Tirthan was notified as a sanctuary on June 17, 1976. Some area that originally fell within this sanctuary was subsequently included in the Great Himalayan National Park, which was notified on March 1, 1984. The park forms a part of the protected area that also includes Rupi Bhaba Sanctuary and Pin Valley National Park. A buffer area of 316 sq. km. laces the western periphery. The park was re-named Jawaharlal Nehru Great Himalayan National Park in mid-1989, though it continues to be known by its original name.
The park lies in the Seraj Forest Division, in the Kulu District of Himachal Pradesh, about 60km. by road southwest of Kulu. The Tirthan Sanctuary lies to its southwest. The park is nestled between mountain ridges ranging from 1,500 m. to 5, 805 m. high which stand guard on all sides except the west.The Mathaun Dhar/Rakti Dhar ranges to the northeast and Sirikand Dhar to the southeast are prominent among these. The park comprises the catchments of Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan rivulets and is located at the junction of the Palaearctic faunal realm to the north and the Oriental pattern to the south. The Sainj and Tirthan valleys are narrow and steep-sided, so without much glaciation. The upper portion of the Sainj abuts on the upper Parbati Valley towards the north, while the upper Tirthan forms part of the watershed separating the Beas and Sutlej catchments.
The eastern part of the Park is permanently covered with snow and ice. Palachan Gad, a tributary of Tirthan Gad, drains the Tirthan Sanctuary. The Sainj and Tirthan rivers join at Larji, in the Mandi district, from where they both pour into the Beas. The vegetation is a confluence of temperate and alpine forest types with a mix of oak and conifers. At altitudes less than 2,500 m. you can see extensive oak Quercus semicarpifolia forests, while the alpine meadows at heights above 3800 m. are rich in medicinal plants like Aconitum heterophyllum, Salvia moorcroftiana, Viola serpens, Jurinea macrocephala and Rheum emodi , including the traditional yew tree, Taxus bacata which has been noted near the Manjhan Village in the Jiwa valley. One-third of the park, from the foot-hills to about 3,600 m. and then again, above 4000m., is covered with closed canopy forests. Coniferous forests of blue pine and deodhar, the West Himalayan silver fir and spruce and the Himalayan cedar along with patches of bamboo Arundinaria spathiflora comprise the dense undergrowth. The horse chestnut at lower altitudes and pure patches of birch in the higher reaches are the deciduous broad-leaved forest trees found on the moderately sloping areas. Fir occurs on more steep areas. Juniper and rhododendron shrubs occur extensively in the sub-alpine zone, at an altitude of about 3,700 m.
The area supports several endangered mammals like the serow, Himalayan tahr, goral and blue sheep. The Rhesus macaque and common langur are the major monkey species. The elusive snow leopard is beautifully camouflaged in the snow, and only the very patient and very lucky might spot one.
Other carnivores include the Himalayan black bear, Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan red fox, panther, wolf, civets, jungle cats and martens. (Bears and civets are vegetarian for a large part of the year, though). The Russel's viper and Himalayan pit viper comprise the main reptilian population.
183 species of birds have been recorded, including 132 passerines (perching birds) and 51 non passerines. The park is most famous for being one of only two National Parks in the world where the endangered Western tragopan is found.
The Western Tragopan, Cheer, Koklas, Himalayan Monal and Kaleej are five species of pheasants found here. The Cinereous Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, Lammagier and Golden Eagle are prominent birds of prey while the Oriental Hobby, Yellowbilled Chough, Himalayan Whistling Thrush, Variegated Laughing Thrush and Little Forktail are some of the smaller birds that you may see. The Brown Dipper, Whitecapped Redstart, Great Hill Barbet and Mrs. Gould's Sunbird are some others that you may chance upon. Brown and Redheaded Bullfinches, Verditer Flycatcher, Firebreasted Flowerpecker, Redtailed Minla, Striated Laughing Thrush, Black/ Whitecheeked/Redvented and Redwhiskered Bulbuls, Alpine Swift, Brownfronted Pied Woodpecker, Desert Wheatear are other commonly noted representatives of the avifauna in the region.
Tahr and goral in reasonable numbers, and serow and barking deer in smaller proportions are found in the Sainj-Tirthan valley.
Musk deer are more common on the Tirthan side while the two species of bear are both preferentially seen in Sainj. The ungulates are partial to the Rolla region in the Tirthan valley.
Leopards are seen both at Rolla and in Sainj. Cheer occur near Bandal, kaleej also occurs in Tirthan as far as Rolla. Though koklas and monal are distributed throughout the forest, the monal population is most dense at Nada Thach. This is also the area where the Western Tragopan registers most frequently, apart from other regions in the vicinity of the upper Beas.
Places of religious significance in and around the park include the hot springs at Khirganga and Mantalai Rakti Sar, the origin of the Sainj River and Hans Kund, which is the source of the Tirthan River. Trekking through the park to Rakti Sar is one of the most spectacular natural trails imaginable.
You would need high altitude tents, sleeping bags, and altimeters. Also carry binoculars, a camera and packed food. It is best to take a local guide along with you.
Permits can be obtained from the Park Director at Shamshi. It is imperative that you carry ample woollen clothing.
Do not attempt the climb unless you're medically fit. Carry first aid for frostbites and breathlessness.
Director, Great Himalayan National Park, District Kulu, Shamshi – 175125.
Range Officer (Wildlife), Tirthan Wildlife Range, District Kulu, Banjar – 175123.
Temperatures may rise to 300C in summer or fall as low as -50C in winter. The area sees heavy precipitation, about 1,500 mm. as rain and snow, in the monsoon and winter, respectively although rainfall varies across the valley. During the rains and in winter, the paths are inaccessible. Heavy snowfall and abundant rains during the monsoons make approach more difficult. Given the climactic conditions, the periods from April to June and October-November are ideal.
There are thirteen forest rest houses at Sai Ropa and Sainj, outside the Park which provide spartan accommodation. These add up to about 50 beds.
Other options are restricted to basic inspection huts with no amenities. Emergency halts at villages are possible as the villagers are generally hospitable.
For information or bookings contact the Field Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamshi – 175125, District Kulu, Himachal Pradesh.
By Air: Bhuntar (50 km.) is the nearest airport.
By Rail: Shimla (270 km.) is the nearest railhead.
By Road: Kulu (60 km.) is the closest town. By road, one can proceed as far as Aut, which is 30 km. from Kulu and 28 km. from Gushaini. From Aut, one has to trek. On the western edge, the park can be approached by bridle paths in Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan tributaries. Treks along the Tirthan (It is recommended that you spend at least 5 days on this) and Sainj Valleys (at least 8 days) would be most exciting. The eastern portion, however, is best left to experienced mountaineers as there aren't any regularly used routes in this direction. There is no road connection to the park.