Slideshow Description: The slideshow is intended to ‘tell the story’ of the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area, and features a portfolio of photos from an 8-day trekking expedition led by Peter Howard in October 2017. The expedition was guided and supported by a team of six local community members organized by Himalayan Ecotourism, and followed the course of the Tirthan River valley from Gushaini to the high peaks at the head of the valley. The return route followed a slightly different path via an upland meadow at Nada Thach surrounded by ancient broadleaf forests of golden oak and rhododendron. The slideshow is arranged chronologically from start to finish, up and down the valley. It illustrates the diversity of forest types and ecological communities experienced during the trek, with each vegetation ‘zone’ determined primarily by altitude, from the broadleaf riverine forests at lower altitudes through various types of coniferous forest and above the tree-line into the alpine meadows and grasslands below the rocky peaks and glaciers. The biodiversity is illustrated with photos of a few of the large mammals encountered along the way (grey langur monkeys and Bharal/Himalayan blue sheep), some of the flowers, birds (Himalayan Griffon vulture), butterflies, fungi and lichens, many of which remain undocumented in the park literature. Religion plays an important role in local culture and many of the prominent natural features (caves, boulders, ancient trees) are revered, festooned in prayer flags and serve as places of worship.
Tourism is still in its infancy in the Great Himalayan National Park, and although the lower reaches of the picturesque Tirthan valley (below the park boundary) is a popular destination, very few visitors make anything more than a day trek into the park. A graded path has been developed for the more adventurous trekkers as far as Nada Thach (half way up the valley), but trekking conditions above this are primitive and require total self-sufficiency – and a healthy tolerance of risk. During our 8-day expedition we did not encounter any other person for 7 days, so became a tight-knit and convivial team by the end of the expedition (including an adorable stray dog that accompanied us throughout!).
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017) the conservation status of the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is ‘good with some concerns’. The IUCN report notes that ‘ the property is legally well-protected and managed as a single unit under a single management plan spanning the period 2010-2020. There are currently no significant threats to the site however, careful monitoring and management is necessary to mitigate negative impacts from human occupation within the Sainj WLS and the adjoining Ecozone which acts as a buffer zone. Efforts to enable rights-based conservation approaches should continue including the phasing out of grazing within Tirthan WLS and strengthening where possible consistently high levels of legal protection across the property. The context of the site within a larger complex of protected lands bodes well for its conservation outlook and provides opportunities for progressive expansion of the property. Monitoring, especially of populations of key species, needs a technological upgrade and third-party involvement in order to understand trends and also design research studies that can correlate negative trends with impacts of climate change and other threats. Management interventions need to be based more on researched findings and with reliable monitoring protocols.