When in Tirthan valley, the one thing that calls out to you is the vast expanse of Great Himalyan National Park. Spread over an area greater than 1100 sq kilometer, this is a park rich in flora and fauna. It is a paradise for bird lovers and many bird-watchers spend days camping into the hearts of this park. We merely spent a night in this rich land.
The access to the forest is only on foot. We started our walk from Gushain, which is a village 2-3 kms from Nagni where we were staying. The walk is pleasant and gentle and follows along the Tirthan river. The view is highlighted by snow-capped Himalyan peaks and pine trees. As we started the walk, we could feel the habitation thinning and it felt like we were leaving behind the known world. After 20-30 minutes of walking, we came by a small clearing which had a few houses typical of the area – criss-crossed with wood and stones. There, perched on the edge stands a small shop which is the last place to buy any provisions before you completely detach yourself from the modern world. We made a small halt for tea, sipping in the warm drink as we also soaked in the vivid green.
After the shop, there are few human creations that we saw (you hardly notice winding paths running through forests as human creations, although they are always formed by people who went before). We walked through the pines, often distracted by beautiful butterflies that added more color to the green. Tirthan seemed to be continuously flirting with us – sometimes coming very close in form of waterfalls, at other times hiding far below in the valley.
As we came close to the park gate, about 9 kms from our starting point, we saw an astounding waterfall. Not knowing how far it was to our campsite, and also allowing some time for our crew to set up the tents, we went down the waterfall and spent a long time enjoying the view. A few birds were frolicking in the water, and it was a delight to follow their games. One family was trying hard to teach its young one to fly and look for food – they jumped from one rock to another.
We soon entered the park, and went into the forest for a walk. Even in early May, the temperatures were freezing.
We stayed the night in the forest in tents. Time seemed to expand in that place, and it felt like night took a long time in coming. When it came, it brought along numerous stars, but also a little bit of unease. Our little party around the camp fire felt the calming silence turn spooky, and we retreated into the tents much sooner than our usual bed times.
The park was evacuated of all dwellers in 2000. One old man, Nanu, unhappy with the compensation, decided to stay on and not part with his land. He now stays alone with his wife in this vast area, kilometers away from the nearest neighbor. His two dogs keep him company. One of the dogs found its way to our camp in the evening and refused to leave. He was very excited to have people to meet and play with. Solitude is not everyone’s favorite state.
Next day, we went deeper into the forest, watched birds of varied variety, saw Nanu’s house, deserted but for his two dogs. Old age and the maladies that come with it force him now to stay away from this land and spend time in hospitals or recovering with one of his sons.
The walk back to Gushain was incredibly easy. We ambled back without a lunch break this time, stopping only at the last shop (Shopper’s stop it is called by the guides there) for tea and (yes!) Maggi.
The evening was spent trout fishing in the Tirthan, and we did catch some, and then it was already time to move to Naggar.