The Great Himalayan National Park consists of the watersheds of the Jiwa, Sainj and the Tirthan rivers and the river tributaries of the Beas.
The Great Himalayan National Park is undoubtedly the most pristine mountain landscape in the Western Himalayas and perhaps the planet. From the Andes to Nepal and Tibet, to the mountains of Eastern Europe and Western China – the pressures of a growing human population have left the landscape – even so-called ‘national parks’ – overgrazed, denuded of timber, devoid of wildlife. Ironically, here in India, home to over a billion people, it is still possible to find vast virgin forests and endless fields of wildflowers and ranges of un-named, unclimbed summits.
Born at the turn of the millennium, The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is one of India’s newest national parks, situated in a remote corner of the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. Amongst many valleys that Kullu has, the GHNP consists of the pristine parts of the Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwanal and Parvati valleys named after the four rivers that originate in the park. Spread in an area of over 754 square kilometres, the GHNP sits beside the Pin Valley National Park, Rupi-Bhaba Wildlife Sanctuary and the Tirthan and Sainj Wildlife Sanctuaries, making it one of the biggest areas for wildlife conservation in the whole Himalayan range. This jewel in the crown of the Himalayas consists of luxuriant oak forests, flaming rhododendron trees, crystal clear sparkling rivers, jagged virgin peaks and some of the rarest of animals, birds & medicinal herbs found nowhere else in the whole world.
Its home to about 215 species of birds with pheasants like the Western Tragopan, Cheer, Monal, Koklash and Kaleej along with other birds like the white throated tit & the Lammergeyer. GHNP is home to the elusive snow leopard along with other mammals like the Himalayan brown & black bears, Common Leopard, blue sheep, musk and barking deer, ghoral , serrow & the omnipresent red fox. It’s also a repository of rare medicinal herb like Jatamansi, Kadoo, Patish and the recently found Nag Chatri along with hundreds more which continue to be the main source of income for local population. However conscious efforts are being made by park authorities to minimize human impact and provide alternative income generation methods to locals, such as ecotourism.
The ecotourism programme continues developing a paradigm wherein local villagers actually benefit from having their ancestral lands turned into a wilderness preserve. Part of the plan is to train local youth in eco-tourism and trekking so that more resources become available to the locals than ever in the past while wild nature is preserved for posterity. Amongst the amazing fauna of the Great Himalayan National Park the Snow Leopard is the highest predator in the GHNP faunal diversity it is also the most elusive. With a population of only 300-500 individuals in the whole world, one has to trek for days in the GHNP before sighting this master of camouflage, a cat which does not even roar. Also high in the food chain is the mighty Himalayan Brown Bear which is believed to be the source of the legend of the Yeti, the Himalayan Brown Bear has good sighting rates in the GHNP. Hibernating from October to March, this sub species of the brown bear is one of the least documented on the planet. The beautiful state bird of Himachal the Western Tragopan is also called Juju Rana, (king of birds) for its magnificent plumage and is only found in this and one other national park in Pakistan. The calls of the Western Tragopan, also the logo of the Great Himalayan National Park, are often heard reverberating on the slopes of the park in the early morning. Voted as the top three most beautiful birds in the world the Himalayan Monal uses a variety of mating calls and is commonly sighted in the GHNP. Its crest traditionally used to embellish Kullu attire, almost led to its extinction due to mass poaching in the valley. However, due to the recent efforts of the forest department with their Pakshi Bachao Punya Kamao Scheme they have managed to save the bird!
(The author is involved in community & environmental activism for over two decades in Himachal, Sikkim and Uttarakhand).