The Beauty And The Beasts

Uttarakhand has some great news in store for wildlife enthusiasts. Snow leopards, one of the rarest breeds of (large) cats have been spotted recently wandering along the Nelong valley of the Gangotri National Park. Around 315 km from Dehradun, tourists must obtain a permit to visit the area. It is one of the 12 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries that Uttarakhand houses, along with two conservation reserves and two world heritage sites. Lying in the Western Himalayan Biogeographic zone, Uttarakhand has a rich collection of flora and fauna in its kitty; 1405 invertebrates, 843 vertebrates and a whooping 4048 species of Angiosperms and Gymnosperms! Recognizing the exquisite natural heritage they have been blessed with, the state government has shifted its focus towards responsible ecotourism and have carved plans for ecotourism circles (Tanakpur-Champawat-Devidhura-Nainital, Yamuna Tons valley, Ramnagar-Almora-Nainital) and three ecotourism destinations (Ranikhet, Ramnagar, Dhanaulti).

Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve encompasses two national parks, namely Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park. Recognized in 1988 by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, the biosphere includes civil soyam forests, panchayat forests, reserved forests and snowy peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas in Chamoli district, including Nanda Devi Peak, which is the highest peak located entirely within the country. Home to a diverse habitat and ecosystems, more than 300 species of wild flowers with over 55% of the species native to Himalaya, as well as around 45 villages and communities of Bhotia and Indo-Aryan tribes, and resort for rare animals like musk deer, these areas are heavily protected for conservation, research and ecotourism. Nanda Devi is accessible via treks from Joshimath as base camp. For Valley of Flowers, the trekking starts from Govindghat, 25 km from Badrinath. Best time to visit is from May to October.

Nestled in the Shivaliks are Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park. The atmosphere is full of trumpets at Rajaji, being a habitat of Asian elephants. Established in the year 1983, it houses around 315 species of mammals, including tiger, sambhar, barking deer, cheetal and even wild boar. Corbett takes pride being India’s first national park, with around 25 species of reptiles, more than 500 species of birds- Waterfowl, Red Jungle Fowl, Drongos and Barbers to name a few, and mammals like tiger, leopard, nilgai, ghoral, jackals, foxes and varieties of deer. Ramnagar, the nearest town to Jim Corbett at 15km, is well connected via roads and rail with major cities like Delhi, Moradabad and Nainital. The closest airport is 50 km away at Phoolbagh, Pantnagar. For Rajaji, the nearest railway stations are at Haridwar and Dehradun, while also being well connected via roads to Rishikesh and Delhi. Nearest airport is Jollygrant, Dehradun, 21 km away. You can enjoy jungle safaris here from November to June.

Jhilmil Tal, a marshy grassland at the peripheral of Rajaji, is probably the only immaculate Terai marshland and definitely the only home to Swamp Deers. Other deer species found here are Chital, Hog deer, Barking deer and Chital. Established as a conservation reserve in 2005 along with Asan Wetland by former president of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015), these places serve as home to migratory birds and are a treasure land for bird watchers. Situated at the confluence of Yamuna and Asan river, over 327 bird species have been recorded at Asan including Black and Grey Francolin, Mallard, Glossy ibis, Grey heron, Burrad and Asian Koel, while birds like Pied Hornbill and Red Vented Bulbul have been seen at Jhilmil which is situated in Chidiyapur forest range in Haridwar.

Govind Wildlife Sanctuary or Govind Pashu Vihar National Park, named after an Indian freedom fighter Govind Ballabh Pant, is situated in the Uttarkashi district and is home to around 15 mammal species (with an Indian government backed Snow Leopard protection project) and 150 birds species, including steppe eagle, bearded vulture and Himalayan Snowcock. Being in high altitudes of Garhwal Himalayas, it also houses a garden variety of medicinal and aromatic plants. Best time to visit these altitudes is usually April-June, while being highly discouraged during monsoons due to the risk of landslides and cloudbursts. So don’t forget to be a responsible tourist!