UTTARAKHAND: HILL STATIONS, HIMALAYAS AND NANDA DEVI AND VALLEY OF FLOWERS NATIONAL PARKS

UTTARAKHAND

Uttarakhand is a relatively newly-formed state comprised primarily of two regions — 1) the Garhwal Hills, with peaks over 3,000 meters, ski slopes with a 900 meter drop, the hill station of Mussoorie, various trekking areas and the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh; 2) and the Kumaon Hills, with many ancient temples and peaks that challenge the most able mountaineers. Among the destinations are Nainital, Panikhet, Almora, Kausani, and Pithoragarh. State Tourism Website : uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

Uttarakhand state covers square 53,483 kilometers (20,650 square miles), is home to about 10 million people and has a population density of 189 people per square kilometer. About 70 percent of the population live in rural areas. Dehradun is the winter capital and largest city, with about 580,000 people. Gairsain is the summer capital, with about 7,200 people. The highest elevation is 7,816 meter (25,643 foot) Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain in India after Kangchenjunga and the 23rd-highest peak in the world.

Uttarakhand is crossed by the Himalayas and is known for its Hindu pilgrimage sites. Rishikesh, a major center for the study of mediation and yoga, was made famous by the Beatles’ 1968 visit. The city hosts the evening Ganga Aarti, a spiritual gathering on the sacred Ganges River. The state's forested Jim Corbett National Park shelters Bengal tigers and other native wildlife. In the Kheri District, tall green stands of sugar cane alternate with fields of wheat and mustard, perfect tiger habitat that has resulted in many villagees being killed by tigers.

See Separate Articles: 1) RISHIKESH, THE BEATLES, YOGA AND RAFTING ON THE GANGES and 2) HINDU HEARTLAND: THE UPPER GANGES, HARIDWAR, ALLAHABAD AND AYODYA

Dehradun

Dehradun (260 kilometers north of Delhi) is a city situated between the foothills of the Himalayas, the jungles of the Kaisi, Mohond and Kaansro, and the waters of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers. Dehra means cenotaph. Most of the cenotaphs found here — Kaulagarth, Kharkuli, Prem Nagar, Rajpur, Khurburah and Kalinga Nalapani — where the domain of the Sudarshan Shah of Tehri-Garwal before he was defeated by the Gurkhas of Nepal in 1903. Dun refers a reference to the river valley.

One of the main attractions of Dehradun (also spelled Dehra Dunn) is that it is accessible to Delhi. Lying at the foothills of the majestic snow-capped Shivalik range, amidst verdant and lush sal forests, it lies is the heart of the Garhwal region. Cut by two perennial rivers and located in the scenic Doon Valley, Dehradun is a great jumping off point for exploring destinations like Mussoorie in the Garhwal region. It is also home to a number of Hindu spiritual sites. According to legend Lord Rama, along with his brother, Lakshmana, performed penance here for killing Ravana. Dehradun is believed to be one of the oldest cities in the country. The British occupation of Dehradun, beginning in 1815, is visible with various colonial buildings.

Getting There: By Air: Jolly Grant, 25 kilometers from the city, is the nearest airport. The airport is connected with Delhi by daily flights. By Road: Dehradun is well-connected with all the major cities in the country through well-maintained and reasonably good roads. Regular bus services also link Dehradun with all nearby places. By Train: Dehradun station is well-connected with major trains like the Shatabdi Express, Mussoorie Express and Doon Express, functioning throughout the week.

Sights in and Around Dehradun

The Doon valley around Dehradun is known for its natural beauty. Visitors can take in the mountains and the jungles and go rafting on the region’s white water rivers or cruising on the calm ones. Sights around Dehradun include the Forest Research Center (five kilometers from Dehradun), the only institute of its kind in Asia with six museums related to different disciplines; and the Sericulture Center (eight kilometers from Dehradun), where you can see silkworms being raised. Sahastradhars (10 kilometers from Dehradun) a picnic area with a sulphur spring.

Robber's Cave (eight kilometers) boasts a stream that suddenly disappears and reappears again a few meters away. Dakpather Barrage (47 kilometers away) is a lovely area of gardens and picnic areas built around a dam on the Yamuna River. The Wadia Institute of Geology has an interesting display on the geology of the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayas.

Nag Tibba (50 kilometers north of Dehradun) is the highest peak in the area, standing at a height of 3050 meters (10,000 feet). Situated in the Lesser Himalayas, it is a popular trekking destination. The trekking route takes one through a thick cover of forest rich in flora and fauna coupled with some magnificent views of peaks such as the Bandar Poonch peak, the Gangotri group of peaks, Kedarnath peak in the north, Doon valley and the snowy peaks of Changabang. This trek is open even in the winters when most others are blocked because of heavy snow.

Lakha Mandal Temple (50 kilometers north of Dehradun) is dedicated to Lord Shiva and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Set beside the Yamuna river, it has graphite lingam, which shines when water is poured on it. Inside the temple are idols of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Lord Kartikeya, Lord Ganesha, Lord Vishnu and Lord Bajrangbali and two six feet statues of dwarapalakas (sentinels) of the temple. Some people believe that dwarapalakas statues belong to the Pandava brothers Bhima and Arjuna. There are around 150 stone engraved figures in the temple and some of them date back to the 4th and 5th centuries. The place is popular among devotees of the Shakti cult as Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are worshipped as the embodiment of Shakti.

Mussorie

Mussorie (30 kilometers north of Dehradun, 290 kilometers north of Delhi) is sometimes called the "Queen of the Hill Stations." Situated at an elevation of 2010 meters (6,600 feet) and located on a horseshoe-shaped hill, it offers lovely views of the Himalayas on one side and the sweltering Ganges plains on the other. It was established on a site discovered by a British hunting party in 1927. It's nearness to New Delhi makes it one of the most popular hill stations in India. The ideal time to visit is from March to June and September to November

Mussoorie is often shrouded in mist. Around it are natural sights such as waterfalls and hills. Mussoorie is famous for producing fine wine and alcohol. In fact, during the British era, it was home to several well-known breweries and wineries like McKinnon’s brewery that exported wine to England. It is said even Ghalib, a noted Urdu poet, was a connoisseur of wine from Mussoorie. Today, these breweries and wineries no longer but Mussoorie is a good place to relax and have a tipple and sip a fine wine. For information on its history read Barbara Crossete's “Great Hill Stations of Asia.”

Mussoorie was established by the British in 1823 and imprints of colonial architecture can still be found in its various structures like churches, libraries, hotels and summer palaces. The name Mussoorie is said to come from 'mansoor', a shrub that grows here. Sir George Everest, who helped the British measure the height of the world's highest mountain peak Mount Everest (later named after him), is the town’s most famous former resident. After the British rule ended, Mussoorie became popular when Indian personalities, including political leaders, authors, artists and Bollywood superstars, made Mussoorie their home. The most noted among these is author Ruskin Bond, who still lives here and can often be spotted taking long walks in forested glades.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, which lies approximately 54 kilometers away. By Road: Mussoorie is well-linked with a network of bus services, which includes private tour operators as well as state transport corporations. By Train: There are numerous trains connecting New Delhi with Dehradun, such as the Shatabdi Express, the Mussoorie Express, and the Nizamuddin AC Special.

Sights in Mussorie

Places worth checking out Mussorie include the clock tower, the Bazaar, the Himalaya Club, and the Picture Palace. Gun Hill, the highest point in the city, offers spectacular views of the Himalayas and the surrounding countryside. A lovely promenade along wooded slopes north of town is an excellent place for a stroll. A Tibetan township known as Happy Valley features fluttering Tibetan prayer flags, stupa, monks in burgundy robes, chortans (Tibetan stupas), Tibetan restaurants and shops selling exotic Tibetan crafts and religious items.

The Mall is dotted with colonial buildings, set against the backdrop of the picturesque Doon Valley. A bustling shopping location, where visitors can buy memorabilia and various handmade products, the Mall also provides entertainment facilities like skating rinks and old-style video game parlours. After an exhausting day of shopping, visitors can unwind at a number of restaurants that line the road and offer exquisite local delicacies. Municipal Gardens houses around 800 vibrant and diverse species of flowers. Also known as Company Gardens, it has boast fountains and a small artificial lake, where visitors can go boating..

Camel's Back Road is a three kilometers stretch that gets its name from a natural cluster of rocks shaped like a camel's hump. The road connects two prominent locations--Library Point and Kulri Bazar. The slope adjacent to the road houses a colonial cemetery dating back to the mid-19th century. The road winds through rocky mountains and green woods and serves as an ideal place for tranquil nature walks. It also provides magnificent views of sunrises and sunsets.

Near Mussorie

Not from town are the Municipal Gardens, La Tibba, Nag Devta Temple, Jharipani Falls and Kempty Falls. Dhanoulti (27 kilometers from Mussorie) is a quiet town set among fruit orchards. Surkahanda (47 kilometers away) features a temple with wonderful views of the Himalayas. Trekking destinations include Nag Tibba (50 kilometers away) and Chakrata (80 kilometers away), both of which are reached by beautiful train rides through forests and mountains.

Surkhanda Devi Temple (eight kilometers from Kanatal) is situated at a height of almost 3050 meters (10,000 feet) and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mussoorie. It is one of the 51 shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell) in the country. According to legend, Goddess Sati immolated herself in her father's yagya fire, when he insulted her husband Lord Shiva by not inviting him to the yagya. Bereaved and enraged, Shiva carried the body of Sati and performed tandav (a dance of cosmic destruction). To stop him from annihilating the entire universe, Lord Vishnu severed the body of Sati in 51 parts with his chakra. Some body parts of Sati are believed to have fallen at this spot and thus it is considered as a shaktipeetha.

Sir George Everest House and Laboratory (eight kilometers from Mussoorie) is also known as Park Estate. This popular house was from where Sir George Everest helped the British measure the height of the world’s greatest peak, Mt Everest. For his contribution, the peak that was earlier called Peak XV, was named after him. The location of the house is strategic and at the time of Sir Everest, it was used as an observatory to view mountains that demarcated the boundaries of British India. Today, the house is being maintained by the government of Uttarakhand and is open to tourists all year round. From here, one can get a spectacular view of the Doon Valley and the Himalayas.

Nainital

Nainital(330 kilometers northeast of New Delhi) is located in the heart of the Kumaon Hills, a region of spectacular beauty known for its forts, picturesque lakes, hill stations, aerial ropeways, hiking trails, rippling streams and views of glacier-clad Himalayas. Nainital is situated next to and named after Naini Lake, a blue-green eye-shaped body of water filled with sailboats and paddle boats. Along the shores of the lake are hotels, shops, promenades and restaurants.

Hiking destinations from Nainital include the state Astronomical Observatory, Hanumangarh Temple, Sanjya Botanical Park, Gufa Maradev (a cave temple devoted to Shiva) and viewpoints such as Laria Knata, Brlamandir Peak, Snow View, Alma Peak, China Peak, Camel's Back, Handi Bhandi and Land's End. Corbett National Park is also nearby.

Tallital and Mallital have interesting bazaars; Ramgarh (20 kilometers from Nainital) is known for its orchards; and Muktewar (50 kilometers away) has some of the best views of the Himalayas in the region. Nearby lakes include the five lake complexes of Sat Tal (25 kilometers away), Bhimtal (25 kilometers away), with a nice island, and the pristinely clean Naukuchiatal (20 kilometers away).

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport known as Pantnagar Airport is approximately one hour away from the town of Almora. By Road: The city is well-connected by roads to major destinations of India as it is connected with NH8. By Train: The nearest railway station to Nainital is Kathgodam that is 34 kilometers away. It has a smooth connectivity to major cities such as Delhi, Lucknow etc.

Ranikhet (55 kilometers from Naintal) is another hill station known for its temples, quiet picnic area, pine forests, and wonderful views of the Himalayas. Trekking destinations include the Durga temple at Kausani (34 miles from Ranikhet), the spectacular viewpoint at Sitalakhet (16 miles away). Dwarkaghat (25 miles away) boasts 55 ancient Katyuri- and Gujarati-style temples. There are also temples in Jhula Devi (4 miles away) and Binsar Mahadev (12 miles). The best vantage points are in Chaubatia (6 miles) and Majkhali (8 mile). Upat (3 miles) has a golf course and Khairna is famous for its fishing.

Almore

Almora (65 kilometers from Nainital) was chosen by the Chand dynasty as their capital in the late 15th century. It is famous for it many exquisite temples and rich medley of fairs and festivals. Among the oldest temples are Udyotchandeshwar, Kasar Devi (atop Kalmatiya Hill) and the Temple of Goll. Popular vantage points include Bright End Corner (a good place to watch the sunrise and sunset) and Kalimath. The Almora area offers some nice treks. The journeys to 900-year-old Katarmal Sun Temple (18 kilometers away), scenic Binsar (30 kilometers away), Jageshwar (24 kilometers away, with 164 Chand temples), the natural caves and Shiva temple at Gananath (50 kilometers away) are particularly memorable.

Almore is horse-shoe shaped hill station on a steep ridge and and encircled by the Kaushiki (Koshi) and Shalmali (Suyal) rivers, Almora was the summer capital of the Chand rajas, the royals of the Kumaon region, in 1560. With a mix of colonial-era buildings and traditionally painted wooden shops, Almora has forts, royal courts and historical monuments. On the site of the 6th century Ram Shila Temple, which has exquisite sculptures, is a was built by King Rudra Chand in the 16th century. The stone fortress was subsequently the seat of power of the Gurkhas and the British.

Surrounded by dense forests and mountains, Almora has several interesting spots nearby, including the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, famous for sightings of leopard, musk deer, Himalayan goral, jungle cat, and chital. Another unique stopover is Lakhudiyar, which has prehistoric rock paintings. It is said Almora flourished and became a power center during the reign of mighty Katuris (800 B.C.- A.D. 100) and later under the Chand dynasty (700-1790). Today, Almora is known as the town is home to the popular Uday Shankar Academy of Music and Dance.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport to Almora is at Pantnagar, about 127 kilometers away. By Road: The nearest railway station is at Kathgodam situated around 90 kilometers away. Kathgodam is connected by rail directly with Delhi, Lucknow, Dehradun. By Train: Almora is well connected by reasonably good roads with major cities of the country.

Kausani

Kausani (50 kilometers north of Almore) is a picturesque hill station lying on the cusp of the snow-capped Himalayas, nestled amidst deep green forests, crystal clear skies and beautiful lakes. From the Kausani area are clear views of important peaks like Nanda Devi, Trishul and Panchachuli. In fact, one can see the massifs of snow-clad mountains stretching to about 350 kilometers around the town.

Perched at a height of 1,890 meters above sea level, Kausani is a haven for trekkers, who are greeted by clear and mesmerising views of meadows, waterfalls and the many pine forests that make up the profile of the region. The best time for adventure sports is after monsoons. The climate of Kausani ranges between cool and cold and if one wishes to avoid the cold, the best time to visit is between April to June and then between September and November. Though for those who like wispy winters and snowfalls, Kausani is a treat at any time of the year.

Kausani registered its place in history as more than just an average hill station when in 1929, Mahatma Gandhi came to stay for 14 days at the Anasakti Ashram and titled Kausani as 'Switzerland of India'. He was in the process of writing his book Anasakti Yoga when he visited here. This book is a Bhagwat Gita treatise. Another famous personality associated with Kausani is the popular Hindi poet Sumitra Nandan Pant, who was born here. A number of famous poems written by Pant were inspired by the natural beauty and vibrancy of this breathtaking place

Getting There: By Air: The nearest convenient airport is Pantnagar, which is 167 kilometers away. By Road: There is good connectivity by road through cars and buses. The nearest cities from where one can drive to Kausani include Delhi, Ranikhet, Nainital, Dehradun and Chandigarh. By Train: The nearest train station is Kathgodam, which has good connectivity with most of the important places.

Badrinath and BadrinathTemple

Badrinath (320 kilometers north of Nainital, 20 kilometers from the Tibet border) is picturesque town considered as the abode of Lord Vishnu and is among the holy shrines of the char Dham pilgrimage. Nestled between the Nar and Narayan mountain ranges and sprawled along River Alaknanda, Badrinath is home to some of the most impressive peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas, including the majestic Neelkanth peak.

According to ancient texts, there are many spots of pilgrimage in heaven, earth and the world, but there has been none equal to Badri (as it is popularly called), nor shall there be. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Badrinath Temple is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. It is among the four holy places or char dham, which are much revered by Hindus. Devotees undertake a strenuous journey through the mighty Himalayas to reach this holy shrine.

The Badrinath Temple is built to resemble a cone with a small cupola of a gilt bull and spire. There are several stories tracing their origin to the Vedic age, but popular opinion suggests that it was Guru Adi Shankaracharya who established it in the 9th century. It is divided into three sections - the garbha grih or sanctum sanctorum, darshan mandap or puja hall and sabha mandap where devotees assemble. The present structure is said to have been built by the kings of Garhwal. One will find the idol of Lord Badrinath, also called Badri Vishal, with two arms lifted up, holding the shankh (conch) and the chakra. Two of his arms rest on his lap in the yogamudra. Made in black stone, the main idol of Lord Vishnu is seen sitting in meditation. The temple also houses idols of mythical bird Garuda, Lord Narayan's vehicle, Adi Shankaracharya, Swami Desikan and Shri Ramanujam.

How To Get Here By Air: Around 317 kilometers away is the Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun. Flights from several major Indian cities land here. By Road: The major cities of north India are well-connected to Badrinath. One can use buses that ply regularly from Delhi, Haridwar and Rishikesh to Badrinath. By Train: The Rishikesh Railway Station is 297 kilometers away while Kotdwar Railway Station is at a distance of 327 kilometers.

Near Badrinath

Mana (on the Indo-Tibetan border) lies along River Saraswati, amid the snow-capped Himalayas. The village is inhabited by Indo-Mongolian tribes, called Bhotias, who are mainly involved in the cultural activities of the Badrinath Temple. Home to several caves including the Vyas cave, where it said Veda Vyas dictated the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha,

Neelkanth is one of the major peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas, Standing at an height of 6,507 meters (21,348 feet), the snow-clad mountain peak rises just above the Badrinath Temple and is popularly known as the Garhwal Queen. Because of its pyramidical shape, devotees travelling to the Badrinath Temple believe that the mountain gives the impression of Lord Shiva sitting on the cliffs, which is also why it has been named after the lord. The first rays of the sun falling on Neelkanth Peak is a spectacular sight. Famous English mountaineer, Frank Smythe, described the Neelkanth Peak as second only to Siniolchu (in Sikkim) in Himalayan beauty. The 10-kilometer Neelkanth trek is one of the best trekking trails in Uttarakhand.

Brahma Kapal (two kilometers from the hills of Badrinath) holds special importance for Hindus as it is believed to be the place where people pay homage to the souls of their ancestors. The last rites of beloved elders are also performed at Brahma Kapal, a flat platform on the banks of River Alaknanda. All the necessary materials required to perform the last rites of elders are easily available at nearby shops. It is believed that Lord Brahma resides at Brahma Kapal because of which the departed souls get salvation from the cycle of birth and death when their family members perform their last rites or shraddha karma here. You can find several pundits (priests) sitting here with samagri (materials) to perform the rituals.

Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi (near Badrinath and the Tibetan border, 340 kilometers north of Nainital) is the second highest mountain in India after Kangchenjunga, the highest mountain located entirely within the country and the 23rd-highest peak in the world. Standng at an elevation of 7,816 meters (25,643 feet), it was considered the highest mountain in the world before computations in 1808 proved Dhaulagiri to be higher. It was also the highest mountain in India until 1975 when Sikkim, The state in which 8,586 meter (28,169 foot) Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, is located, joined the Republic of India.

What makes Nanda Devi particularly spectacular is that it is approached through the Rishi Ganga gorge, one of the deepest in the world. Nanda Devi is part of the Garhwal Himalayas, and is located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the Goriganga valley on the east. The peak, whose name means "Bliss-Giving Goddess", is regarded as the patron-goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalaya. In acknowledgment of its religious significance and for the protection of its fragile ecosystem, The peak as well as the circle of high mountains surrounding it—the Nanda Devi sanctuary—were closed to both locals and climbers in 1983. Nanda Devi National Park and nearby Flowers National Park are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nanda Devi is a two-peaked massif, forming a two-kilometer-long (1.2-mile) -high ridge, oriented east-west. The western summit is higher, and the eastern summit, called Nanda Devi East, (locally known as Sunanda Devi) is the lower one. The main summit stands guarded by a barrier ring comprising some of the highest mountains in the Indian Himalayas, twelve of which exceed 6,400 meters (21,000 ft) in height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of the Himalaya in Indian myth and folklore. The interior of this almost insurmountable ring is known as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, and is protected as the Nanda Devi National Park. Nanda Devi East lies on the eastern edge of the ring (and of the Park), at the border of Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts. [Source: Wikipedia]

Together the peaks may be referred to as the peaks of the goddesses Nanda and Sunanda. These goddesses have occurred together in ancient Sanskrit literature (Srimad Bhagvatam or Bhagavata Purana) and are worshipped together as twins in the Kumaon, Garhwal and as well as elsewhere in India. The first published reference to Nanda Devi East as Sunanda Devi appears to be in a recent novel (Malhotra 2011) that has the Kumaon region as backdrop.

Nanda Devi is also notable for its large, steep rise above local terrain. It rises over 3,300 meters (10,800 ft) above its immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhini Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2 kilometers (2.6 mi), and its rise above the glaciers to the north is similar. This makes it among the steepest peaks in the world at this scale, closely comparable, for example, to the local profile of K2. Nanda Devi is also impressive when considering terrain that is a bit further away, as it is surrounded by relatively deep valleys. For example, it rises over 6,500 meters (21,300 ft) above the valley of the Goriganga in only 50 kilometers (30 miles)

Nanda Devi National Park

Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. According to UNESCO: “The Nanda Devi National Park is renowned for its remote mountain wilderness, dominated by India's second highest mountain at 7,817 meters and protected on all sides by spectacular topographical features including glaciers, moraines, and alpine meadows. This spectacular landscape is complemented by the Valley of Flowers,

According to The Nanda Devi National Park is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the Himalayas. It is dominated by the peak of Nanda Devi, which rises to over 7,800 meters. No people live in the park, which has remained more or less intact because of its inaccessibility. It is the habitat of several endangered mammals, especially the snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer and bharal.

The park lies in Chamoli district, within the Garhwal Himalaya. It comprises the catchment area of the Rishi Ganga, an eastern tributary of Dhauli Ganga which flows into the Alaknanda River at Joshimath. The area is a vast glacial basin, divided by a series of parallel, north-south oriented ridges. These rise up to the encircling mountain rim along which are about a dozen peaks, the better known including Dunagiri, Changbang and Nanda Devi East.

The Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks are exceptionally beautiful high-altitude West Himalayan landscapes with outstanding biodiversity. Both parks contain high diversity and density of flora and fauna of the west Himalayan biogeographic zone, with significant populations of globally threatened species including the snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer and numerous plant species. Covering 71,210 ha, these two parks are surrounded by a large buffer zone of 514,857 hectares which encompasses a wide range of elevation and habitats. This entire area, located within the Western Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (EBA), supports significant populations of mountain ungulates and galliformes that are prey to carnivores such as the snow leopard. Nanda Devi National Park, with its wide range of high altitude habitats, holds significant populations of flora and fauna including a number of threatened mammals, notably snow leopard and Himalayan musk deer, as well as a large population of bharal, or blue sheep. Abundance estimates for wild ungulates, galliformes and carnivores within the Nanda Devi National Park are higher than those in similar protected areas in the western Himalayas.”

Valley of Flowers

Valley of Flowers (between Badrinath and Nanda Devi National Park) lies at an impressive altitude of around 11,000 feet with the majestic Zanskar range in the background. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Nanda Devi National Park in 1988, the valley becomes an artist's canvas with a flood of colors amidst snow-capped mountain peaks and glistening white glaciers. The valley is located between the conversion point of the Himalayan ranges, Zanskar and the Western and Eastern Himalayas and is formed by the Pushpawati stream. In August and September, the valley comes alive when thousands of flowers are in full bloom. Besides popular species of ferns, dwarf iris, dwarf larkspur, dwarf rhododendrons, primula, blue poppies, one can also find thousands of shrubs, orchids and plants in beautiful shades. It was Frank Smythe, an English mountaineer, who discovered this beautiful place in 1931 when he was returning after completing an expedition to Mt Kamet. Treks in this area takes travelers through beautiful landscapes of mountains, forests and flowery meadows, past cascading waterfalls and rushing streams.

According to UNESCO: Nestled high in West Himalaya, India’s Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. This richly diverse area is also home to rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, brown bear and blue sheep. The gentle landscape of the Valley of Flowers National Park complements the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park. Together they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Himalaya, praised by mountaineers and botanists for over a century and in Hindu mythology for much longer. [Source: UNESCO]

“Valley of Flowers is an outstandingly beautiful high-altitude Himalayan valley. Its ‘gentle’ landscape, breath-taking beautiful meadows of alpine flowers and ease of access has been acknowledged by renowned explorers, mountaineers and botanists in literature for over a century and in Hindu mythology for much longer.” The Valley of Flowers’ gentler landscape “complements the rugged, inaccessible, high mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi. Apart from some community-based ecotourism to small portions of these parks, there has been no anthropogenic pressure in this area since 1983. This property therefore acts as a control site for the maintenance of natural processes, and is of high significance for long-term ecological monitoring in the Himalayas.

“The Valley of Flowers is internationally important on account of its diverse alpine flora, representative of the West Himalaya biogeographic zone. The rich diversity of species reflects the valley’s location within a transition zone between the Zanskar and Himalaya ranges to the north and south, respectively, and between the Eastern and Western Himalaya flora. A number of plant species are globally threatened, several have not been recorded from elsewhere in Uttarakhand and two have not been recorded in Nanda Devi National Park. The diversity of threatened species of medicinal plants is higher than has been recorded in other Indian Himalayan protected areas. The entire Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve lies within the Western Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (EBA). Seven restricted-range bird species are endemic to this part of the EBA.”

Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park Ecosyems

According to UNESCO: The Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks are naturally well protected due to their remoteness and limited access. Both the parks were unexplored until the 1930s and have not been subjected to anthropogenic pressures since 1983 with the exception of some well regulated community-based ecotourism to small portions of the parks. Therefore, both the parks contain relatively undisturbed natural habitats that now act as control sites for the continuance of natural processes. The integrity of this property is further enhanced by the fact that both the parks form the core zones of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and are encircled by a large buffer zone of 514,857 ha. The Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and the Reserved Forest Divisions located west, south and east of the Biosphere Reserve provide additional buffer to this Biosphere Reserve. The local communities residing in the buffer zones of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve actively participate in the conservation programs of the Forest Department.

“Nanda Devi West, India's second-highest mountain, lies on a short ridge projecting into the basin and rises up from Nanda Devi East on the eastern rim. Trisul, in the southwest, also lies inside the basin. The upper Rishi Valley, often referred to as the 'Inner Sanctuary', is fed by Changbang, North Rishi and North Nanda Devi glaciers to the north and by South Nanda Devi and South Rishi glaciers to the south of the Nanda Devi massif. There is an impressive gorge cutting through the Devistan-Rishikot ridge below the confluence of the North and South Rishi rivers. The Trisuli and Ramani glaciers are features of the lower Rishi Valley or 'Outer Sanctuary', below which the Rishi Ganga enters the narrow, steep-sided lower gorge.

“Forests are restricted largely to the Rishi Gorge and are dominated by fir, rhododendron and birch up to about 3,350 meters. Forming a broad belt between these and the alpine meadows is birch forest, with an understorey of rhododendron. Conditions are drier within the 'Inner Sanctuary', becoming almost xeric up the main Nanda Devi glaciers. Beyond Ramani, the vegetation switches from forest to dry alpine communities, with scrub juniper becoming the dominant cover within the 'Inner Sanctuary'. Juniper gives way altitudinally to grasses, prone mosses and lichens, and on riverine soils to annual herbs and dwarf willow. Woody vegetation extends along the sides of the main glaciers before changing gradually to squat alpines and lichens. Local populations use a total of 97 species, for medicine, as food plants, fodder, fuel, tools, house building and fibres, as well as for religious purposes.

“The basin is renowned for the abundance of its ungulate populations, notably Himalayan musk deer (listed as 'lower risk' threatened species). Mainland serow and Himalayan tahr are also common. The distribution of goral does not appear to extend to within the basin, although the species does occur in the vicinity of the national park. Large carnivores are common leopard, Himalayan black bear and brown bear, the existence of which has yet to be confirmed. The only primate present is common langur, although rhesus macaque has been sighted outside the park boundaries. Some 83 species are reported from the biosphere reserve.

A total of 114 bird species belonging to 30 families was recorded during the 1993 Nanda Devi Scientific and Ecological Expedition, some 67 for the first time. Species abundant during May and June include crested black tit, yellow-bellied fantail flycatcher, orange-flanked bush robin, blue-fronted redstart, Indian tree pipit, vinaceous-breasted pipit, common rosefinch and nutcracker. Species richness was found to be highest in temperate forests, with a significant decline in richness as elevation increased.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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