Himalayan Journal vol.35
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.35

Publication year:
1979

Editor:
Soli S. Mehta
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE STORY OF THE HIMALAYAN CLUB, 1928-1978
    (JOHN MARTYN)
  3. FIFTY YEARS RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  4. THE PASSANRAM AND TALUNG VALLEYS, SIKKIM
    (DR EUGEN ALLWEIN)
  5. NANDA DEVI AND THE SOURCES OF THE GANGES
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  6. THE MOUNT EVEREST RECONNAISSANCE, 1935
    (ERIC SHIPTON)
  7. THE SHAKSGAM EXPEDITION, 1937
    (MICHAEL SPENDER)
  8. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (Major GORDON OSMASTON)
  9. EVEREST, 1976
    (MAJOR M. W. H. DAY, R.E.)
  10. LHOTSE, 1976
    (KANJI KAMEI)
  11. THE SECOND ASCENT OF LHOTSE, 1977
    (DR HERMANN WARTH)
  12. MAKALU, 1976
    (ANDERS BOUNDER & OTHERS)
  13. THE CLEAN-UP TREK, 1976
    (MICHAEL CORDELL)
  14. THE THIRD KOREAN MANASLU EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JUNG SUP KIM)
  15. THE HONGKONG KANJIROBA EXPEDITION, 1976
    (DICK ISHERWOOD)
  16. AVALANCHE ON SISNE, 1977
    (R. A. L. ANDERSON)
  17. DHAULAGIRI IV, 1975
    (KUNIAKI YAGIHARA)
  18. NORTH SIKKIM, 1976
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  19. NANDA DEVI FROM THE NORTH, 1976
    (H. ADAMS CARTER)
  20. NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY - A NATURALIST'S REPORT
    (LAVKUMAR KHACHER)
  21. A BOTANICAL SURVEY IN THE NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY, 1974
    (N. C. SHAH)
  22. AN ATTEMPT ON NITALTHAUR, 1974
    (MANIK BANERJEE)
  23. CHAMRAO GLACIER EXPEDITION-1977
    (M. DEY)
  24. CHIRING WE, 1977
    (HARISH KAPADIA)
  25. KINNAUR-1976
    (LIEUTENANT-COLONEL BALWANT SANDHU)
  26. BLACK PEAK, 1976
    (MANDIP SINGH SOIN)
  27. NILAMBAR EXPEDITION, 1977
    (RANVIR SINGH)
  28. POLISH K2 EXPEDITION, 1976
    (JANUSZ KURCZAB)
  29. A CRAWL DOWN THE OGRE
    (DOUG SCOTT)
  30. ISTOR-O-NAL NORTH I, 1976
    (RONALD NAAR)
  31. THE ASCENT OF SHERPI KANGRP 1976
    (PROF. KAZUMASA HIRAI)
  32. AFGHAN DARWAZ, 1975
    (RYSSZARD W. SCHRAMM)
  33. SWISS THUI EXPEDITION, 1975
    (DR ADOLF DIEMBERGER and HANS SCHIBLI)
  34. CLIMBING SHERPAS OF DARJEELING
    (DORJEE LHATOO)
  35. OF MOUNTAINS & MEMORIES
    (SITU MULLICK)
  36. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  37. OBITUARIES
  38. BOOK REVIEWS
  39. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  40. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1976
  41. EXPEDITIONS 1975-1977

A BOTANICAL SURVEY IN THE NANDA DEVI SANCTUARY, 1974

N. C. SHAH

Previous Botanical Collections
The Nanda Devi Sanctuary has not yet been properly explored botanically. William Moorcraft traversed the Dhauli and Rishi valleys in 1920. He took the route of the river Dhauli and crossed over the Niti pass into Mansarovar and brought back a collection of plants from places far into the interior of the Himalaya. His collection was deposited in the British Museum.

In 1959 a mountaineering-cum-scientific expedition to the Garh- wal Himalaya was organised by the Indian Air Force with the object of climbing Chaukhamba and Nilkanth and making scientific observations,1 M. A. Rau of the Botanical Survey of India participated in the expedition as a scientist member and collected the following plants from the Rishi Ganga valley : Aleurites pauci- flora, Androsace globifera, A. rotundifolia, Astragalus strictus, Botrychium lunaria, Carex setigera, Cassiope fastigiata, Eleocharis palustris, Gagea lutea, Eremopoa persica, Juncus leucomelas, Osmunda claytoniana, Primula munroi, P. nivalis, Pleurogyne carinthiaca, Polygonus viviparum, Tanacetum nubigianum.

The Present Expedition
The party consisting of nine members, including the author, left Naini Tal by bus on 13 September 1974. It reached Lata on the 15th afternoon via Joshimath. Lata is a fairly large village of about 50 to 60 houses, 15 km from Joshimath at an elevation of about 2500 m. The crops of Fagopyrum esculentum Moench. and Amaranthus sp. stood in the fruiting stage in the fields. The villagers gave the information that medicinal and aromatic herbs like salampanja (Orchis latifolia Linn.), kutki (Picrorhiza kurrooa Royle ex Benth.), atees (Aconitum heterophyllum Wall.), jambu (Allium sp.), gandaryan (Angelica glauca Edgew.) and guggul and takkar could be collected from the alpine meadows, such as Poling, Jeepur and Lata Kharak, about 8 to 12 km from Lata. Sheelajeet was being extracted from rocks of the neighbouring hills and the crude product sold at Rs. 5 per 10 g.

The party left for Lata Kharak - a gradual ascent of 100 m through a forest of Cedrus deodara (Roxb.) Loud, (deodar) and Pinus wallichiana A. B. Jacks (blue pine) on the morning of 16 September. The top canopy was formed by the two species named earlier with an undergrowth of Lonicera, Rosa, Rubus and Viburnum predominating. A few trees of Juglans regia Linn, (walnut) were also seen growing wild. At about 300 m, the blue pine passed intol scattered specimens of Abies webbiana Lindl. (fir) and Betula utilis D.Don (birch). Above these a gradual transition was seen of zerophytic bushland into alpine pasture. Lata Kharak is an open alpine pasture in which grow, among others, Bergenia stracheyi (Hook. f. & Thorns) Engl (pashanbhed), Origanum sp. (bantulsi), Gentian sp., Tanacetum sp., Potentilla sp., Pedicularis sp., Fragaria sp., Parnassia sp., Elsholtzia sp. and Polygonum ajjine D. Don. Some of these species, e.g. Bergenia Iracheyi (Hook. f. & Thorns) Engl. Elsholtzia sp. and Origanum sp. also occur in open situations at lower elevations. Species of medicinal value found occurring commonly, were Nardostachys jatamansi (D. Don) DC. (jatamansi), Picrorhiza kurrooa Royle ex Benth. (kutki) and Aconitum balfourii Stapf. (vish), the latter v rowing along with Betula and Polygonum near source of water.

1. Bulletin of the Botanical Survey of India, 3, 1961, p. 215-51.

The party left for Dibrugheta early in the morning of 17 September. The weather was foggy and as we reached Bakhini Dhar, it started raining. The plants observed on the way were the same as those at Lata Kharak. Some other species met with were Saussurea obvallata (DC) Sch-Bip (brahma Kamal) and takkar, an umbelliferous plant. There is a common belief among the local people, that if plants of brahma Kamal, jatamansi and takkar are plucked before Nanda-ashtami, it either rains or snows.

From Bakhini Dhar the party reached Dharansi Dhar through Satkula Dhar and Rani khola. From Dharansi Dhar (4500 m) there is a steep descent of about 400 m to Dibrugheta. We reached Dibrugheta in the night and bivouacked there, as the porters carrying the equipments had not arrived. On their arrival next morning, to our' dismay, we found that owing to the difficult route, 15 of them had deserted leaving their loads behind.

Dibrugheta, at an altitude of 4000 m is about 12 km from Lata Kharak and here, amidst the firs and birches, is a pasture forming an oasis of brilliant green against the surrounding drab rocky slopes and the dark forest below. Longstaff, the eminent mountaineer who travelled widely in the Himalaya described Dibrugheta as, The most beautiful place in the Himalayas'. Later, Tilman described it as 'A horizontal oasis in a vertical desert'. The species commmonly met with here are Thalictrum, Anemone, Potentilla, Selinum and Polygonum . Shepherds grazing their cattle here collect gandrayan (Angelica glauca Edgew.) and jambu (Allium sp.).

On 21 September, the party marched to Deodi and after traversing two ridges entered the Rishi gorge. Deodi is situated at 3500 m in a thick scrub of Betuia utilis D. Don. and Pyrus sp. At a distance of 7 km from Dibrugheta. The species observed growing commonly on the way were Rhododendron campanulatum D. Don., Rheum sp., Swertia sp., Selinum sp. and Bergenia stracheyi (Hook. f. & Thorns) Engl.

On the 23rd we made for Ramani after crossing the Trisul Nala, which is about 3 km from Deodi. Trisul Nala lies on the outer ring wall of the Sanctuary. On crossing it we entered a dense forest of Abies pindrow Spach. containing trees with good girth and having Berberis, Viburnum and Rosa sp. as their undergrowth. The fir trees were seen up to the junction of Ramani Nala and Rishi Ganga and from here on were replaced by birch. The camping site at Ramani is on the right bank of the Rishi Ganga near a big rock with not much space for pitching tents. Ramani is about 6 km from Deodi and is situated at an altitude of about 3700 m.

From Ramani, the party started for Patalkhan on 25 September. The journey from Ramani was quite thrilling and at times hazardous particularly in the absence of any track to guide us. And on three occasions we had no other way but to take the help of ropes to climb the sheer rocky face. A scattered birch forest, often mixed with Rhododendron campanulatum D. Don., is characteristic of the track. The birch was found up to Bujgara only, which literally means the home of birch. The camping site at Patalkhan (4000 m) is on an outcrop of slate. From here, one can see the massive Nanda Devi peak. The distance from Ramani to Patalkhan is only 2 km but in terms of walking it takes one complete day to cover the distance. On 26 September, the party left Patalkhan for the inner sanctuary. There was a succession of ledges and overhangs ending in a straight climb. This was the most difficult part of the journey. Rhododendron campanulatum D. Don., and Junipers were the chief species. Nardostachys jatamansi DC. was seen clinging to the rocks. After a climb and a diagonal traverse of about 1 1\2 km we reached a place known as Rock Fall where huge stones were seen littered all along in an area of about 3 sq km. Beyond this, scrubby land begins and the Rishi gorge is left behind, this is where we enter the inner sanctuary.

Inner Sanctuary

The inner Sanctuary is highly picturesque. It can be divided topographically into three main regions, northern, south-eastern and western, with the Nanda Devi peak as the centre. To the north and south-east of the main peak flow two great glaciers which form the source of Rishi Ganga. The northern portion is full of glaciers and morainic beds originating in the inner snow mountain ring wall and interspersed with meadows and glacial lakes. The south-east portion also contains glacial beds. The western portion is formed mainly of a large sloping meadow, Sarsonpatal, about 3 km broad and 7 km long. This meadow is separated from the rocky pinnacles of the main peak of Nanda Devi by the Uttari Rishi Ganga. Our camping site at Sarsonpatal (4600 m) was by the side of a glacial stream flowing from an unnamed peak on the western wall of the Sanctuary, at the edge of Rishi Ganga. This part is formed by morainic deposits intersected with glacial streams originating from Devistan I, Devistan II and an unnamed peak. The lower section of this deposit of rounded rocks and boulders can be seen from the Rishi valley.

For the present description the western Sanctuary may be divided into 4 areas :

(a) The area of the junction of the glacial streams with Rishi Ganga.

(b) The meadow proper

(c) The morainic deposit area.

(d) The area near perpetual snow.

(a) The area of the junction of the glacial streams with Rishi Ganga

Here the glacial streams join the Rishi Ganga at an altitude of about 4500 m. The main species of the area, which is marshy, arr Polygonum sp., Salix sp., Astragalus sp., and Anemone sp.- all moisture-loving species.

(b) In The meadow proper

This forms the major part of the western Sanctuary ranging from 4375 to 4500 m in height. The major elements of the flora are Bergenia stracheyi (Hook. f. & Thorns) Engl (pashanbhed), Macrotomia benthami DC (vatanjot), Artemisia vestita Wall, ex DC., Elsholtzia sp., Cassiope sp., Tanacetum sp., Potentilla sp., Anaphalis sp., Rhododendron anthopogon D.Don, and Jumperus recurva Buch.-Ham. distributed sporadically on the lower slopes of the main meadow. The other species found were pedicularis sp., Polygonum sp., and a number of grasses and sedges.

(c) The Morainic deposit area

The boulders and rock masses shelter many delicate plants from the scorching sun and high winds. 4 These include Gentians, Delphinium, Thymus, Polygonum and Lychnis . The small sized Gentain collected were from 12 mm to 38 mm in height and had light blue flowers. These alpine annuals seem to have a very short life-cycle, completed probably within a week or so, right from the germination of the seed to the fruiting stage. This is a study worth undertaking.

(d) The area near perpetual snow

This area falls just below the zone of perpetual snow, above the altitude of 5000 m. At this level much of the soil is bare and there are many cushion or pillow-like spiny plants. The species found growing here, along with the grasses, were Ephedra sp., a very stunted Saussurea, long-flowered Gentian and Delphinium caehmirianum Royle.

As the sun rises in the morning, the wind starts blowing from the Rishi Ganga towards the western ring of the mountains. Fruits and seeds of many alpine plants are carried away by this high wind. Plants like Bergenia stracheyi (Hook f. & Thorns) Engl., Tanacetum sp. and Potentilla sp., roll in their leaves,, exposing the minimum surface, to protect themselves from the night frost. But the next morning's sun makes them unroll their leaves again. This phenomenon is highly interesting and worthy of serious study. At the time we visited the Sanctuary a majority of plants had almost completed their life-cycle and were in fruiting stage prior to their preparation for the ensuing winter.

Departure
We stayed in the Sanctuary from 26 September to 5 October. On 4 October, a message was received from the advance camp that Devistan peak had been climbed by the party members. The party left the Sanctuary on 6 October bivouacking between Bujgara and Bamani on the 6th night and again at Deodi on the 7th night. Another night was passed in bivouac at Bakhini Dhar and the party arrived at Lata on the 9th afternoon. It reached Joshimath on the 10th from where the author separated from the party reaching Lucknow on 16 October.