Nestled between Hindukush in the west and Maha Kali Anchal in the east, is the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. In India, it shares its neighbourhood with three states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, while sharing international borders with Nepal and People’s Republic of China. With an area of 53,483 sq. km of which around 65% is forest area, three river systems and four Himalayan zones, the state houses myriads of common and rare species of animals and plants. For administrative and cultural reasons, all the state districts are categorized into two regions i.e. Kumaon and Garhwal.
Since the state is lying in the Himalayan zone, there are major groups of glaciers in the state, with Garhwal region housing almost 9 known glaciers and Kumaon region with 7 known glaciers. At an elevation of 25,643 ft (above sea level) Nanda Devi is the highest mountain peak in Uttarakhand and comes in the Nanda Devi group of glaciers along with glaciers like Trishul, Kurumoli, Nandakna, Ramani and Bartoli. Other important glaciers in this region are Bander Punch, Chorbari Bamak, Doonagiri, Dokriani, Gangotri, Khatling, Satopnath, Bhagirathi-Khark and Tipra Bamak Glacier. The major glaciers present in the Kumaon region are Pindari, Maiktoli, Mrightuni, Sunderdhunga, Kaphini, Namik and Milam Glacier.
This garden variety of glaciers and valleys have accommodated lofty mountain peaks which humans, since time immemorial, have either associated with high levels of adventure or spirituality. The entire Himalayan belt is further divided into three zones as (1) The Shivaliks, (2) Lower Himalayas and (3) Himadri. The average height of hills in the Shivalik zone ranges from 990 to 3,300 ft (above sea level). Some known valleys of this region are Dehradun, Kotdwara and Rishikesh. The Lesser Himalayas (also known as Himanchal) have hills with an elevation ranging from 3,300 to 9900 ft (above sea level). Mussoorie, Ranikhet, Almora, Gopeshwar and Chamoli are some known hilly areas in this region. The Greater Himalaya Zone (also known as Himadri) is the zone consisting of some major peaks, ranging in height from 9,900 to 24,310 ft (above sea level). Some prominent peaks in this zone are Nanda Devi (7817m), Kamet (7756m), Bundarpoonch (6316m), Nandakot (6861m), Neelkanth (6597m), Trimukhi (6422m), Kagbhusand (5830m), Saife (6161m), Devtole (6788m) and Panchachuli Peaks (6904m). Most of them are scattered in and around the Chamoli district.
The three major river systems that irrigate this Devbhumi are (1) the Yamuna System, (2) the Ganga System and (3) the Kali System originating in Kalapani, a collection of springs. The Yamuna river, which covers most of the western Garhwal region, rises from the Yamunotri Glacier and later is joined by its major tributaries Tons (originating from the Bandarpunch Glacier) and Asan in Dehradun District. The Ganga river constitutes of two river trails before coming to its final form: (1) Bhagirathi rises from the Gangotri Glaciers (near Gomukh) and flows till Gangotri temple where it meets its tributaries Jadh Ganga (Thag La region) and then further ahead Bhilangana (Kedarnath Glaciers). (2) Alaknanda, which initially rises as Vishnuganga (Chaukhamba Glaciers) meets its first tributary Saraswati near Mana village. Thereafter it meets its five important tributaries at five places of confluence famously known as Panch Prayag, namely Dhauliganga West, Nandakini, Pinder, Mandakini and finally Bhagirathi (at Devprayag) after which it is known as Ganga. After Devprayag, it meets two more tributaries, Nayar and Song river. Last but not the least, the Kali river originates in Kalapani (collection of springs), in the Pithoragarh district. Its major tributaries are Dhauliganga East, Goriganga, Sarju and Ladhiya.
This unique and exotic blend of rivers, mountains, glaciers and marshy habitats have given Uttarakhand an ecosystem rich in Flora and Fauna species. Vegetation wise, the state area is further divided into four zones (1) Tropical-Subtropical Forest Zone which includes species like Khair, Kanju, Haldu, Sisam and Sal, (2) Subtropical-Temperate Zone which houses species like Chir Pine, Burans, Kaphal, Deodar, Moru Oak and Kharsu Oak, (3) Temperate-Sub Alpine Zone has species like Kail, Birch, Blue Pine and Cypress and (4) The Alpine Zone where flora gradually decreases to xerophytic and mesophytic bushes and Alpine pastures. Some known and important Bugyals of this zone are Bedni Bugyal, Auli and Gorson Bugyal, Dayara Bugyal, Panwali Bugyal and Kush-Kalyan. The entire Himalayan belt consists around 18,440 species of plants alone (8000 Angiosperms species, 6900 Fungi species, 1736 Bryophytes species, 1159 Lichens species, 600 Pteridophyte species and 44 Gymnosperm species), making the state rich in medicinal and aromatic plants. Some known areas rich in flowers and herbs are Roopkund Area, Har-ki-Doon area and Darma Valley area. With 12 National Parks and WildLife Sanctuaries, 2 conservation reserves and 2 World Heritage Sites, the Faunal diversity in the state is prolific, with around 3948 invertebrates and 959 vertebrates! The first ever National Park of the Indian subcontinent is also present in the state, Jim Corbett National Park, housing around 25 species of reptiles and more than 500 species of birds alone in its complex.