Site description The Gangotri National Park (GNP) lies in the upper catchments of River Bhagirathi and derives it name from the famous Gangotri Temple, one of the four highly revered Hindu Dhams. The Park is located at a distance of about 100 km from the district headquarters Uttarkashi. It covers a wide altitudinal gradient from about 1,800 m to 7,000 m (Satopanth peak) and is one of the largest protected areas of Uttaranchal. The varied topography and large altitudinal range in GNP provide a diversity of habitats for various floral and faunal assemblages. A major portion of GNP is rugged and snow-covered. The Gangotri glacier lies at the centre of the Park and gives rise to River Bhagirathi, called Ganga beyond Deoprayag. Concerns have been raised that this glacier is fast receding due to various reasons. The Park has a relatively good forest cover and the vegetation types vary from Himalayan Moist Temperate Forests to the Alpine scrub and pastures. As elsewhere in the Himalayas, the Himalayan Moist Temperate Forests are dominated mostly by species of oaks or conifers. Ban Oak Quercus leucotrichophora dominates the lower altitude areas (1,800 m to 2,200 m) and is usually associated with Rhododendron arboreum, Ilex dipyrena and Lyonia ovalifolia. Moru Oak Quercus floribunda with its associates namely Aesculus indica and species of Acer, dominates the middle altitudes (2,200 to 2,500 m). Kharsu Oak Quercus semecarpifolia, sometimes in almost pure stands (which are rare in case of Moru Oak), dominates the higher altitude regions (> 2,500 m). At some places, especially along water channels and mesic areas, Aesculus indica, Acer spp., Pyrus lantana and Juglans regia gain dominance over oaks. While at lower altitudes (< 2,200 m), along river valleys and landslide areas, Alder Alnus nepalensis forests, which are seral in nature, dominate the vegetation. In steep rocky areas around 2600 m with poor soil, the vegetation chiefly consists of Cupressus torulosa, often associated with Cedrus deodara and Pinus wallichiiana. The Himalayan Dry Temperate Forests are represented by Deodar Cedrus deodara dominated stands around 2,500 m. These forests have been heavily exploited in the past for timber and railway sleepers. Needle-leaf Forests dominated by Abies pindrow with Picea smithiana are frequent between 2,600 m to 3,000 m. Stands of Blue Pine Pinus wallichiiana are also present in the area and can occasionally be found up to 3,400 m. The Sub-Alpine zones, usually above 3,000 m are dominated by Quercus semecarpifolia, Abies pindrow and Taxus baccata with other broadleaf species. The krumholtz zone (stunted forest) above 3,300 m above msl dominated by Rhododendron campanulatum and Betula utilis along with Sorbus foliolosa are quite distinct in the areas where anthropogenic pressures in the past had been less. This zone represents the tree limit and gives way to the beautiful alpine pastures or meadows, locally called bugyal. These meadows are a storehouse of many rare and threatened medicinal plants. Important ones are Aconitum heterophyllum, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, Picrorhiza kurrooa and Jurinea dolomiaea. This rich floral value of the Park has resulted in the naming of many places based on them such as Chirbasa (area mainly dominated by Pinus wallichiiana, locally called chir) and Bhojbasa (area mainly dominated by Betula utilis, locally called bhoj). The Park provides refuge to sensitive Sub-Alpine and Alpine vegetation, which are degrading in many parts of the Himalayas due to overuse by man. The Park, apart from representing the west Himalayan ecosystem also has some peculiarities. The boundary in the north and northeast forms the international boundary with China. This portion therefore, also represents the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem and species such as Thylacospermum sp., and Lamium rhomboideum characteristic of cold arid regions are found here. Similarly, though pure patches of Taxus baccata (locally called thuner) are rare, the area above Sukki village harbours a pure stand of thuner. The GNP also forms a corridor between Govind National Park and the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. Taken together, these three protected areas form a very large contiguous conservation unit.
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Acknowledgements Key contributors: Sanjay Uniyal and Gopal S. Rawat.
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BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Gangotri National Park. Downloaded from
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