Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Soli S. Mehta
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
  12. MAKALU, 1976
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (N. C. SHAH)
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
  25. KINNAUR-1976
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977



The Nanda Devi Basin, situated in the Garhwal Himalaya, is also known as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary to mountaineers by virtue of its almost inaccessible terrain which kept the mountain inviolable till 1934, when Shipton and Tilman pioneered a trail up the Rishi gorge to reach the base of the mountain. In doing so, they were the first men to ever put foot into a remarkable mountain basin with rich pastures and a veritable Garden of Eden where herds of Himalayan ungulates grazed which knew no fear of man. The Sanctuary referred to in this report means the Nanda Devi Basin.

Following their first entry and Tilman's successful attempt on the Nanda Devi itself in 1936, there was little further human intrusion into the Basin as a result of the moratorium on mountaineering during the Second World War. Immediately after the war independence and the years thereafter saw this area closed to expeditions. The unique Himalayan wilderness therefore remained largely untouched by Man right into the 1950s.

The last two decades, however, have seen a tremendous change all along the Himalayan range with roads penetrating remotest valleys and men with arms living at high altitudes throughout the year. With both civilian and military mountaineering being actively encouraged, several large and well-planned expeditions have operated within the Sanctuary and reports of indiscriminate shooting of wildlife have been causing considerable uneasiness among conservationists.

With restrictions being raised on foreign expeditions to the Nanda Devi area, there has been a spate of expeditions and summits within and around the Sanctuary have been reserved for several years in advance. This large-scale entry of Man into what was, till only a couple of decades ago, a wilderness rivaling such places as the Galapagos Islands and the Antarctic Continent, has given to rise to anxiety over the possible damage to the delicate ecosystem.

The investigator was invited to join the 1977 British Nanda Devi expedition as a naturalist, and his participation was considered a good opportunity for an inquiry into the damage already sustained by the area. World Wildlife Fund, India, sponsored a two- month study during May and June 1977. This report attempts to evaluate the impact of Man's activities in the Sanctuary and suggests some remedial action to conserve the magnificent natural heritage for future generations. The investigator was rendered valuable assistance by Kt. Hon. Capt. Jonathan Forbes of the British Army Team which was associated with the expedition.

Shipton and Tilman who first entered the high valleys at the base of Nanda Devi, found a mountain wilderness grazed by herds of Bharal and Goral (wrongly referred to by Shipton as Tahr?). They publicised the Nanda Devi Basin in their writings as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Recent stepping up of expeditions and trekking parties into the area has raised fears of damage being done to the hitherto unspoilt wilderness.

The Sanctuary has a dry climate; however it differs from the dry inner Himalayan valleys and the Tibetan plateau by experiencing a great deal of cloud and mist. It is suspected as having a unique floral composition. The forests are limited to the narrow Rishi gorge and there are extensive high altitude meadows with excellent grazing.

There is a good deal of Himalayan wildlife with perhaps one of the largest herds of Bharal. Snow Leopards, and Musk Deer are also present. Snow Cock and Snow Partridge are common. The Bharal are confiding and easy to watch.

Human activity, though of recent origin, has caused considerable damage. Signs of overgrazing of the traditionally grazed pastures are apparent. Goats and sheep are proceeding far up the gorge which formerly was passable beyond Dibrughatta only by porters. The entry routes are becoming easier to negotiate. Signs of deforestation, fires and litter have assumed alarming proportions.

Plans are afoot to develop a bridle path up the gorge. This will be an unmitigated disaster.

Poachers have penetrated the Sanctuary and signs of their activity are apparent.

It is strongly recommended that :

(i) The Nanda Devi Sanctuary be immediately declared a Wild life Sanctuary by the Uttar Pradesh Government and legis lation be initiated to constitute India's first Himalayan National Park.

(ii) All entry be restricted and regularised. Entry fees be levied. Entry be permitted by the Dharasi Col only. No firearms should be permitted into the area.

(iii) Local involvement be considered by registering local "Sirdars" and Porters.

(iv) A warden and four guards be appointed. These men be issued with high altitude equipment, portable wireless, sets light arms and each given two Himalayan Mastiffs.

(v) Burnt and denuded slopes be reforested by an intensive planting programme.

(vi) A comprehensive study of the area be initiated to evolve scientific management plan.

vii) A guide book on the Sanctuary be commissioned in Hindi, English, German and Japanese for sale to visitors.

Climate of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary
The Nanda Devi complex is situated at the turning point where the Himalayan chain changes its NW. to SE. trend to a west to east trend and the entire southern mountain-wall with its extention to the west and east along the Trisul II Jatropani ridge and the Nanda Kot range beyond the Traill's Pass respectively exposes a continuous southern aspect to the lower foothills and the sun. These slopes, as also the western watershed ridge of Trisul and Bethartoli and its westward bifurcation of Nanda Ghunti, cause considerable updrafts of warm air throughout the year, resulting in high precipitation and heavy cloud cover. During the rainy season, these ranges receive the full blast of the SW. Monsoon and rainfall is extremely heavy. The monsoon effect starts being felt in the third week of June and from within the Sanctuary we daily witnessed fantastically tumultuous cloud formation over the mountain walls on our south and west, with spectacular displays of lightning. We concluded that the Pindar, Nandakini and Birahi Ganga Rivers between them must contribute a very large proportion of the Alakananda waters.

The eastern, mountain divide had daily cloud build-ups, but these were far less spectacular than along the southern wall, a fact which is explained by the drier climate of the Milam area, lying as it does beyond the main Himalayan range. The same was true of the northern wall, though Dunagiri dominating the gorge pulls up considerable warm air. Its influence creates the late afternoon cloud and mist on the Lata ridge and the Dharasi Col. The snow conditions, with thick snow cornices overhanging the southern ridge and the more active glaciers like the Nanda Devi south, the Rishi South and the Trisul glaciers, suggest heavier snowfalls on the southern side. Our observations during the expeditions and photographs of the outer side of the Sanctuary substantiate our conclusions. Among its other unique qualities the sactuary, by virtue of its configuration, enjoys a sub-climate of it’s own. There is obviously a mass of cold air on the basin which, as our preliminary and amateurish observations revealed, exerts a significantly powerful effect on the precipitation of the Almora and Chamoli Districts.

The cold air on the basin creates a dry climate with low annual precipitation. Inside the Sanctuary, the snowline was well above 4500 m as against the heavy winter snow on the Dharasi Col and Malathuni ridge considerably below this altitude. Snow was thicker and generally at a lower altitude on the southern side of the Sanctuary than the northern, which conforms to the general conditions on the south and north aspects Of mountains in the northern hemisphere. The entire northern side of the Sanctuary receives more direct sun rays and is consequently warmer, with more rapid thawing of snow.

While the glacial basins and upper slopes experience strong diurnal winds, the gorge itself, unlike other major Himalayan valleys, is very sheltered. This surprised us till we were able to watch the cloud movements from higher slopes and saw how flanking ridges diverted the air currents up their sides. The Malathuni and the Rishi Kot ridges dramatically demonstrated their influence on the warm air blowing into the gorge. While strong winds were a regular feature on the higher slopes from a couple of hours after sunrise almost to sundown, the nights were invariably calm. The diurnal winds produced clouds in the afternoon and there was usually a light drizzle or sleet towards the evening. Twice in the last week of May we had light snow all over the Sanctuary, and there was widespread snowfall as late as on 17 June. The snow, however, rapidly melted. With the onset of the monsoon stream in the third week of June, there was considerable inflow of warm air up the gorge resulting in light mist over the high meadows and this warm air had a profound effect on the wintery conditions, which lingered on late into summer. Under its influence, the winter snow rapidly melted. While considerably curtailing the hours of insolation, the mists and low clouds in June kept the soil moist-a factor not found in the drier inner Himalayan valleys or on the Tibetan Plateau. Thus, the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, though receiving little precipitation, supports a lusher vegetation than other secluded valleys.

A very distinctive feature of the weather around Nanda Devi is the fact that unlike other major Himalayan peaks, the great mountain has very little cloud formation on it in the afternoon?., Even in June and July when the monsoon stream was well set in the area, and while expeditions had withdrawn from lower peaks like Trisul, it was possible to operate on Nanda Devi a full fort night later. On most days, when clouds obscured all the other summits around, they formed only around the great peak's base and on the very summit itself. This advantage of a longer operative season on Nanda Devi offers significant advantages to be borne in mind if any control of expedition activity is planned. The fact that the day Tilman ascended the mountain in 1936, the Almora area received exceptionally heavy rainfall is worth recording here.

The Flora
The vegetation, of any region reflects the climate prevailing there and the distinctive climate enjoyed by the Nanda Devi complex has created a distinctive flora which, though it superficially brings to mind the other inner Himalayan valleys, suggests to a more careful observer considerable variations. A very through investigation would most certainly highlight the unique composition of the Sanctuary's floral community.1

Forest forms a very small percentage of the flora of the Sanctuary and is restricted to the Rishi gorge. The largest stands of coniferous forests grow in the Ronti valley (not within the limits of the study area) which is open to moisture-bearing winds from the lower Dhauli gorge, the Dudh Ganga valley within the basin and the Dibrughatta glade. The dominant conifer is the Himalayan fir Abies pindrow. Significantly, there were no spruce Picea morinda anywhere along the trail. Though there is a fine stand of deodars Cedrus deodara at Lata, this lovely tree was absent inside the Sanctuary. The conifers have an admixture of three rhododendrons Rhododendron arhoratum and boht the pink and white varieties of wild rose Rosa sp. In May, the forests looked very dry, suggesting light winter snow and little or no spring showers. The soil was exceptionally light and powdery as a result.

Above the conifers, and forming a broad belt between them and the high altitude meadows, were fine forests of birch Betula utilis largely leafless in May but under full foliage in late June. These forests are a characteristic aspect of the trail from Dibrughetta to Ramani. The trees are large and such well-preserved old trees are not likely to be found elsewhere in the Western Himalaya. A very distinctive feature of this beautiful forest is the trailing lichen festooning the trees. The understorey of the forest is formed by the shrub rhododendron Rhododendron campanulatum, which produces profuse flowering in early May. Most of the flowers had withered by the time we entered. This earlier flowering of the rhododendrons is an indicator to the light winter snow. The last of the birch trees petered out at the entrance to the Inner Sanctuary.

Between the tree-line and the permanent snowline, at greater altitude in the Sanctuary than on its exposed outer walls, are extensive meadows of Himalayan grasses and a rich variety of flowering herbs. The warmer southern aspect has extensive growth of juniper Juniperus sp. In the last week of March, the meadows were bleak and without any greenery apart from the evergreen juniper bushes; however, by the second week of June a distinct flush of green started showing and parts of the Sanctuary took on the gay appearance of a rock garden. Flowers had began to appear among screes well above 5000 m. On the way down the Rishi gorge, the air was heavy with fragrance and vibrating to the hum of bumble bees and other insects.

The flower meadows of the Sanctuary are today the last remnants of the extensive Himalayan pastures before flocks of domestic animals overgrazed them and the magnificent display has to be seen to be appreciated. Here we have still largely undisturbed plant communities which must have reached their climax during the last period of glaciation. The impression gained was that of a flora distinct from that of the rest of the Himalayan chain.

The Fauna
If the flora of the Nanda Devi basin impresses the visitor, the plentitude and confiding nature of the larger mountain ungulates amazes and charms him. Shipton, describing the Inner Sanctuary in his book 'Nanda Devi', mentions the peaceful herds of Bharal and Tahr (mistaken identity ?) several times. It is difficult to imagine outside Tibet, and perhaps not even there in recent years, wild ungulates so fearless of Man. The investigator has yet to see a high Himalayan valley so well populated by wild animals,

Bharal Pseudois nayaur :The Himalayan Blue Sheep is the dominant and the most conspicuous large mammal in the Inner Sanctuary. Herds were sighted on the steep pastures above the cliffs of the upper gorge and almost every pasture had a herd grazing on open grassy slopes within the Inner Sanctuary. The animals were all low down the slopes and appeared to be partial to the more gentle grassy meadows than the rocky cliffs, though a few animals were seen on a couple of occasions traversing the almost sheer rock cliffs which form the pedestal for Nanda Devi. Herds of half a dozen heads to those of more than thirty were seen. By and large, the larger herds preferred to remain down the slopes. The smaller herds inhabited the upper. Lone rams with the largest horns were seen close to the snow and their tracks were reported at 5300 m-well above the snowline.

Observations made of a large herd of thirty-two animals near the Sanctuary Camp showed that there were ewes and young rams. All the ewes appeared to be very heavy and on the verge of dropping lambs. The first lamb seen was in the last week of June. June and July seem to be the period when the majority of young are born. The herd under observation grazed and rested intermittently throughout the day. The sheep did not seem to show discomfort at the strong diurnal winds, though they did reveal a tendency to descend lower in mist and when it snowed. While resting, the younger animals seemed to be drawn to large boulders up which they scrambled and stood very much in the manner of goats. Among themselves, the young males sparred a great deal, frequently butting the flank or the rear of a nearby companion. This would result in an immediate retaliation in mt cases, the two combatants rising on their hindlegs before bringing their horns together. On a couple of occasions, the sheep were seen rubbing themselves like goats against a rock.

It was possible to approach them closer in an upright stance rather than in a crouched position. On several occasions, they curiously approached the observers hiding behind rocks or indepressions, no. doubt to-, get a look at the intruders. When approached directly, the herd would move slowly up the slope. If however, the observer : approached from above, the entire herd would make a rapid move to get onto higher ground. In all instances, the younger animals showed greater fear and the larger individuals-rams and older ewes-would follow the herd, frequently stopping to look back.

Bharal appear to subsist mainly on grass and tended to browse far less than goats. Judging from the scanty vegetation close to the snowline, it seems these fine sheep can survive on the sparsest of pastures. The presence of small herds and isolated adult rams high up the slopes among the bleakest and windiest screes and snowfields was indeed astounding.

A rough census was undertaken in the Inner Sanctuary where, at a conservative estimate, there is a population of 500 Bharal. Reports by local porters and foreign visitors place a further 150 heads in the Trisul Valley, while the Ramani basin and the Dunagiri slopes should have another 100 animals. Adding to these about 70 solitary rams at high altitudes, we can expect a population of 820 Bharal within the Sanctuary. Observing the facility with which they cross snowfields, leap across raging torrents and negotiate seemingly impassible rock traverses, the Bharal of the Nanda Devi basin must be less circumscribed than is believed and and entire herds and individuals assuredly cross the mountain barriers to mingle with and, perhaps, augment herds still surviving outside the Sanctuary area.

Himalayan Tahr Hermitragus jemlahicus : Shipton mentions herbs of Tahr grazing alongside the Bharal, but in this he was mistaken. Tahr are as large as the Bharal and have very distinctive horns and long hair. We saw none on the higher meadows, which in fact, are not suitable for Tahr. That Tahr exist in the Rishi gorge is quite apparent from the numerous goat-like droppings seen along the trail passing along what is ideal Tahr country. The herds of smaller ungulates which Shipton seems to have mistaken for Tahr are in fact Goral, which do inhabit higher altitudes and are indeed considerably smaller than Bharal.

Goral Neumorhaedus goral: There were several herds of this goat antelope. The largest herd of 21 occupied meadows south of the Sanctuary Camp. Their smaller size and shorter and thinner horns immediately identified them. Goral freely mixed with the larger sheep, though they tended to be more alert and were quick to retreat. They, also, seemed to prefer steeper ground and browsed a good deal off the dwarf rhododendrons and fruze clumps.

Musk Deer Moschus moschiferus : From reports and frequent indications noted, the birch forests of the gorge seem to still hold a fairy large population of this much-persecuted deer. The musk deer habitat, however, is considerably restricted as a result of the precipitous nature of the Rishi gorge.

Snow Leopard Panthara unica: The investigator found droppings of a large feline near the snout of the South Rishi glacier. The turds contained goral hair. Two Bharal kills were found and a snow leopard was reported on a Bharal kill by the St. Stephen's College team near Changabang. The shepherds met on the way out in June, on the Malathuni Ridge, graphically described this leopard, which apparently came for stray sheep and, significantly, the authorities have issued gun licenses to a couple of shepherds as protection against this predator.

Bears : There were no indications of either the Black Bear Selanarctos thibetanus in the forests or the Brown Bear Ursus arctos above the treeline. Their absence was confirmed by the porters.

Game Birds : Despite a careful watch, no Monals Lophophorus impejanus were sighted, though there is ample terrain suitable for their needs. It was a pleasant surprise, however, to hear several Koklas Pheasants Pucrasia macrolopha crowing close to camp at dawn just above Lata village. Local peasants readily recognise both these pheasants from illustrations shown to them. They, however, do not recognise any of the Tragopans. That the Monal has declined in the last few years was confirmed by an aged villager from Lata who had considerable knowledge of the natural history of his hills and who had, it seems, accompanied several "Angrezz" (Englishman) during his youth. Both the Himalayan Snowcock Tetrogallus himalayensis and the Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa were plentiful and confiding on the slopes above the treeline. The latter occupied a slightly lower elevation to the former.

The Human Intrusion
It has been only within the last couple of decades that the Himalayan range has experienced a rapid acceleration in exploitation by Man. Thanks to better medical facilities there has been a phenomenal rise in the human populations. Roads today penetrate all the major valleys and are being added to continually. More and more people are consequently visiting the Himalaya from the Indian plains and abroad. The Nanda Devi Basin has also started receiving greater attention. Till 1934, and two decades after, only Dibrughetta and Dharasi were regularly visited for a short period in summer by a few shepherds from Lata. The rest of the area was as unexplored as other remoter areas in the Amazon Basin or the Antarctica. Shipton and Tilman pioneered a way up the gorge to the foot of the mountain, to be the first to speak of the extensive pastures and herds of wild ungulates. Their accounts gave wide publicity to the mountain wilderness and surrounded the mountain with an aura only a few much higher peaks like Everest or Kangchenjunga enjoy. If geographical configuration kept local villagers out, political exigencies delayed exploration further. The Nanda Devi Sanctuary though enjoying[1] no legal status as a sanctuary is, in fact, one of the world's finest wilderness areas. Unfortunately, unwise exploitation has started and is likely to increase many, times in the years ahead. It is therefore worth evaluating the nature of this intrusion.

Shepherds of Lata, Reni and a few other nearby villages in the Dhauli gorge have been traditionally bringing their flocks across the 4250 m high Dharasi col along a precarious defile. They cross over in the first week of June after the winter snow melts on the ridge, and graze the pastures of Dharasi, Malathuni Ridge and Dibrughetta, They prepare to vacate these high pastures in September. The area grazed is a fraction of the Nanda Devi Basin.

While not having extended their area of operation, the investigator learnt that many more flocks have started using these pastures as a result of the closure of the more extensive Tibetan grazing lands following the Chinese takeover. The Forest Department charges a fee of Re. 1.00 per sheep and Rs. 2.00 per goat. There appeared to be no check on whether more goats and sheep were in fact not being grazed than were paid for. Information available states that flocks are coming from as far away as Malari in the upper Dhauli Ganga valley. The Malathuni grazing ground alone had four thousand animals !

With the present pastures being overgrazed, it is but a matter of time before some enterprising shepherd leads his flock further up the Rishi gorge from Dibrughatta along the trail now visible, thanks to the flocks of load carrying goats and sheep to Ramani and the Trisul valley. With expeditions relying more on sheep and goats to carry in supplies, the trail has become well demarcated and a greater number of shepherds are becoming familiar with the gorge. It may be pointed out that there are no legal restrictions on their grazing their flocks anywhere within the area. With expeditions wanting access earlier to have more operational time on the mountain before the onset of the monsoon, the Dharasi trail is "forced" by a fortnight.

Plant Gatherers: Many high altitude plants have aromatic qualities and their underground parts have been valued for the preparation of incense, and Ayurvedic medicines. Quite a few are used as ingredients in allopathic preparations. Shepherds always have collected such plants to earn a little extra. With a greater demand and higher prices being paid, more and more of the poorer landholders and landless people are resorting to collecting such plants. While in themselves posing no threat to wildlife, the help pioneer difficult routes and the frequent encounters with wildlife makes them important guides and accomplices of the itinerant poacher. We met several plant gatherers who seemed to be familiar with the remotest tracks.

Poachers : As more and more persons gain familiarity with the gorges and more easily accessible areas get depleted of wildlife, the attention of the poacher turns to the last remaining herds in such secluded areas. With the price of musk having reached an all time high, a week or two of hard living is no deterrent to the poacher. The shepherds, already holding firearm licences and spending a summer within the area, are assuredly tempted to poach. Ample indications of poacher activity was noted. An expedition member going out of the Sanctuary earlier than the rest was followed down the difficult upper gorge by two armed men (personal correspondence); the St. Stephen's College party found, remains of a Musk Deer and signs of a hastily abandoned camp between Ramani and Deodi; the investigator came across half a dozen skulls of Bharal which had been severed from the body and left behind on the meadows above the Sanctuary Camp, where be also stumbled onto a rock shelter which had all the signs of recent use. Three carcasses, two of animals dying of natural causes and one a predator's kill, were found. They all had the skeleton and sections of the hide attached to the skulls. There exists a "shikari" trail parallel to the regular shepherd passage across the Dharasi col. This trail is at lower altitude and can be negotiated at all times of the year except in mid-winter.

That poaching activity is of recent origin is apparent from the confiding nature of the Bharal and the frequent signs of Musk Deer.

Mountaineering Expeditions and Tourist Parties : The Nanda Devi has always been a very desirable mountain thanks to its great beauty and the mystery surrounding it as a result of the natural barriers. When mountaineering activity revived after the Second World War, the hitherto closed Nepal opened its borders and the attention of foreign mountaineers was drawn to that largely unexplored stretch of mountains. Also, the Government of India excluded all foreign expeditions from the Garhwal Himalalaya. However, in the 1960s Indian mountaineering came of ago and both civilian and military expeditions have been active all along the Indian Himalaya. The Nanda Devi area has received their full attention as attested by a permanent wooden bridge built over the Rishi torrent at Deodi and the graffiti etched and scrawled on rocks and trees. Reports, confirmed by local men who portered for these expeditions, indicate that firearms were often carried in and Bharal meat was on the menu !

With the declaring of the Nanda Devi Basin as a free area, a spate of foreign expeditions have been operating here. The mountain has to be "booked" several years in advance ! Apart from Nanda Devi, there are several other attractive mountains within the basin. At least two of these foreign parties had a local "shikari" among their porters. They hire as many as 40 or more porters and several hundred baggage goats. The impact of the operations by four expeditions in one season can well be imagined. This summer, besides the British expedition with its 30 odd porters and 300 baggage animals, there was a Japanese expedition on Trisul from the south, a German trekkers-cum- climbers party on the same mountain from the north, the St.Stephen's College Devistan-Changabang expedition and a Mountain Travel's party of American tourists to Nanda Devi. Both the German and a second Japanese party came up the Rishi gorge which is being progressively used as an alternative to the traditional high route. All these parties had more porters and baggage animals than our expedition ! In addition, we met several trekkers with their porters; the Rishi gorge had a continual passage of men. While foreign expeditions are registered with the IMF (Indian Mountaineering Foundation), there are no checks whatsoever on trekking parties, individual trekkers and Indian expeditions.

The traditional trail over Dharasi col is, as mentioned earlier, forced by the middle of May. The route by the gorge is being more regularly used and the "shikaris" trail below the Dharasi traverse is regularly frequented. From Dibrughetta to Ramani, a well-defined and an extraordinarily even-graded trail now exists. Even the Shipton-Tilman track up the upper gorge is better defined and can be traversed with care by single men and the investigator himself crossed the formidable "slabs" unaided, wearing canvas boots. All in all, the natural defences of the Sanctuary have been effectively breached.

Future Development Plans : With the greater number of expeditions to the area and foreign agencies promoting trekking parties to Nanda Devi, the high tourist potential of the Sanctuary has been realised by local operators and a convincing argument for the construction of a bridle-path up the Rishi gorge up to Deodi has found favour with the authorities. A ground survey has been undertaken and the project has the backing of the Garh- wal Mandal Vikas Nigam, a body set up by the U.P. State Government to advise opening up of Garhwal for tourism.

With the construction of a bridle-path up the gorge, further development will assuredly follow as for example, converting the bridle-path into a jeep track, construction of tourist huts and bungalows, etc. The Rishi gorge, flowing at several hundred metres above the Dhauli gorge, is separated from it by the very narrow Lata ridge and offers considerable possibilities for a hydroelectric project involving a short tunnel to divert the Rishi. Any development programme initiated without due recognition of the uniqueness of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary will result in the loss of a magnificent heritage.

Conservation Considerations

The Fragile Ecosystem : Mountains are subjected to greater erosional activity, particularly so when they are seismically active young structures as the Himalaya are. The gravitational force is more potent on steep mountains and greatly intensifies the action of rivers, glaciers, snow avalanches, landslides triggered off by water seepage, and wind. The extremes of temperature at great altitudes shatters the rocks and further adds to the instability of mountain areas. Despite the combined onslaught of elemental forces, vegetation tends to stabilise slopes and to cover exposed rock faces. There were far less unsightly scars within the Sanctuary than in habited, less rugged areas. The steepest sides were densely covered by plant growth, forests, shrubberies, herbs and grass, which even more effectively held the soil. It was only where torrents and snowslides came down that there were no plants. Wherever the screes had become slightly stable, plant life had started colonising them and hardy high-altitude plants grew in sheltered places well above the permanent snow fields.

The vegetation cover of the Himalayan slopes is at the very best very fragile and develops a precarious balance which the least bit of change by natural or man-induced causes can upset. The balance may take years to be established again. The vulnerability increases with the steepness of the slopes and the altitude. The entire study area is exposed, therefore, to the maximum effect of erosionai forces. An added factor is the general aridity of the soil, which is liable to be blown away by wind. The harsh and dry climatic conditions make regeneration by plants more difficult. In the upper gorge, the narrow trail was possibly the same pioneered by Tilman and Shipton, its stability provided by springy turf and large clumps of grass.

The almost continuous cover of juniper on southern aspects afforded protection to the loose soil above the treeline. Above the juniper level, clumps of Caragana (furze bush) played the same role. The tussocks of grass so characteristic of Himalayan high-altitude pastures, are to be seen at their best here and are an effective protection to the soil. That regeneration., however, takes greater time here than elswhere is demonstrated by the well- demarcated trail along the upper gorge, which, in areas of rapid plant regeneration, would easily be obliterated in one season.

Many of the trees, shrubs and herbs have aromatic oils and burn easily. The long grass is dry and inflammable in March and June. Fire, therefore, has to be considered a very major hazard to the ecosystem. Burnt slopes are effectively exposed to erosion forces and become extremely unstable as a result.

The Vulnerable Fauna : It is now a known fact, that in harsh environment only a few forms of life survive by virtue of a high degree of adaptation, and these highly successful forms increase in numbers to fully utilise the habitat. High mountain habitats are congenial to life only for the summer months and the period is shortened with the altitude. Most of the birds and many of the flying insects move up during the summers. Others suspend activities during the harsh months and hibernate; even mammals undergo varying periods of winter sleep. With our area there are several rodents and a few skinks-reptiles, which so escape the harsh winters. However, resident birds like the Snowcocks and Snow Partridges, the ungulates like the Bharal and Goral and the Snow Leopard which preys on them are active in the worst weather. Under very severe conditions, they may move to lower altitudes. Within the Nanda Devi Basin, this downward movement is restricted by the configuration of the enclosing ridges which press the herds towards the gorge. It is the fat accumulated during the summer grazing which permits them to survive the harsh winter. The least bit of disturbance can easily upset living conditions and place an entire species' continued survival into jeopardy. This factor needs to be emphasised if the need for control of human activity is to be convincingly advocated. A brief discussion on the mere presence of human beings at Sanctuary Camp in May and June would suffice our purpose.

The month of May, as we found, is still rather bleak and it is only in mid-June that fresh grass starts sprouting. The herds of Bharal-the ewes heavy with lamb and young males-are all confined to the lower pastures through which the path up to Nanda Devi Base Camp passes. As the green flush extends up the slope, the animals follow up the slopes to reach the higher pastures by August and September, by which time the ewes are followed by their new-born lambs and the territories of the Master Rams are reached and rutting takes place. During the summer, plenty of body fat is accumulated. The continual movement of expeditions in the summer months can endanger the species, since they are compelled to move off the best pastures at a time when forage is at its lowest. The pregnant ewes are placed under stress just when they should have the least disturbance. Though not -substantiated by statistics, it is quite apparent that even if there is no killing by poachers there are chances of the wild sheep declining as a result of human activity on their summer pastures. What is true of the Bharal is true of the Goral, and any reduction in the numbers of the two ungulates would directly affect the Snow Leopards.

The removal of juniper brush, apart from causing erosion, destroys the sheltered habitat for insects and the small birds which find food and nesting sites there. Indirectly then, as a result of habitat degeneration, birdlife also is affected. Fires add to the hazards and since birds nesting at high altitudes have a short period for raising their young, any destruction of eggs and young would mean a total failure of nesting for that particular season.

Impact of Human Action
Grazing by Domestic Flocks : There is quite apparent degradation of the grazing grounds of Dharasi and Dibrughetta. The pressure on these traditional pastures has increased and is increasing. The number of herds brought in is already far too high, with more than 4000 (personal discussion with shepherds) heads of goats and sheep. In addition to the usual flocks, several hundred animals carrying expedition baggage pass through. Apart from depleting the forage, the passage of animals, often almost vertically down slopes, results in a series of very ugly landslides. A huge scar has formed on the eastern slope of the Malathuni Ridge which is in an active state of shifting. Vegetation has no chance of stabilising it since flocks graze over the area and renew the disturbance each year. Similar landslides, resulting from passage by sheep and goats, has set in even in forest country.

Deforestation : Each expedition hires large teams of porters.. With an average of 50 porters per expedition and four such expeditions operating in one season, 200 men move up and down the gorge. These men, out of necessity, collect firewood for cooking and since they are all lightly clad and tents are not provided, have to seek warmth through the night from fires. The consumption of firewood each season can be appreciable. Above the timber- line, juniper is the chief source of fuel and considerable sections of juniper have been cleared. At all the regular campsites, dead wood has long ago been utilised and trees have to be felled. This is particularly pronounced at the Deodi and Ramani campsites.

Fires : Many of the porters light fires at the base of trees; this sets the heartwood on fire and we noticed several smouldering trunks. Such practices obviously cause forest fires and all along the trail we noticed large sections burnt. The severest damage by fire was seen at Dibrughetta, where almost 25% of coniferous forest is burnt ! The shepherds in charge of load-carrying flocks fire the long grass to permit their animals to get at green sprouting grass. These fires rapidly spread up the slopes and die out only at the upper limit or a cliff edge. Clumps of juniper burst into violent flame, adding to the upward spread of the flames. Since there are no forestry practices within the Sanctuary, these fires are uncontrolled; nor are the burnt sections replanted. Ugly scars of old and recent fires all along the trail were a marked and depressing contrast to the green stands of forest on the opposite 1 side of the gorge.

Poachers : Poaching within the basin is of fairly recent origin. However, conditions are now ideal for this evil to flourish. The sale of animal pelts has been a regular trade along the pilgrim route. With roads now permitting vehicular traffic right up to Badrinath, the numbers of affluent and not very pious tourist pilgrims has increased. These are notorious curio-buyers and the sale of pelts is brisker than before. This ready outlet is augmented by the large military and paramilitary forces stationed throughout the year in the upper valleys. The sale of mutton is an additional inducement for poaching. Shepherds who formerly left carcasses of their flock dying of forage poisoning, now find' it worth their while to carry the carcasses down to the road-head in the Dhauli gorge. With prices of Rs 300 per animal being paid for a goat or a sheep, a dead Bharal offers high returns to a poacher. Musk Deer have always been severely persecuted and a single animal shot can yield a fortune. The investigator was told by very reliable sources that a well-organised group operates at Dehra Dun, who handle the smuggling of raw musk pods collected in the Garhwal Himalaya. If till recently, poachers were not active within the Sanctuary, it was because there were other more easily accessible targets, and the terrain was less frequented. Conditions have completely changed and the wildlife of the Sanctuary is exposed to the mercy of poachers.

Litter : Though not of consequence to the welfare of wildlife, it is a depressing sight, worth mentioning here, that all the major camping sites have taken on the appearance of mini-urban refuse dumps. Even streams from where drinking-water is drawn are not spared, and they were choked with plastic sheets, toilet paper, cartons, egg-shells, tins, etc. While expeditions do try to collect their refuse in one place, the commercially operated trekking parties have no such compunction, since their interest in the place is short-lived. Campsites used by one such trekking party were left completely littered and unusable. It is quite apparent that even those who profess to love the mountains are not over- concerned about the impact of their passage on a trail.

The Positive Human Factor : Perhaps the greatest error committed by exponents of conservation of wildlife in this country has been the almost complete lack of awareness or appreciation of local sentiments and the innate intelligence of the peasants to understand the value of conservation for their own survival. The Garhwali, like all hillmen, is a very pragmatic person. He is also very much alive to the wildlife around him, being a shikari. He is a person, who, though cautious in accepting new ideas, can certainly be expected to participate in any planning for the betterment of his own life. The social organisation of his village has been a close-knit one because of having to cope with a difficult terrain. The proof of this can be had from the "Chipko Movement", which has no parallel anywhere else in the country. Significantly, the epicentre of this remarkable conservation-oriented mass action is at Reni and Lata villages and involves the excellent forests in the Ronti valley-physically a part of the Nanda Devi Basin. The movement was sparked off by a contract for clear felling and the satyagraha was spearheaded by the housewives of the two villages. This unique action has made the villagers aware of their rights to their village territories. The heartening aspect of the satyagraha was not based on economical needs but on the highest of conservation principles-saving the forests to combat floods and landslides ! Unlike the forest tribes of peninsular India, the Garhwali is a diligent farmer and carefully constructs terraces to retain his valuable soil, is fully alive to the value of forest litter as manure and constructs extensive irrigation channels. Being devout Hindus, they consider the Bharal herds as property of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva and the Nanda Devi peak is held in veneration as the physical form of the Goddess. Significantly too, the villagers are very alive to the value of the Sanctuary as a tourist draw and there is considerable resentment over expeditions bringing in "Sirdars" and high-altitude porters from elsewhere. Significantly, the promotion of tourism is handled by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, which is headed by a Garhwali who impressed the investigator by his interest in nature.

Favourable Legal Status and other considerations : Unlike other Sanctuaries and National Parks in the country, the entire Nanda Devi Sanctuary is free of human settlement. Even grazing rights are very seasonal and affect a fraction of the area. Human exploitation has very recently started and this, too, is of high tourist potential. The boundaries are clearly demarcated by effective natural barriers and are effective against trespass. Conservation planning for the area can result in considerable economic gain to the villagers.


1. Immediate representation to be made to the State Government to suspend all development projects1 involving the study area, impressing them of the scope for proper well-planned utilization of the tourist value of the area and that considerable damage will be sustained by the magnificent habitat and its wildlife if persons with shortsighted interests are allowed to initiate exploitation. No developmental programmes to be considered without taking into consideration the following.

2. Legislation : The Uttar Pradesh Government be asked to declare the Nanda Devi Basin a Wildlife Sanctuary for high altitude flora and fauna, to protect India's only wilderness area and its large herd of Himalayan Blue Sheep and viable populations of Musk Deer and Snow Leopards, both highly endangered species. Subsequent action by the State Government be requested to upgrade the new Sanctuary to the status of India's first Himalayan National Park. The boundaries suggested are :

(i) The Northern Boundary or the Dhauli Watershed to run along the ridge from Lata Peak, the Dharasi Col, Dunagiri, Changabang, Kalanka to Rishi Pahar in the east.

(ii) The Eastern Boundary or the Milam Watershed to coincide with the boundary between Chamoli District and Pithoragarh District along the crest from Rishi Pahar to Nanda Devi East and onto the bifurcation where the Traill's Pass Ridge separates.

(iii) The Southern Boundary or the Pindar Watershed to coincide with the boundary between Chamoli District and Almora District along the divide from the bifurcation of the Traill's Pass Ridge, over Nanda Khat and Mrigthuni and onto Trisul II.

(iv) The Western Boundary to run along the main Trisul Bethar- toli axis and on along the Ronti-Dudh Ganga watershed down to the Rishi opposite Lata Peak.

3.Entry Restrictions : The Nanda Devi Sanctuary once again be declared a restricted area and all visitors be required to register with the Police at Joshimath and entry permits be issued by the 1 authorities. These permits should be liable to be checked at Lata Village or within the Sanctuary by Forest Guards. All entry must be restricted to the traditional route over the Dharasi col and the route up the gorge be completely banned. Nor should visitors be permited to enter by the "Shikaris" trail. The Sanctuary should be open to visitors from 15 May to 30 September. All visitors must vacate the area latest by 31 October.
    Expeditions should only engage porters and load-carrying flocks must not be permitted across the Dharasi col.

    Grazing permits should be issued for a fixed number of animals and the heads of sheep and goats physically counted at Lata Kharak before being allowed to proceed beyond the Dharasi col. Grazing permits must be issued only to flocks belonging to Lata, Reni and the nearby villages,

    4. Total ban on Firearms : All firearm licences to shepherds grazing flocks within the Sanctuary must be withdrawn. Sheep dogs are effective deterrents to Snow Leopards as admitted by the shepherds questioned-all the dogs with the Malathuni herd did not have protective collars. No expeditions or other persons should be permitted to carry in firearms.

    5. Porters : All porters engaged by expeditions must be registered with the Lata Panchayat and hiring porters from other parts of the Himalaya must be discouraged. Should expeditions desire to bring in outside men, they should have to pay the same entry fee per porter as would be charged to Indian visitors.

    6. Entry Fee : All visitors to the Sanctuary other than local porters and permit-carrying shepherds must pay an entry fee. Indian visitors should pay Re 50 per person; foreign tourists Rs 250 per individual.

    7. Peak Fee for Expeditions 2 : Foreign expeditions to the Sanctuary should be required to pay peak fees of Rs 5,000 for Nanda Devi and Rs 2,000 for other peaks. Indian expeditions should pay a flat expedition entry rate of Rs 1,000. These fees should be charged in addition to the personal entry fee. Trekking parties sponsored by travel agents should pay a fee of Rs 5,000 per party in addition to the personal entry fee.

    Liaison Officers : All foreign expeditions and trekking parties by travel agents must be assigned a liaison officer of standing, who is either deputed from the services or a person recommended by such organisations as the Himalayan Club, World Wildlife Fund, India, or the Bombay Natural History Society.

    10. Registering "Sirdars" and Porters: All expeditions and trekking parties, foreign or Indian, must engage registered "Sirdars" from the nearby villages. These "Sirdars" should be given intensive training at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttar Kashi. All porters from Reni and Lata should be registered and issued special identity cards from the NIM through the Magistrate at Joshimath. Porter rates, etc., should be fixed after discussions with the village Panchayats.

    2. The views expressed are those of the author-personally I feel that the recommendations are rather severe and on the high side.-Ed.

    11. Fuel : Expeditions must be required to carry in kerosene for the team members and porters. Individual trekkers may, however, be permitted to use firewood. Only fallen deadwood should be used for fuel. A special co-operative store should be opened at Lata from where expeditions may purchase provisions for the porters, kerosene, etc., at fixed Government rates.

    12. Tourist Accommodation : Clean, cheap accommodation should be developed at Reni and Lata. Villagers should be encouraged to provide accommodation and financial assistance be made availably to them to expand their facilities. Provision should be made to provide camping equipment on hire at Reni.

    13. Warden and Guards : The Forest Department should appoint a Sanctuary Warden with his headquarters at Reni. He should be assisted by at least four guards. All five men must receive training at NIM. During the open season three guards should be stationed, one each at Dharasi Col, Malathuni ridge and Patalkhal. The fourth guard should remain at Lata. Each guard should be assisted during the season by other guards deputed for anti-poaching training by the Forest Department and or the Police. The military and paramilitary forces may be requested to depute jawans as well.

    The guards should be issued portable wireless sets and light arms. They should each have a pair of Himalayan Mastiffs and be equipped with light mountain tents, sleeping bags, protective clothing and binoculars.

    Porters wanting to be registered as "Sirdars" should be required to undergo a month of guard duty. College students may be encouraged to volunteer as assistant guards under the NSS scheme.

    14. Conservation Action : The Forest Department must immediately undertake to replant the burnt areas with appropriate trees and also consider establishing nurseries: of junipers for transplanting on slopes denuded of natural growth as at "Sanctuary" Camp. The assistance of voluntary groups like the "Chipko" volunteers might be considered.

    The half burnt timber should be felled and the logs used to demarcate the sides of a carefully graded sheep trail wherever the descent is direct and steep initiating landslides similar to that on the Malathuni ridge.

    Special refuse disposal pits should be prepared at all important campsites and inflammable material periodically burnt and iron cans, etc., buried.

    A systematic study of the area should be initiated with a view to developing a sound management programme for the proposed National Park.

    Simple guide booklet be developed On the "Sanctuary" in Hindi, English, German and Japanese, which should be available at the co-operative store at Lata and the Sanctuary Warden's office at Reni. This booklet should briefly describe the main flora and I una likely to be seen along the trail and provide conservation guidelines for the visitor.

    The Itinerary

    Note : * Rainy Days
    15 May Assembly at Lata Road Head ac. 6,500'
    15 May Bhelta Forest Camp
    16 May Bhelta-a search for pheasants in forest
    17 May Lata Kharak ac. 12,000'
    18 May Lata Kharak
    19 May Dharasi Col over 14,000'
    20 May Dharasi Col-held up by blizzard
    21 May Dharasi ac. 13,750'
    22 May Dibrughetta ac. 11,000'
    23 May Deodi ac. 11,000'
    24 May Ramani ac. 11,640'
    25 May Patalkhal ac. 14,500'
    26 May Sanctuary Camp Ac. 14,600'
    26 May

    to 13 June
    Survey of Inner Sanctuary-almost daily afternoon cloud. Four days of snowfall. Monsoon current set in by 6 June.
    14 June Patalkhal
    15 June Patalkhal - held up by snowfall
    16 June Ramani
    17 June Deodi
    18 June Dibrughetta
    19 June Malathuni Ridge ac. 14,000'
    20 June Bhelta Forest
    21 June Lata Road Head
    One of the many Bharal Skulls left by poachers who carry off the meat and hides to sell to tourists along the Badrinath Pilgrim road.    (Photo: Lavkumar Khacher)

    One of the many Bharal Skulls left by poachers who carry off the meat and hides to sell to tourists along the Badrinath Pilgrim road. (Photo: Lavkumar Khacher)

    A flock of Bharal in the Sanctuary.   (Photo: Lavkumar Khacher)

    A flock of Bharal in the Sanctuary. (Photo: Lavkumar Khacher)