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The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, the Himalayan state of India, covering an area of 754.4 km2. The GHNP is naturally protected by snow covered, steep ridges on the northern, eastern and southern boundaries. The Park is contiguous with the Rupi Bhaba Wildlife sanctuary in the south-east, Pin Valley National Park in the north-east and Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary in the north. These areas form the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area. The initial notification of 620 km2 of the Park was issued in the year 1984. The area was declared as National Park under Wildlife (Protection Act) 1972 by the Himachal Pradesh Government in 1999. This pristine area of temperate forests and alpine meadows surrounded by high mountains has remained without any human interference since 1999.
The climate of the Park is typical of the temperate and alpine regions of the Western Himalayas. The area experiences four distinct seasons viz., Winter (December-March), Spring (April-June), Summer (July-September) and Autumn (October-November). Precipitation is generally moderate (1100-1500 mm) with snow fall occurring throughout the Park in winter. Much of the eastern part of the Park is perpetually under snow.
The altitude of the area ranges from 1800m to 5200m with the major part of the Park lying above 4000m. The terrain is characterized by numerous ridges, deep gorges and precipitous cliffs, rocky crags, glaciers and narrow valleys.
GHNP is a major source of water for the rural and urban centers of the region with four major rivers viz. Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal, and Parvati originating from the glaciers in the Park. These rivers flow in the east-west direction and confluence to form the river Beas.
The GHNP has 17% of its area under forests. The low percentage of forest area is due to preponderance of high altitude meadows beyond tree line and the rocky and snow bound areas in the Park. The vegetation of the Park shows distinct altitudinal zonation and is representative of both temperate and alpine regions. The fourteen forest types of GHNP include - (i) Ban-oak forest 12/C(a), (ii) Moist-deodar forest12/C1(c), (iii) Western Himalayan mixed coniferous forest 12/C1(d), (iv) Moist temperate deciduous forest 12/C1(e), (v) Kharsu-oak forest 12/C2(a), (vi) Western Himalayan upper oak-fir forest 12/C2, 12C2(b), (vii) Montane bamboo brakes12/DS1, (viii) Himalayan temperate parkland 12/DS2, (ix) Himalayan temperate pasture 12/DS3, (x) Western Himalayan sub-alpine fir forest 14/C1(a), (xi) Sub-alpine pasture 14/DS1, (xii) Birch-rhododendron scrub forest 15/C1, (xiii) Deciduous alpine scrub 15/C2 and (xiv) Alpine pastures 15/C3.
A total of 832 plant species belonging to 427 genera and 128 families of higher plants have been recorded within the Park (Singh 1999). Of these 794 species are angiosperms, 11 are gymnosperms and 27 are ferns (Singh 1999). The forest consists of extensive stands of Oak (Quercus semecarpifolia), coniferous forests of Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana), West Himalayan Silver Fir (Abies pindrow), West Himalayan Spruce (Picea smithiana) and Himalayan Cedar or deodar (Cedrus deodara). The broad-leaf forests contain Horse Chestnut (Aesculus indica), Rhododendron arboreum, Quercus leucotrichophora, Q. floribunda at the lower altitude, and purepatches of Birch (Betula utilis) at higher altitude. Yew (Taxus baccata) is an important medicinal tree of the understorey. A rich variety of shrubs and patches of ringal bamboo (Arundinaria spathiflora) are found as a dense understorey. The shrubs of Rhododendron campanulatum form the Krummholz patch in the sub-alpine zone. Other shrubs that are found above 3700m are Juniperus communis, J. pseudosabina, Lonicera, Berberis, Cotoneaster, Vibernum and Rosa.
A preliminary study of herpetofauna of GHNP lists four amphibians viz., Himalayan toad Bufo himalayanus, Bufo stomaticus, Beautiful stream frog Amolops formosus, Stolickza's frog Rana vicina Stolickza and six reptile species viz., Kashmir rock agama Laudakia tuberculata, Himalayan ground skink Sincella himalayanus, Karakoram bent-toed gecko or Kashmir rock gecko Gymnodactylus Stolickzai, Eastern keelback Tropidonotus platyceps, Indian rat snake Ptyas mucosus, Himalayan pit viper Halys himalayanus.
The Park falls within one of the globally important Endemic Bird Areas (D02: Western Himalaya) identified by the ICBP Biodiversity Project. A total of 183 bird species including 51 non passerines and 132 passerines have been recorded from this area. This accounts for 72% of non passerines and 88% of passerines recorded in elevations above 1500m in the rest of the State. Five species of pheasants, viz., Western tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), Cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichii), Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus), Koklas (Pucrasia) and Kalij (Lophura leucomelana) are found here. The Western tragopan and the Cheer pheasant are endangered and GHNP has sizeable populations of the former. Other distinct bird species of the area includes Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa), Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola) and Himalayan Snow cock (Tetragallus himalayensis).
Thirty-one mammal species, including two primate species, twelve Carnivora, seven Artiodactyla, three Insectivora, six Rodentia and one Lagomorpha have been recorded from this area. This includes endangered species such as Snow leopard Uncia uncia, Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus, Himalayan brown bear Ursus arctos, Grey Goral Nemorhaedus goral, Himalayan Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster, Himalayan tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus, Serow Nemorhaedus sumatraensis.
There are about 141 villages and 1362 families with a population of 9694 living in the buffer zone of GHNP. The main occupation of the people is agriculture combined with horticulture and to a lesser extent animal husbandry. Collection of resources from the Park includes 44 species of medicinal herbs and mushrooms.
The GHNP is one of the most picturesque areas in the Western Himalayas, well known for its exquisite floral and faunal biodiversity.
The boundaries of GHNP are contiguous with the Pin Valley National Park (675 km2) in Trans-Himalaya, the Rupi Bhaba Wildlife Sanctuary (503 km2) in Sutlej watershed and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary (61 km2) covering a range of wildlife habitats representing the biodiversity of Western Himalaya - from tropical to alpine. GHNP is the crucial link that connects the above Protected Areas making this region a compact patch of inter-linked wildlife habitats.
During the process of continental drift the Gondwanaland mass collided with Asia resulting in the formation of gigantic fold mountains of the Tertiary Himalaya-Alpine System of Eurasia. The representation of the flora and fauna of Gondwanaland as well as Asiatic landmasses can be observed in GHNP. The Park has representation off our ecological zones: (i) the dry deserts of interior Asia and the well-watered lowlands of the Indian plains, (ii) the Oriental and Palearctic faunal realms, (iii) the high plateau of Tibet and the jumbled Himalayan peaks, and (iv) The catchments of the tributaries of the Indus, the Beas and Sutlej rivers. Thus, the bio-geographical peculiarities and the wide altitudinal variation contribute to range of species diversity, spanning sub-tropical and alpine vegetation characteristic of South-east Asian forests as well as Siberian and the Asian steppes. The GHNP harbours a wide variety ofwildlife habitats and high biological diversity within a small area.
The flora of GHNP shows affinities with Mediterranean, Tibetan and Himalayan region. For example, Valeriana jatamansi, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, Taxus baccata, Leycesteria formosaare typical taxa which extends up to Afghanistan and west China. Other affinities that are met with here are in form of Hippophae of palaearctic region; Cedrus deodara, Viola biflora, and Poa alpina of mediterranean region; and Euphorbia of Peninsular India. In addition, the Himalayas have evolved a high proportion of their own endemic taxa, for example several species of balsams Impatience, Androsace primuloides, Hedysarum cachemirianum, Draba lasiophylla, etc. and Himalayan Tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus are well represented in GHNP. Occurrence of least disturbed temperate and alpine ecosystems in a geographical compact area, and inaccessible and rugged terrain representing the ecological, geomorphological and biological values of the North-west Himalaya make GHNP a significant area for mountain biodiversity conservation.
The GHNP harbours the most important gene pool of Western Himalayan flora and fauna. This includes endangered mammalian species such as Snow leopard Uncia uncia, Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus, Himalayan brown bear Ursus arctos, Grey Goral Nemorhaedus goral,Himalayan Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster,Himalayan tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus and Serow Nemorhaedus sumatraensis. Five species of pheasants, viz., Westerntragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), Cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichii), Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus), Koklas (Pucrasia macrolopha) and Kalij (Lophura leucomelana) are found here. The charismatic Western Tragopan is the most spectacular among the pheasants and aptly named the 'King of Birds'. GHNP has one of the best populations of this bird across its range. The Western Tragopan locally referred to as "Jujurana" (King of the birds) is revered in several folk songs and lores. According to folklore, god created this colourful pheasant with the help of the most beautiful feathers of each bird in the universe.
GHNP is an Important Bird Area representing birds of three biomes viz.,Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest (Biome-7), Sino-Himalayan Subtropical Forest (Biome-8) and Eurasian High Montane - Alpine and Tibetan (Biome-5).
The Great Himalayan National Park was declared as National Park under Wildlife(Protection) Act 1972 by the Himachal Pradesh Government in 1999 vide No. FFE-B-F (3)-2/99- Dated 28th May, 1999 (read with Govt Notification FFE.B-F(3)-2/99 -III dated 27-09-2007 ). This pristine area of temperate forests and alpine meadows surrounded by high mountains has remained without any human interference since 1999. There is a five year Management Plan (2004-2009) for the Park. The remoteness and inaccessibility of the Park also ensures the conservation of its biological diversity. More than 85% area of the buffer zone is under forest, which is effectively fulfilling the forest based needs of the local community.
An array of habitats and exchange of flora and fauna through newly formed corridors occurred with the creation of the Himalayan ranges that resulted from tectonic movements and collision of two land masses over 23 million years ago. Three biogeographic zones are represented that make the Himalayas among the richest in the world in terms of biodiversity having several pockets of endemism. Apart from being biodiversity rich, the Himalayas are also the life-line for millions of people of the Indo-gangetic plains.
The Outer, Middle, Greater and Trans Himalayas have their own distinct floral and faunal assemblages. The three important site-representatives from the Greater Himalayas include the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve and the Valley of Flowers National Park in the State of Uttarakhand and GHNP in the State of Himachal Pradesh.
The Trans-Himalayan region on the other hand, is a high altitude cold desert and experiences extremes of cold and arid climatic conditions accounting for its low productivity and poor faunal density typically requiring large areas to maintain viable populations. GHNP has representatives of Trans Himalaya as well as elements of Greater Himalayas leading to its higher biodiversity richness.
The Valley of Flowers National Park is 87.50 km2 (N 30 41 to N 30 48, and E 79 33 to E 79 46 ) in Chamoli district of Garhwal Himalaya was established in the year 1982. The altitude range of the Park varies from 3200 m to 6675 m. The Park is well known for its plant species diversity and scenic beauty. The climate is moist temperate and alpine type with short cool summers and long severe winters influenced by southwest monsoon in summer and western disturbances in winter.The area is snow-bound for seven months. Three vegetation types - sub-alpine, loweralpine and higher alpine zone are recognized. The vegetation is dominated by alpine meadows. Over 500 vascular plants are recorded of which 31 are rare and endangered and 13 are medicinal plants (Kala 1998). The faunal diversity is very low in this area compared to GHNP but includes mammal species such as the Himalayan Musk deer, Serow, Himalayan Tahr, Asiatic Black Bear, Bharal, Mouse hare, Red Fox, Himalayan Weasel.
The Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (N 30 42 46 E 79 19 8), part of the Kedarnath Forest Division, lies within the catchment area of the Alaknanda River in Chamoli district of the State of Uttarakhand. It was established in the year 1972 for effective conservation of the Musk deer. The Park is 967 km2 with an altitudinal range from 1200m to 7000m. High rainfall in the area has led to lush broadleaf dominated forests in the temperate and subalpine zones with also representations from the Eastern Himalayan elements. The flora of the Sanctuary includes 168 tree species, 154 shrubs, 23 climbers, 375 herbs, 8 parasite species, 4 bamboo and 91 grasses. About 8 species of reptiles and 240 species of birds (Islam and Rahmani 2004) have been recorded here. The site falls under Western Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (Stattersfield et al. 1998) owing to the great altitudinal variation from 1000-7000m, three biomes (Biomes 7, 5, 8) are represented in this area. About 67 mammal species are reported from this region (Sathyakumar 1994). The Sanctuary has a good population of Himalayan tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus and Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster. However, the area experiences anthropogenic pressures from villages in and around the Sanctuary.
In comparison to the two PAs mentioned above, the Great Himalayan National Park has unique geological and ecological characteristics. It represents the most scenic landscape and a significant area of semi-natural flora and fauna in the temperate, subalpine and alpine zones of the western Himalayas as well as an area of high species diversity. The most outstanding feature of the Park is the abundant population of the endangered western Tragopan. Additionally, species such as blue sheep and Snow leopard representing Trans Himalayan elements are also present. GHNP is part of a compact stretch of forest area representative of the biodiversity of western Himalaya. The Park is relatively well insulated, undisturbed and untouched by modern developmental activities. The rivers originating from the Park drain into the Beas catchment forming the life support of a large number of people.