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Great Himalayan National Park(GHNP) is a relatively new National Park created in 1999. It is known as GHNP. It protects a himalayan ecosystem with rare plants and animals. Himalayan black bear, brown bear, leopard, snow leopard and Himalayan tahr are found here but they are all very elusive. The colourful Himalayan Monal Pheasant and the Western Tragopan represent the birdlife.
GHNP has well developed trekking infrastructure. There are camping grounds located at strategic places and the forest department can arrange guides. Porters can be hired locally. There are no facilities on the way and all provisions and blankets etc have to be carried.
A shorter week long trek starts at Sainj/Shangarh and then to Shakti, Maraur and then ends at Raktisar. This can be accomplished by a lightweight expedition of 1-2 people with a guide and 2-3 porters.
A longer high altitude trek starts from Sainj/Shangarh and on to Parkachi and then joins the Pin Parvati trek to Pin Parvati National Park via the Pin Parvati pass. It ends at Kaza where you can see the various monasteries including the famous Tabo monastery and then take a bus back to Kullu-Manali via Kunzum pass and Rohtang Pass. The trek starts from temperate forests, goes through alpine meadows and then over high altitude passes and ends in a high altitude cold desert. This requires careful planning and preferably the services of an trekking company.
There are villages in the park and 'gujjars' bring their sheep to graze in the park. Bears come to the villages during the harvesting season to feast on ripe maize. This leads to man-animal conflict which has been the subject of a scientific study in the park.
Watercolour by Kokay Szabolcs
It is easy to get to GHNP. The office of the Director of the park is at Shamshi and is on the busy highway from Mandi to Kullu. There is a lot of tourist traffic in summer months along this highway. So transport should not be problem.
From Shamshi, there are regular buses to Aut. From Aut, take the bus to Neoli which is the road-head and has a few shops selling very basic provisions and a few places to eat. Porters can be hired here. Your guide can arrange porters for you.
There are 2 options to travelling inside the park.
First option is to contact the office of the field director of the park at Shamshi and ask them to arrange guides for you. These guides are usually people working in the park on daily wages. They see tourism as a supplement to their daily income. They earn more money from guiding people on treks than on their daily work and they also get a break from their daily duties and get to meet people from far-away places. So they are keen to guide any trekking party but they are not professional guides. They are front-line workers in maintaining and protecting the park. So please treat them with utmost respect and be sensitive to their culture and mindset. Do not try and impose your views on them and dont try to 'educate' them. Try and be a good listener and treat them as equals. They most certainly are not your 'servants' and dont expect them to wash your dishes. They will gather firewood and light a fire and cook food because they know we would not be able to do it. Dont expect them to carry your backpack full of useless trinkets for you.
Sometimes, your guide may be stationed at Sainj or Shangarh and so you will have to go there to meet him or he can meet you at Neuli. Ask the office of the Director of the park to radio the guide. Many of the people working in the park have walkie talkies. Your interactions with your guide can make a big difference to your trip. The guide will usually be allocated by the office of the field director of the park at Shamshi.
The second option is to hire the services of any trekking company in Manali. Then sit back and relax while they arrange everything for you. They will even carry your backpack for you and will wash your dishes for you.
The terrain is too steep for any pack animals. Gujjars and their sheep do graze in the park but I havent seen sheep being used as pack animals in India although it does happen in Nepal. The altitude is too low for yaks to be used. Hiring porters is the only option or carry all you need in your rucksack.
If you are driving, you can park your car at Neuli. The roads are average Indian mountain roads – potholed, narrow and full of traffic.
The treks are reasonably well maintained but can be dangerous at places with steep drops on the sides. The trek is steep and trekker has to be fit. The treks are of moderate difficulty. Some streams dont have bridges and have to be crossed using log bridges where one slip can lead to a serious injury. See picture below:
Crossing a log bridge in GHNP
May to June is the best time to go. It rains a lot from Jul to Sep because of the monsoon but it is still possible to trek through the park. Higher reaches of the park are closed from Oct to Apr.
The only accommodation available in the park is at Sainj and Shangarh Forest Rest house. These are near the start of the trek. If trekking beyond Shangarh, there is no real accomodation. You can carry a lightweight tent but I just sleep in the open when I go. A good sleeping bag is enough in May-June. 'Thatch' is local name for a hut. Thatches are located at strategic places and provide very basic shelter from rain. There are thatches at Shakti, Maraur and Parkachi. You can get by with just sleeping in the thatch without a tent if it doesnt rain.
It is one of the few national parks where you can sleep safely at night in the open in an area populated with himalayan black bears and leopards.
Watercolours of plants by Kokay Szabolcs
That there is a drug mafia operating in the region is a fact acknowledged by residents and the police'. Lots of foreigners on long vacation in India spend winters in Goa and summers in Manali/Dharamsala. One would be surprised by the number of foreigners on the Pin Parvati trek, which follows the northern boundary of GHNP. These 'dollar tourists' probably fuel the drugs trade as Indians dont get involved and havent been killed so far. There were reports of foreigners killed/missing along the Pin Parvati trek in 2009. So please travel in a group or ask the office of the Director of GHNP to arrange the guides. Avoid any other people (trekkers, foreigners or locals) offering you anything suspicious (e.g. Herbal tea). GHNP is a lot safer than the Pin Parvati trek but if you are trekking from GHNP onto to Pin Parvati National Park, you should be aware of it.