The Tirthan Valley lies adjacent to the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) and forms part of its eco buffer zone (as well as having its own Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary). This makes Tirthan a great place to stay and the ideal starting point for treks into the 1,171 sq km, UNESCO-listed GHNP. This unique area is testament to the vision and active participation of many local people without whom it would never have come into being or flourished.
The GHNP was first proposed by Dilaram Shabab back in 1971 inspired by the example of the US National Park Service and the first steps towards it began in 1976, with the GHNP fully established in 1984. In 2014, the park was awarded the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The area comprises four valleys—the Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nala and Parvati—and many climates from sub-tropical through temperate and sub-alpine to alpine resulting in a remarkable biodiversity of flora and fauna. The villages surrounding the GHNP, as well as the handful inside, are committed to eco-development, in which local rights and remunerative living go hand in hand with the drive to preserve this unique habitat.
The size and diversity of the GHNP, as well as its lack of human encroachment, has meant that many rare Himalayan animal species have been able to find a home here. The national park’s protection gives these animals a chance to thrive while elsewhere they are sadly in danger. These species include many rare grazing mammals such as the bharal, or blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), musk deer (moschids), goral (goat-like mammals in the genus Nemorhaedus) and barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) and their imposing predators the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) and the elusive king of the mountains, the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). All these animals live in a delicate balance that requires large habitats in which to roam undisturbed—fortunately that is exactly what the park provides.
Himachal Pradesh has over 550 different kinds of birds—45% of all India’s species! With its huge variety of altitude and vegetation, the Great Himalayan National Park is one of the best places to spot birds, particularly some of the world’s rarest species and it has been designated an IBA (Important Bird Area). As with the animals, several of the species are considered endangered of which the most celebrated is the Western tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus). The GHNP is home to the world’s biggest population of this magnificent pheasant, known as the jujurana or ‘king of birds’ locally. The many other bird populations range from the raptors that cut through the skies looking for prey to the rare cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichii) and the common but striking crested kingfisher (Megaceryle lugubris) by the rivers.
In addition to the fauna, the GHNP is outstanding in its flora. Over a 1000 species of plants are protected within its borders, including many rare medicinal species. The magnificent extent of towering forests of pines, cedars and firs impresses in every season, while summers see the high-altitude meadows carpeted in alpine flowers. The GHNP may only be a short plane ride from Delhi and Chandigarh or a day’s drive from the capital, but it’s a world away. Come to Tirthan and explore.