Great Himalayan National Park – Snowcapped ridges and watered valleys
Amidst the snowy mountains of the western Himalaya lies one of the finest wildlife reserves in India, Great Himalayan National Park. In the state of Himachal Pradesh, this emerald-green park with its alpine vegetation falls within the Seraj Forest Division of the Kullu district. In 1984, the northern part of a protected area, the Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary (Originally formed in 1976) was incorporated into the Great Himalayan National Park and adjoins its southern boundary. The park and sanctuary in turn from part of a much larger protected area which includes Rupi Bhaba Sanctuary and Pin Valley National Park, creating an area of roughly 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres). The management of this increased area was formulated in July 1987, including plans to develop it into a tourist zone. Renamed the Jawaharlal Nehru Great Himalayan National Park in 1989, It is still commonly known as the Great Himalayan National Park.
Forest and snow-sculpted peaks
Except for the western flank, all other borders of the national park are bounded by high mountain ridges. About 53,000 hectares (130,000 acres) of land within the park make up forest reserve while the4 remaining portion is a snow-covered, pastoral, and agriculturally cultivated land. The eastern part of the Great Himalayan park remains permanently under snow and ice.
The park comprises the upper catchment areas of the river Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan, all of which flow west into the Beas River. The upper section of the Sainj valley shares a common boundary with the upper Parvati valley to the north, while the upper Tirthan forms part of the watershed that separates the catchment of the Beas and Sutles to the southwest.
Identical, dense vegetarian is a feature of the Sainj and Tirthann valleys, with Blue Pine the predominant species below altitudes of 2000 meters (6560 feet). Between the little villages of Nandal and Rolla, the Tirthan valley supports small areas of Quercus oak species (Ban, Kharsu, and Moru). The higher moderately sloping ridges are dominated by broad-leaved deciduous forest, while Silver Fir occurs in the steeper areas. Above the tree line, wide meadows characterize the landscape and contain herbaceous plants like Primula, Gagea, and lris.
On the park’s south-facing slopes, the grass- and shrub-clad hillsides are interspersed with Blue Pine and cedar (Cedrus deodara) together with plantations of Kharsu oak. Much of the park’s northern slopes contain a dense I understorey of bamboo (Arunidaria spathiflora), which forms impenetrable thickets in some places, particularly at heights of 2200 to 2800 meters (7200 to 9200 feet). At lower altitudes, within the vicinity of the hamlets, the forests feature an understorey made up of a profusion of shrubs.
Animals of the Himalayas
There is a unique biodiversity in this Himalayan region. Mammals include Barking Deer (Muntjac), Musk Deer, Blue Sheep (Bharat), and India’s largest population of Himalayan Tahr. This wild goat, generally deep reddish-brown in colour, has a heavy body, long robust limbs and narrow erect ears. It stands about 1 m (3ft) high. The Bharat on the other hand, both in physical appearance and in its habits, is a cross between a goat and a sheep.
Similiar in height to the Tahr, it is brownish-grey, and has smooth, rounded horns that curve backwards. Unlike the Tahr, though, Bharat rams are not bearded.
Leopard, Himalayan Black and Brown Bear, Rhesus Macacue, and Common Langur (or Hanuman Monkey) also occur. The presence of hex is not confirmed.
The Upper Beas valley harbours a rich variety of avifauna. Nearly 117 species of birds have peen recorded, of which 68 are resident birds and 49 are summer visitors. The park is notable for its pheasant population; it is one of the two most significant parks in India that support the Western Tragopan (which inhabits the Upper Beas River valley). The Chir Pheasant’s habitat is the Bandal area, and both the Koklass and Monal Pheasant are numerous throughout. The Kalij Pheasant is uncommon here.
Plants of medicinal value
Within the Great Himalayan National Pars arc natural sacred spots that have religious significance for the local people. Located at the hot springs at Khirganga and Hans Kund are the temples of Lord Surya (god of the sun) and Siva who is both creator and destroyer, since destruction ultimately leads to rebirth and renewal. These hot springs are also the source of the Tirthan River. In the Sainj area, there are four small hamlets, namely Sakti, Maror, Kunder and Manjhan. The local villagers still possess the right to cross the boundaries of the national parks; the original inhabitants of the area, the Gaddis, are issued with permits. They enter the forest to graze their livestock, collect fodder and wood for fuel, and gather the fruits of the forest.
During spring, throngs of villagers visit the forests of the Tirthan valley and the alpine meadows of the Sainj Valley to collect plants, many of which have medicinal properties. These include Yellow Jasmine (Pitmuli), Aswagandha (Indian Cheese-maker) and Saussurea Species.
Location: Lies at a distance of 60km (37 miles) southeast of KuIlu town in Himachal Pradesh. The park’s altitude ranges from 1500-5800m (4900-19,000ft). Nearest airport is Bhuntar (50km; 30 mites) away, with flight connections to Delhi and Shimla.
Climate: Receives good rainfall during summer (maximum temperature 20°C, or 68°F). Snowfall in winter (average minimum temperatures of 5°C, or 41°F) is less in comparison to Upper Beas valley.
When to go: Between February and May (summer months); September to early November is also good.
Getting there: The only way to visit the park is by jeep; these can be hired in Kullu.
Facilities: There are 13 rest houses in the park and seven rest houses on the outskirts of the reserve, although the influx of tourists is low. Cooking facilities and utensils are provided in the rest houses; visitors must supply own provisions.
Wildlife: Trekking within the park is advisable to better appreciate the wildlife. Typical Himalayan species — Goral (goat-antelope), Bharat (Blue Sheep), Himalayan Tahr, as well as Black and Brown Bear.
Landscapes: Beautiful scenery; the park lies in narrow, steep-sided valleys drained by several rivers, while some segments of the park reach the snow line.
Reservations: Permission to visit the park must be obtained from: The Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamshi-175125, KuHu District, Himachal Pradesh; or The Range Officer, Tirthan Wildlife Range, Banjar-175123, Kullu District, Himachal Pradesh.