Geography

Nanda DeviThe modern day Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, established as a national park by the Indian government in 1982 and as a UN-registered World Heritage Site in 1988, encompasses an area of 2236.74 km2 in the Uttarakhand Himalayas near India’s border with China (Tibet). Bounded by tributaries of the Alaknanda river in the west (Dhauli Ganga), north (Girthi Ganga), and east (Gori Ganga), the area is also a vast glacial basin. Glaciers in the north, south, and east in turn feed another tributary, the Rishi Ganga, which runs through the centre of the reserve on its way westward to the Dhauli. As such, altitudes range from 1,900m at the deepest point of the spectacular, but forbidding gorge carved out by the Rishi, to 7,817m at the summit of Nanda Devi, the focal point of the reserve and India’s second highest peak. Enigmatically, Nanda Devi stands guarded by some of the highest mountains in the Indian Himalayas, 12 of which exceed 6,400m (21,000ft) in height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of the Himalayas in local myth and folklore.

The core zone, constituting slightly over 620 km2 of the Rishi valley, is practically inaccessible to non-mountaineers and non-locals. Resting almost entirely above 3,500m, the core has long been regarded as an inner sanctuary in the spiritual sense, extending to the upper reaches of the Rishi valley and the foot of Nanda Devi. Although snowbound for half the year, its uniquely moist microclimate has presented a veritable oasis for Himalayan flora and fauna. The high altitude alpine meadows and thick pine and deodar (Himalayan cedar) forests characteristic of inner Himalayan valleys have also provided homes to numerous species of large mammals (i.e., musk deer, snow leopards, Himalayan tahrs, and black bears) and song birds (i.e., warblers, finches, and grosbeaks). Hundreds of species of trees, shrubs, and herbs also grow in the core zone, making the whole reserve a hotspot for biodiversity.

Along the Dhauli Ganga lies the famed Niti Valley that draws its name from the last village before the Indo-Tibetan frontier. Besides Lata and Reni villages that remain among the best known settlements in this region due to their involvement in the Chipko movement, other villages include Jamgavar, Juma, Garpag, Kaga, Peng, Phagti, Surai, Tolma, and Malari. However, these villages are further divided into summer and winter encampments situated at different elevations to cope with the climatic conditions throughout the year.

Important Peaks surrounding the NDBR

Name of the Peak Height (m)
1 Dunagiri 7066
2 Changbang 6864
3 Kalnka 6931
4 Rishi Pahar 6992
5 Mangraon 6765
6 Nanda Khat 6631
7 Maiktoli 6803
8 Mrigthuni 6655
9 Trishul I 7120
10 Trishul II 6319
11 Bethartoli Himal 6352
12 Nanda Devi East 7434
13 Nanda Devi Main 7817
14 Devisthan I 6529
15 Devisthan II 6678
16 Hanuman 6070