Forest & Environment
The forest of the district can be divided into the following botanical divisions -
Himalayan Sub-tropical Pine - These forest are wound between the heights of 910 m. to 1825 m. throughout the district. The tree which are commonly found in these forests are Anyar, Caryoptexis wallichii, Rubus ellipticus,Rhus semialata and Desmodiumsamuense on the northern aspect of the hills.
Moist Temperate Seral Forest - These forest are found between the altitudes of 1200 m. to 2150 m along the streams and newly formed beds with undergrowth of Sarococca preuniformus spp. Barberis spp. and Ainslea aptera specially in western part of the Joshimath and the eastern part of Karnprayag tehsils.
Banj Oak Forests - These are found between the heights of 1825m and 2450 m. but at places their limits ascent up to 2600 m. on the southern aspect and descend to 1200 m. on the northern aspect of the hills. Trees commonly met with in these forests are buras, anyar, carpinus,viminea and Ilex odorala.
Oak Scrub Forests -These forests are found in the localities of banj oak forests near the habitations. Sometimes due to excessive damage,banj oak is replaced by scattered bushes of Barberis Chitriya, Basiatice and Cretaegus cronulata.
Tilonj Forests- These forests are found between the same altitudes as those of the oak and are associated with the lauracea, ilex, betula alnoides, etc.. The shrubby under growth consist of Robus spirea, indigofera and Ainslea aftera.
Lower Blue Pine Forest - These forest are found between the heights of 1825 mtrs. and 2600 mtrs. specially in Tehsil Chamoli and Karnprayag having Euscholtzia polistachya, Vibumun foctens, Rosa microphylla, Vibumun cotonifoliun, Exaecarea acerifolia, etc. as shrubby under growth.
Dry Coniferous Forest - On deep soil between the altitude of 1825 mtrs and 2600 mtrs., over a small area on. all aspects except the steep southern slopes with quartzitic sub soil, mainly Deodar
is found associated with Kharasu, Akhrot, Kharik, Syan and Maira, The under growth consist of shrubs such as Aveliatryflora, Sumiperous, Macropoda, Prunus jacqumontii, Ribes grosulaia and Rosa scricea , the shrubby under growth consisting of Achyranthes bidentata and Aralia cissifolia
Moist Temperate Deciduous Forest - These forest are found on deep moist soils between the heights of 1825 mtrs. and 2750 mtrs. along hill stream. The top canopy consist of pangar, kanchula, maira sour, akhrot, dalla and kabasi, the shrubby under growth consisting of viburum spirea, sorbiflora barberis supp. Strodilanthas wallichii , etc.
Cypress Forests - These forests are found between the heights of 2125 mts. and 2600 mts. on rocky slopes and precipitous ground mixed with tilong, kali, Corpinus ninerea, Eunonimus pendulus, Ilex, Machilusdutti, etc.
Kharasu Forests - The Kharasu forests are found between the heights of 2450 mts. and 3500 mts. mixed with kanchula, pangar, saur and burans. The shrubby undergrowth consists of Rosa scricea, Rosa macrephylla, Viburum foeten, Contoneaster ocuminate, Ribes glaciaia and ringals.
Western Oak Forests - These forests are commonly found on the southern aspect of hills between the altitudes of 2450 mts. and 2900 mts. mixed with Kharasu, tilonj, pangar, kanchula, kabasi, etc. the chief undergrowth being Rhamnus purpurrea, Wickstroemia cancacenda, Rosa macrophylla, Skimmia bursola, Rubus niveus. Among creepers which are found here are Vitis semicordata, Schizandras grandiflora and Hedera helix.
Dry Temperate Deciduous Forests - These forests consisting of kabasi trees are found between the heights of 2450 mts. and 2750 mts. in the northern part of the district, Lonicara spp. and Rosa serecea, being the shrubby undergrowth.
Temperate Hippophae Scrub Forests - These forests consisting of ames scrubs, are found between the heights of 2275 mts. and 3200 mts. n gravel beds along the banks of the streams mixed with gadbhains.
Kharak Forests - the forests are found above the altitude of 2215 mts. and have practically no tree growth except the Rumex nepalensis undergrowth.
Ringal Forests - These occur above the height of 2425 mts. mixed with high level oak and coniferous trees.
Alpine Fir Birch Forests - These grow better between the heights of 2900 mts. and 3500 mts. in all aspects of the hills except in the moist areas. The plants growing in these forests are fir, birch and Rhododendron. The ungrowth consists of Pyrus folilosa, Cotoneaster acuminata, Rosa sericea, Ribes glaciala, Ribes rubrum, Lonicera spp. and Smilex vaginate.
Birch - Rhododendrons Forests - These forests are found between the altitudes of 2900 mts. and
4125 mts. and in them are found the stunted bhuj and rhododendrons with Pyrus foliolose as 90 percent of the undergrowth. Other plants which grow here are Rubus niveus, Swilax vaginate, Cotoneaster spp. Lonicera spp. and Pologorum vaccinifolium
Alpine Scrub Forests - Between the altitudes of 3350 mts. and 4275 mts and with a rainfall above 1016 mm. evergreen scrubs are found consisting of Rhododendron asthopogen, Junipexus recurva, J. communis, Lonicera parviflora, etc. In the dry inner ranges having a rainfall less than 255 mm grow exeophytic dwarf shrubs consisting of Eurotia ceratoides, junipexus pseudosabina, J. communis, Caranga sp. ad Artimisia spp.
Alpine Pastures - Between the heights of 2050 mts. and 2975 mts on the northern aspect of the hills and between the altitudes of 2500 mts. and 4425 mts. on the southern aspect of the hills the land is covered with short grasses and herbs, which are used as pasture where professional graziers bring their cattle.
In the warm valleys of the extreme southern part of the district some species of the trees of the plains such as mango, jamun, pipal, banyan and shisham grow here and there up to an altitude of about 915 mts. The 'Sal' which is found up to a height of 1220 mts., is seldom seen north of the river Pindar but it is usually not allowed to stand near cultivated tracts because it is said to attract white ants. The Tun and the Kharik, or Kharak are to be seen growing up to an elevation of about 1250 mts. which is also suitable for the growth of haldu and dhauri. Carefully proctected by the cultivator on the pugar (terrace wall of the field), the leaves of the bhyunl tree afford excellent fodder for the cattle.
In the Alaknanda valley, the bases, slopes, gorges and tops of the hills up to the height of 1067 mts. are well wooded with high trees such as catechu, bahera, har( or harara), amaltas, bel, kachnar and dhak. A large variety of creepers some of which have broad green leaves also thrive I in the vicinity of the trees.
From about 1220 mts to 1829 mts, Chir abounds and above this level oak and chimul are found, the former being a hard wood, is used for making agricultural implements and the latter for fuel. The Chir wood is commonly used for building purposes in the district, and its logs and sleepers are floated down the Alaknanda to the plains. Chir is also tapped for resin but quantity of turpentine produced in the district is small.
Above an elevation of 3439 mts. Moru or Tilonj and Kharasu grow and their timber is also used for manufacturing agricultural implements. The pangar or horse chestnut and the maple are found up to a height of 3048 mts., especially in the Riniganga valley. The wood of the latter is used for making drinking vessels and bowls known as lahauri-doba.
Spruce, silver-fir, kail and kharasu, oak and some trees of small economical value are the principal trees found in the forests of the upper Himalayas ( above 3048 mts.). Fine forests of silver-fir, kail and pine occupy the slopes on the left bank of Alaknanda from Pipalkoti to Joshimath. The Surai of Himalaya sypress and the Himalayan cedar forests which lie along the Alaknanda in patti Talla Painkhanda and the Neoza pine forests near Tapovan along the Dhauli, are fairly extensive and have trees of thuner (yew), papari (boxwood), Kharasu and deodar. The birch grows up to an elevation of about 3658 mts. above which lies an expance covered wih bush and grass variegated in summer by Alpine forests of many colours. The places of richest vegetation are between the elevation of 2134 mts. and 3658 mts. where the epiphytic form of flora, ferns, mosses, creepers and many varieties of flowers make the region beautiful especially after the rainy season. Colquhounia is abundant on the main Badrinath and Trishul ranges and ringals form the undergrowth of the forests uo to an altitude of 2286 mts.
Many medicinal blooms, herbs and plants, greatly valued in Aryuveda grow in the district. Most of the flowers and plants come up during the rains but wither away from October to May, imparting the characteristic brown color to the countryside during the winter. In these parts Senecio rufinervis, a perennial herb forms a dense undergrowth to the exclusion of most other plants. Aromatic plants are found in abundance at higher altitudes. The groves in the district covering an area of 430.72 hectares are mostly in the warm deep southern valley and consist of chiefly of mango, guava, banana, papaya and jackfruit trees but apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, strawberry, litchi and loquat also flourish. Other cultivated trees of the district include species of citron of which the chief is malta, lime, sweet-lime and orange which, though thriving in the warm valleys, can also be grown up to a height of about 1677 mts. The vine is raised in groves where the rains are not too heavy.
The chief variety of timber trees found in the groves of the district are pine, tun, deodar and many varieties of walnut. The timber of the deodar tree is considered to be sacred and is noted for durability and resisting insect, pest and dry rot. It is great demand for making doors and roof f temples. In the past a very fine grove of deodars surrounded the Binsar temple in the south-western extremity of Tehsil Karnprayag.
The district is rich in fauna and has been the habitat, from time immemorial, of a large variety of mammals, various species of birds reptiles and fish. In the Mahabharata there is mention of deer hunting in this area by the Pandu, the father of Pandavas, who is said to have taken up his abode in Pandukeshwar. About the middle of the Nineteenth century many villages were deserted because of the dread of wild animals. Tigers are found up to an elevation of about 3048 mts. and in the past haunted the big forests of Chandpur and Dudhatoli, occasionally reaching the thick forests of Vasuki and Tungnath. The number of wild animals has considerably decreased on account of their destruction and thinning of the forests.
Among the animals of the district are the tiger, leopard, panther, snow-leopard, Himalayan black bear, brown bear, deer, wild dog, Chutraila or pine marten and Himalaya weasel. The first is found throughout the district and is extremely dangerous when it becomes a man-eater. The Snow-leopard which is met with at higher altitudes above the tree line, some 3658 mts. to 3963 mts. above sea level, hunts at night, preying on wild sheep and goats, musk deer and marmots. Like other beasts of prey its movements are regulated by those of its prey. It is hunted for its valuable fur. The black Himalayan bear is common in district and is found up to a height of 915 mts. It frequently plunders wild beehives, for their honey and is serious menace for the crops and occasionally becomes carnivorous killing goats and sheep and even cattle. The brown bear is rare and is known to live in the bare open peaks high above the tree line in the watershed of the Nandakini and Kailganga. Fearing and avoiding human beings it does not become a man eater but often becomes a terror to live-stock. Wild dogs are generally seen in the forests of Pindar valley and Dudhatoli. The otter (ud) is found in waters of the Pindar.
Caps are made of its skin ,and its fur, worn round the neck, is considered to be efficacious in curing goitre. Other wild animals seen in the district are Hyaena, jungle cat, wolf, jackal, porcupine and mountain fox. The wild bear is widely distributed in the district and is found up to a height of 2743 mts., chiefly in oak forests. The goral or Himalayan chamois, serow and thar are widely distributed between the elevation of 2134 mts. and 3658 mts. The flesh of animals which have thorn, especially that of male, is valued by the hill people.
The bharal which lives on grassy slopes between the heights of 3048 mts and 4572 mts. is prized for its skin. The Himalayan marmot of the seiuriod family is one of the mammals that lives at the highest altitudes usually favoring an elevation between 3963 mts. and 5487 mts. and is valued for its fur. Among the deer tribe the Sambar or jarao, kakar (barking deer) and kastura (musk deer) are the only members of the cervidae family which are represented in the district.
The district is particularly rich in avifauna and the birds found here are mostly of the same kind as those occurring throughout the Himalayan region. Birds of prey such as eagles, falcons, hawks and vultures are very common. Among the game birds, the most common are the ban titar, kala titar and chakor, the last named found right up to the snowline. The junguria or karmonal (snow partridge), which found above the tree line and below the snowline on steep and rocky ground breeds throughout the altitudes it inhabits between 3048 mts. to 4572 mts. above sea level. The horned pheasant, which is really more a partridge than a pheasant, is represented by the lungi or lunji and the jawar. Both the species which breed in May and June at elevations between 2439 mts. and 3353 mts., have magnificent males with beautiful plumage. Others important birds of this family are the Chir or Chir pheasant, Pukras, Pokras or koklas locally called kaleej or murga. The last, occurring up to an altitude of about 2439 mts. is the commonest of all.
Among the protected non-game birds, the chief are the common king-fisher, white breasted king-fisher, pied king-fisher, blue-jay or Indian roller, black-headed oriole, small cuckoo, Indian cuckoo and European cuckoo. The Indian scarlet minivet which is an unprotected non-game bird belonging to the pericrocotidae family looks very beautiful when on the wings. A rare member of the phononodidae family, seen near Amsor in Tehsil Karnprayag in Feb. 1966 was perhaps a white bulbul, the most attractive mong the bulbul species, and, perhaps a migratory bird. Others birds which are commonly found in the district are common swallow, pied wagtail, ashy wren-warbler, Indian wren-warbler, Alpine swift, house swift, parakeet, rock-pigeon and Himalayan woodpecker.
Reptiles - Snakes somewhat rare in the district but the cobra and the russel's viper or necklace snake are common and they may be found up to a height of 1829 mts. the latter being viviparous and nocturnal in its habits. The only hill snake found above 2439 mts. is Ancistrodon Himalayans which attains a length of about 62 cm., and is venomous though its bite is not fatal. Among the non-venomous snakes the charao ( rock snake) which may grow to a length to about 9 mts., although specimens over 6 mts., in length are rare, is occasionally seen on the rocky slopes of the lower hills. The python, a protected species, has been found as far up as the slopes below the Tungnath range in Ukhimath. The rat-snake, which attains a length of about 3 mts., is common, it does not bite but strike its victim with its tail, the flesh of the part so struck decaying. Non- poisonous snakes also sometimes occur in the tanks near the temple of Trijugi Narain and to be touched by them is considered auspicious by the Hindu pilgrims who bath in these tanks. About ten species of lizards inhabit this region and can been seen basking in the sun on rock. Of these the blood-sucker is harmless in spite of its name. The bull-frog and common toad, both amphibians, are met with throughout the district.
Large and varied groups of insects are found in the district and some, such as snow-fly, thrive in the glaciers. The leech, which is particularly active during the rains, is of common occurrence in the oak forests. In May and June swarms of flies are to be seen all along the route up to Gulabkoti, the mora, a small stinging fly, is also found in the district and causes small painful sores.
Fish abound in almost all streams of the district and riparian villages find in it an important supplement to their ordinary food. The common species found here are asela or saul, mahasher, kalabans or karaunch and fucta or phar kata. Other species found in the district include gadara, gadiyal or guluwa, tarra, symplu and nama, nawoo or japa.