landscape is
more important than inventing new for the classification and naming landscape.
Dr. Gurung had also tried to clarify some of the concepts regarding mountain environment
and development (Gurung, 2005). According to him, the degree of human intervention in
natural ecosystem varies in rapacity both in time and space depending on whether it is for
survival (poverty) or conspicuous consumption (affluence). He added that advances in
science and technology have, however, obliterated the middle path between traditional
immobility and materialistic heedlessness. With regard to the concept of mountain fragility,
he proposed that mountains are not fragile; they are highly dynamic due to its high energy
environment. Similarly, he opinioned that human activities do contribute to deforestation
but extent of human impact on consequent land degradation remains in unknown quantity
and mass wasting in the mountain area takes place independently of vegetation cover. He
also pointed out that bad land use practices is not due to ignorance of environmental
degradation among native people, but those are the adaptive mechanism for survival in the
absence of alternative modes of livelihood. He added that poverty is the basic cause of
poor land management and the risk can only be mitigated through economic development
in the context of Nepal.
Another most important contribution of Dr. Gurung is the study of landscape change in
Lamjung district (2004a). By analyzing data derived from interpretation of time series aerial
and terrestrial photographs (1958-2002), field observation (1946-2002), and interview
with local people, he had made the following conclusions on landscape change.
Natural processes that shape landforms have a cyclical nature while cultural forms
exhibit linear and progressive development
Geomorphic processes are very forceful in high relief area and they become evident
from periodic trigger events rather than normal events
The chronology of natural events stamped in local memory were of three types –
landslide, bridge collapse and flood damage
Narendra Raj Khanal 39
A significant cultural process that impacted the landscape was upgrading of transport
infrastructure and improvement in environment with the control of pest and diseases
(malaria eradication)
Mountain landscape is highly dynamic but with system recovery and self regulation.
For example, most landslides were stabilized with vegetation and some new ones
were observed. This finding challenges the concept of fragility of mountain
environment.
There has been a significant increase in abandoned land with vegetative cover in
areas away from settlement. It should be noted that this finding contradicts with
the concept of Himalayan environmental degradation proposed by Ekholm (1976).
Biogeography and Climatology
Dr. Gurung had also contributed in the fields of biogeography and climate. Dr. Gurung had
divided Nepal into four phyto-geographical areas (Gurung, 2004). These included i) eastern
Nepal or Kosi watershed without xerophylic plants, ii) central Nepal or Gandaki
watershed with co-existence of hydrophilic and mesophilic plants, iii) western Nepal or
Karnali watershed with co-existence of mesophylic and xerophilic plants and iv) north-
west Nepal or trans-Himalaya with steppe vegetation of Central Asia. He had discussed
the climate of Pokhara valley and pointed out that Pokhara is exposed both to the
summer monsoon and winterly jet-streams and these two air masses give a distinct
seasonal character to which the rhythm of life is closely attuned (Gurung, 1965). He also
added that nocturnal inversion of temperature occurs when down-valley winds reduce the
temperature after sunset at lower levels. The katabatic winds funneling down the higher
mountain slopes are most pronounced in the evening, and during March-April these
acquire gale force, causing much damage to the buildings.
At the End
It is evident from the above discussion that Dr. Gurung had contributed a lot in physical
geography by proposing several new concepts and pointing out misconceptions which
were generally held. He used to encourage Nepali geographers to contribute more in physical
geography. By reviewing the articles published in the Himalayan Review, a journal of Nepal
Geographical Society, Gurung, (1980) had observed that the various aspects of physical
geography are not only poorly represented but many are entirely lacking (1980). He had
added that there are no articles on geology, glaciology, pedology and plant geography in
which field foreign researchers have done much work in Nepal. He was surprised that in a
country imbued with some of the largest Himalayan rivers with tremendous hydropower
and irrigation potential, geographers have yet to turn to hydrography or water resources.
He had recommended that there should be more avenues for research and publication on
current issues such as water resources, environmental stress, land use change, population
dynamics and air transportation.
40 Dr. Harka gurung’s contribution in Physical Geography
Dr. Gurung was the source of scholarship and his patronage in the development of physical
geography particularly mountain geography in Nepal remained highly commendable. He
will be remembered as a Himalayan scholar. He will be missed by all those who are interested
in the study of Himalayas. I will greatly miss him for ever as an inspirer.
References
Ekholm, E. P., 1976. Loosing Ground: Environmental Stress and World Food Prospects.
New York: World Watch.
Gurung, Harka 2000. Pokhara Valley: A Geographical Survey. Kathmandu: Nepal
Geographical Society.
—–1967: Orogenesis of the Himalayas. Journal of the Tribhuvan University. 3(1):1-7.
—–1968. Geographic foundation of Nepal. The Himalayan Review. Vol. I: 1-10.
—–1970. Geomorphology of Pokhara Valley. The Himalayan Review. Vol. II-III (1969-70):
29-57.
—–1971. Landscape pattern of Nepal. The Himalayan Review. Vol. IV: 1-10.
—–1980. The Himalayan Review: A perspective. The Himalayan Review. Vol. XII: 44-52.
—–2004. Mountain Reflections: Pattern and Development. Kathmandu: Mandala
Publications.
—–2004a Landscape Change in the Nepal Hills: Evidence from Lamjung. Kathmandu:
ICIMOD.
—–2005. Mountain environment and landscape change. In Bhim P. Subedi and Padma C.
Poudel (eds.), Geography and Geographers’ Work in Nepal: Reflections on
Mountain Environment and Human Activities. Kathmandu: Nepal Geographical
Society, Central Department of Geography, and National Centre of Competence in
Research. Vol. I: 11-19.
—– and Khanal, N., 1988. Landscape Processes in the Chure Range, central Nepal. The
Himalayan Review. Vol. XVII-XIX: 1-39.
Hagen, T., 1959. Uber den geollogichen bau des Nepal-Himalaya mit beennsonderer
Beerueecksichtigung der Siwalik-Zone under Talbildung. Berict ueber die Tatigkiet
der St.Gallischen Nature. Gessell, St. Gallenn: 3-48.
Narendra Raj Khanal 41
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Pokhara Valley: A Geographical Survey
  • Harka Gurung
Gurung, Harka 2000. Pokhara Valley: A Geographical Survey. Kathmandu: Nepal Geographical Society.
Orogenesis of the Himalayas
—–1967: Orogenesis of the Himalayas. Journal of the Tribhuvan University. 3(1):1-7.
Geographic foundation of Nepal
—–1968. Geographic foundation of Nepal. The Himalayan Review. Vol. I: 1-10.
Geomorphology of Pokhara Valley
—–1970. Geomorphology of Pokhara Valley. The Himalayan Review. Vol. II-III (1969-70): 29-57.
Landscape pattern of Nepal
—–1971. Landscape pattern of Nepal. The Himalayan Review. Vol. IV: 1-10.
Mountain environment and landscape change Geography and Geographers' Work in Nepal: Reflections on Mountain Environment and Human Activities
—–2005. Mountain environment and landscape change. In Bhim P. Subedi and Padma C. Poudel (eds.), Geography and Geographers' Work in Nepal: Reflections on Mountain Environment and Human Activities. Kathmandu: Nepal Geographical Society, Central Department of Geography, and National Centre of Competence in Research. Vol. I: 11-19.
The Himalayan Review: A perspective
—–1980. The Himalayan Review: A perspective. The Himalayan Review. Vol. XII: 44-52.
Landscape Processes in the Chure Range, central Nepal
  • Khanal
--and Khanal, N., 1988. Landscape Processes in the Chure Range, central Nepal. The Himalayan Review. Vol. XVII-XIX: 1-39.