The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), located in the state of Himachal Pradesh lies within the Parvati valley of Kulu division. Its boundaries are also contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park.
The Park supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna including mammals like Musk Deer, Himalayan Tahr, Bharal or Blue Sheep. The lower hills are home to both Serow and Ghoral. Snow Leopard is present in the Park, as are Himalayan Black and Brown Bear.
Of the more spectacular birds, this Park is home of the Monal Pheasant and the rarer Western Tragopan. Other species include the Himalayan Griffon, the Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Slaty-headed Parakeet, and Great Himalayan Barbet. This Park is a trekker’s paradise and is best visited between April-June and September-October.The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is located in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. The Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary (61 sq.km.) and the Sainj Wildife Sanctuary (90 sq.km.) have also been brought under the National Park administration. Following a survey in 1980, the Himachal Wildlife Project-II, in 1983 , recommended the creation of GHNP and notification of intent was gazetted in March 1984. In 1994 the notification of intent to constitute the Sainj Wildlife Sanctuary was filed which was followed by a notification to include the upper Parvati catchment. In May 1999 the Government of Himachal Pradesh issued the final notification of the Great Himalayan National Park.
The Great Himalayan National Park lies within the Banjar Sub-division of the Parvati valley of Kulu division in Himachal Pradesh. It is naturally protected on the northern, eastern and southern boundaries by steep ridges and mountain ranges. The boundaries of the GHNP are contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi-Bhaba Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Great Himalayan National Park is situated at the interface or eco-tone of two of the world’s major faunal realms – the Palearctic to the North and the Oriental to the south. This allied to the fact of its tremendous altitudinal range means that the Park virtually supports the entire spectrum of western Himalayan vegetation types with all the consequent diversity of flora.
The effects of increasing altitude approximate the effects of increasing latitude. High elevation mountain landscapes therefore encompass, and compress, several climatic and vegetational bands between the lowest and highest points. The diversity is further accentuated in the Himalayas, located as they are in the sub-tropics but with extreme elevations. To try and comprehend the immense variety of vegetation that a place like the GHNP supports just think of all the vegetational variety that would be encountered between some point to the North of Delhi and the Polar Icecap. That diversity is pretty much what you would find compressed into the 754 square kilometres of GHNP. It’s a mind-boggling thought.
The vegetation types can broadly be categorised as follows:
(a) Forests, (b) Scrub vegetation, (c) Temperate grasslands and forest blanks, and (d) Alpine meadows.
Oak forests of Ban (Quercus leucotrichophora) and Moru (Q. dilatata) give way to Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) on steep south facing slopes. Temperate fir-spruce forests occasionally mixed with broadleaf species such as Hazel nut (Corylus colurna), Maples (Acer), Horse chestnut (Aesculus), Walnut (Juglans) give way above at 3300 metres to a variety of sub-alpine forest such as birch-rhododendron, pure patches of high altitude fir (Abies spectabilis), pure birch and Willow scrub (Salix elgans). At about 3800 metres one finds extensive alpine herbaceous meadows, scrub, marsh meadows dominated by sedges and rushes. The vegetation shows a clear transition into cold-arid towards high alpine, represented by dwarf species such as Adnrosace globifer, Waldhemia tomentosa, Saussurea spp. And dwarf succulents such as Sedum and Saxifraga species. Around the snowline at 5200m we see only a few lichens, some crucifers, Arenaria serpy chilfolia andSaxifraga species.
The vegetation communities also contain a large number of rare, endemic and valuable plants including medicinal herbs. The important species recorded are Himalayan May Apple (Podophythum hexandrum), Patis (Trillium govanianunr), Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis aculeata) Rhubarb (Rheum sp.), Bratrmakamal (Pleurosphermum densiflorum), Fire Weed (Epilobium angustiflium).
As elsewhere, diversity of habitat is reflected in the diversity of fauna. Amongst the mammals GHNP supports some of the rarest and most endangered species, which include the Himalayan Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster), an animal of temperate forests, mercilessly hunted down for its musk. Goral (Nemorhaedus goral) and Serow (Nemorhaedus sumatraensis) share the lower altitudes of the park with the Leopard (Panthera pardus) and the Himalayan Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus). In the higher reaches of the park Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur) provide the prey base for the almost mystical Snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
These elevations are also the home of the Himalayan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), kin to the Brown bears of Europe and North America, and also endangered as is the Himalayan Black Bear, by poaching for various body parts that are attributed with various medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities. The demand is primarily from East Asia.
The smaller mammals include the Himalayan Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Giant Indian Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Himalayan Palm Civet (Paguma larvata), Himalayan Weasel (Mustela sibirica) and Yellow throated Marten (Martes flavgula).
Over 203 species have so far been recorded in GHNP which include a substantial proportion of all the species occurring within its altitudinal range in the western Himalayas. GHNP falls within one of the globally important Endemic Bird Areas (D02: Western Himalaya) identified by the ICBP Biodiversity Project (1992).
The most spectacular component of the avifauna of GHNP are the Galliformes or Pheasants. This is one of only two locations where the threatened Western Tragopan is found. All records are from between 2100m and 3100m.
The Impeyan or Monal pheasant and Koklass Pheasant are abundant in the temperate forest zone with Monal also occurring in sub-alpine scrub, especially in autumn. Kaleej Pheasants are found in abundance in the lower broad-leafed forests and Cheer Pheasant found in small numbers on some steep south-facing slopes covered by grasses and shrubs. The Hill Partridge occurs sparingly at altitudes below 2,5000 m and the Snow Partridge has also been recorded just once, above the tree-line in the Tirthan Valley in November 1991. The Himalayan Snowcock occurs at high altitudes
Other species include the Himalayan Griffon, the Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture and the Golden Eagle with a few sightings of the Black Eagle at lower altitudes. Slaty-headed Parakeets, Great Himalayan Barbets, thrushes, White-browed Shortwing, Brown-fronted woodpeckers, Tawny Wood-Owl, many species of flycatchers, especially during the summer as also warblers can all be found here.
There are many trails within the park and treks can be arranged, varying from two days to seven days. These treks offer something for wildlife enthusiasts as well as people interested in the cultural activities and local architecture. A major attraction is the Pin-Parvati pass trek. This trek is seven days long and the trail leads through alpine and sub-alpine pastures, snowfields and glacial areas before crossing the Pin Parvati pass at 5319 metres.
Three important pilgrimage spots within the GHNP are: Raktisar, at the headwaters of the Sainj river; Hanskund, at the headwaters of the Tirthan, and Srikhand Mahadev, a lake on the southern border of the Park. All these sites are located in the high altitude area accessible in summer and fall months.
Village melas (fairs/festivals) occur round the year. These are colourful, multiple-day affairs where the village gods are brought together for a consultation. One can watch the oracle for the god (gur) go into a trance and tell local stories, answer questions, and interact with the village community. Respectful observations by outsiders is welcomed. Local songs and dances are also performed, and villagers dress in the best traditional costumes.
In February, a four-day festival of Fagli is celebrated in the villages near the edge of the Park (Pekri, Nahi, Tinder, and Phredi). This is a secular festival with masked dances and lots of merry-making. There is also a one-month festival from mid-January onwards in which families visit their relatives and special food is eaten. In April village fairs are held in Tinder, Bhatad, and Chipni; in May at Banjar; in June at Shangarh; in August at Galiard and Mashiar, and in September at Goshaini and Nahi.