An early Paleozoic tectonic event, the Kurgiakh orogeny, has long been known from the western Tethyan Himalaya, and it is conspicuously recorded by an angular unconformity between Cambrian marine shelf deposits and coarse Ordovician conglomerate, as well as widespread granitic plutons. Although the lateral extent of this event is poorly known, two regions in the central and eastern Himalaya, the Kumaon of India and klippen of Bhutan, contain conglomerate units that may be correlative with this event. In the Kumaon, the Ralam Formation, which contains a basal polymictic conglomerate unit with detrital zircon grains as young as ca. 512 Ma, is overlain by sandstone containing the arthropod walking trace Diplichnites gouldi, an ichnospecies known from Ordovician and younger strata. The late early Cambrian trilobite Redlichia sp., recovered from the underlying Martoli Group, indicates that the conglomerate is post–early Cambrian and, based on stratigraphic analysis, also likely records the Kurgiakh orogeny. In central Bhutan, the lower Paleozoic succession contains conglomerate units with monomictic quartz sandstone clasts and less mature sandstone matrix. These units have also been assigned to a variety of ages, but rocks that apparently underlie these strata contain the Furongian (late Cambrian) zonal trilobite Kaolishania granulosa. Here, we show that detrital zircon ages of a conglomerate clast (no grains younger than = ca. 781 Ma) are distinctly older than those of the matrix, which contains a large peak at 490–500 Ma. Thus, these conglomerate units are also potential lateral correlatives of the Ordovician conglomerate deposits of the western Himalaya.
Our paleontological and geochronologic data suggest that the Kumaon and Bhutan conglomerate units, and possible equivalents in Tibet, correlate with those of the western Himalaya. This increases their known along-strike extent by over 1000 km, bringing the total extent to ∼1200 km. Thus, the Kurgiakh orogeny spanned much of the Himalayan orogen along the northern Gondwanan margin and reflected a widespread tectonic reorganization of the peri-Gondwanan realm to Andean-type margins. Recent work indicates that it also likely extended into the Lhasa block and both the North and South China blocks. This event was associated with widespread ca. 500 Ma arc-related plutonism recorded in the Himalaya, and with abundant detrital zircon grains of that age in younger Himalaya strata. Based on current fossil data, the duration of the hiatus associated with the Cambrian-Ordovician boundary, which separates pre- and postdeformational strata, ranges from 22 to 36 m.y. Available geochronological data do not provide greater constraint. If the event was close in age to the depositional age of the Ordovician molasse, then the main phase of tectonic uplift, erosion, and deposition may have been much later than the presumed Cambrian-Ordovician boundary interval age of ca. 485 Ma.