Great Himalayan National Park

Hemmed in on three sides by the towering peaks of the Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh's Great Himalayan National Park is undoubtedly the place to go for a rendezvous with the wildlife of these mountains. Here, amidst dense forests of blue pine and cedar, in high alpine meadows and mountain slopes which remain covered with snow throughout the year, lives one of the densest and most impressive populations of Himalayan wildlife.

Created in 1984, the Great Himalayan National Park (officially known as the Jawaharlal Nehru Great Himalayan National Park) includes, in a wide swathe of land covering 765 sq km, the previously-established Tirthan Sanctuary.

Adjacent to the park are two more important protected areas- the Pin Valley National Park and the Rupi Bhabha Sanctuary- a vast expanse of land sheltering many of the species, both animal and plant, endemic to the Himalayas. The Great Himalayan National Park lies in Seraj Forest Division (in Kullu District), in the upper catchment’s areas of the Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan rivers. A park where the altitude varies from 1,500 mt to about 6,000 mt, encompassing within it snowcapped mountains, river valleys, and steep cliffs. The diversity of terrain and altitude is reflected in a corresponding diversity of vegetation. Deciduous broadleaved forests of oak and bamboo alternate with pine and deodar woods, while grasses and colourful wildflowers crowd alpine meadows in the upper reaches.

Inhabiting this stretch of land is a dazzling array of animals and birds. Among the most prominent mammals are leopards, Himalayan black bears, brown bears, langurs, rhesus macaques, and wild sheep such as the Himalayan thar, bharal and the ibex. Rarer animals like the highly endangered musk deer are also found in the park, and there have been reports of snow leopard sightings. The Great Himalayan National Park is unsurpassed in its bird life, with almost 68 resident species and close to 50 migrant species being sighted here. Pheasants, such as the gloriously beautiful monal, the kaleej and the Western tragopan, are among its many attractions.

Entry Requirements

Special permits are required by visitors to the Great Himalayan National Park. These permits can be collected, for a nominal fee of Rs 2 (for Indians) or Rs 4 (for foreigners) from the office of the Park Director at Shamsi, or the range officers at Larji, Sairopa and Sainj. Charges for guides (who are provided by the park authorities, and are mandatory for anybody visiting the park) are extra, as are fees for cameras.

Visits to the Great Himalayan National Park are allowed only between sunrise and sunset.

Access

The town closest to the Great Himalayan National Park is Kullu, which is about 60 km from the park. Kullu, as one of the most popular tourist destinations of Himachal Pradesh, is very well-connected to the rest of the country. Kullu's airport, at Bhuntar, receives flights from across India, while the local bus station has links to most major cities in northern India, such as Shimla, Chandigarh, Delhi and Ambala. The nearest major railhead is at Chandigarh, although there's a smaller rail station at Jogindernagar.

From Kullu, National Highway # 21 (to Manali) leads to Aut, from where a motorable road leads part-way to the park. A vehicle can be hired at Kullu to do the trip to Gushaini or Neuli, the end of the road. From here onwards, visitors need to go on foot, as no motor transport or horses are allowed.

Within the Great Himalayan National Park, the only form of transport is your own two legs- so make sure you're physically fit and wearing a sturdy pair of boots. A qualified guide is mandatory for everybody visiting the park; you'll be able to hire one at the park's office. A trek through the park is definitely the best way to see the beauty of this area, and with some luck you should be rewarded with some great sightings of birds, bharal, langurs, and even a leopard or bear.

Best time to visit

The Great Himalayan National Park is best visited in early summer or autumn- April to June and September to November are the times when the weather's at its best. Beyond November, and right up to April, heavy snowfall can block roads and trails, besides making it a little too cold for comfort! Rainfall hits the park between July and September, sometimes resulting in landslides and muddy trails.

Accommodation

Accommodation within the Great Himalayan National Park is inexpensive, though limited in its scope; about the only place you can stay is one of the dozen-odd forest rest houses scattered across the park. In actuality, these are patrolling huts designed for the use of park staff and visitors- the facilities are minimal, and you'd be well advised to bring your own bedding and food. Rooms here must be reserved well in advance by contacting the Park authorities.

Other options for accommodation lie outside the park's boundaries, but these too are rest houses, and not too different from those within the park. Forest rest houses exist at Aut, Sainj, Sairopa and Shangarh; for all, reservations need to be made well before you arrive.

For reservations and further enquiries, contact the Office of the Park Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamsi (Kullu), Himachal Pradesh (Tel: 1902-265320).