Monday, May 08, 2006

Geology 101

A classic, philosophical conundrum asks what would happen should an irresistible force encounter an immovable object. Various clever, semantic arguments have been put forward to advance one position or another, but they are pure sophistry. If you really want to know all you have to do is go to northern Pakistan. 50 million years ago the irresistible force (India) piled slap bang into the immovable object (Asia). The effect, of course, was mountains on a colossal scale: the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the Himalayas. Just this small stretch I'm travelling through is a geologist's wet dream. Not only can you see layers of sedimentary rock bent and twisted at impossible angles but also various metamorphic (such as marble) and igneous (granite) varieties joining in the fun. Just east of Gilgit, if one looks closely enough, you can see where the continents meet as well as the poor, unfortunate islands that got caught between the hammer of India and the anvil of Asia. The forces that must have been released are just mind-boggling.

Now those of you who've been following my travels for some time (what? you're still reading?) will know that I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to deities ad their adherents. But wandering around these mountains is about as close to a religious experience as I'm ever likely to get. The lack of oxygen at altitude almost certainly played a part but it's mainly because I get to see nature virtually untouched by human hands. And, as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing more beautiful than nature, be it a mountain landscape or a close-up view of a flea (and everything in between). There is an elegance and "rightness" (in the sense that it fits) in nature. As soon as Man steps in with his unnatural shapes and artificial creations then beauty takes a nosedive. Not that I'm advocating going back to the Stone Age, mind you. That is clearly impossible and undesirable (I would have no more computer games to play, for a start), but we can try to make our impact as soft as possible, and we should try our utmost to preserve the few remaining areas of pristine wilderness so that future generations can marvel at true beauty and learn to cherish it.

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