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Kedarnath Sanctuary

Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, in Uttarakhand, India, is a national sanctuary established in an area of 975 km2 (376 sq mi). It was established primarily to protect the endangered Himalayan Musk Deer. Hence, it is also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary. It is an IUCN grade IV category (Managed Nature Reserve) sanctuary in the Biogeographical Province 2.38.12 (Himalayan Highlands).

The sanctuary takes its name from the famous Hindu temple of Kedarnath which is just outside its northern border. There are many other Hindu temples of great religious pilgrimage importance. The entire 14 km (9 mi) route from Ghauri Khund to Kedarnath temple (3,584 m/11,759 ft) passes through the sanctuary. It is also the largest protected area in the western Himalayas. Its international importance is attributed to the diversity of its flora and fauna (particularly of ungulate species).

Religious and social aspect

The sanctuary has a large number of Hindu temples located within its precincts. Kedarnath temple is the most historic of these temples, which is dated to the 8th century (credited to the Guru Adi Shankaracharya who built it) but has even more hoary legend linked to the Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata fame. Other temples, though not of matching importance, have strong legends related to the epic Mahabharata days. These are the Mandani, Madhyamaheshwar, Tungnath, Ansuya Devi and Rudranath. The local Hindu culture is also imbibed by the Bhotiyas (may be with some Tibetan link) who have pastoral work culture and are an integral part of the valleys.

Birds: Important bird species reported are: Little Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni), Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys) and Nepal Tree-creeper (Certhia nipalensis), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) (it is the state bird of Uttarakhand, considered as endangered), Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) and Koklass Pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha).

Aquatic life: In the Mandakini River, fishes recorded include Schizothorax sp., mahseer Tor tor, Labeo spp., Gara spp., Barilius spp., Nemacheilus sp. nov., Glyptothorax spp. and Balitora brucei.

Himalayan musk deer: The Himalayan Musk Deer which has the scientific name of Moschus leucogaster with the synonym Moschus chrysogaster is found as an endangered specie in the Kedaranth Musk Deer Sanctuary in the demarcated area between the Mandal-Ukhimath road and the high snow peaks to the north. The taxon of this specie was deduced by scientists as the Himlayan sub species of Alpine Musk deer, on the basis of diverse proportions of the skull. Declining population (over 40% in 21 years) of this specie and large scale poaching for profit, dictated the decision to declare it as an endangered animal (EN) in 1973 (Halloway, 1973) and the specie was listed vulnerable in the red data book of IUCN in 1974. It is found, not only in Uttarakhand in the Himalyan belt up to lowest elevation of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) (within a restricted zone), but also in some parts of the Himalayan belt starting from Northern India in Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim, and in Bhutan, Nepal and China (southwest Xizang) with small numbers reported in China.

In the terrestrial habitat of barren plateau at high altitudes, the deer's habitat is "in meadows, fell-fields, shrublands or fir forests", roams around generally singly. Grasses, shrubs, leaves, moss, lichens, shoots, and twigs reportedly form its main diet.

The colour of the deer is faintly grayish sandy brown with a body length of 86–100 cm (34–39 in), shoulder height of 51–53 cm (20–21 in), tail length of 4–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) in the weight range of 11–18 kg (24–40 lb) and do not have antlers. They are most active from morning till evening with frequent breaks for feeding. They breed during December–November. They do not change their defined habitat range even under severe weather conditions and their population density is recorded to be 3-4 animals per square kilometer 1 km2 (0.39 sq mi).

The male species of the endangered musk deer in the Kedarnath Wild Life Sancturay carries the much valued pods musk pod (glands). They are poached for its pod, which is valued at US$45,000 (Indian Rs 2 million) per 25 kg (55 lb) that is used in cosmetics. It has reportedly pharmaceutical properties also. In view of this economic value and consequent great demand it is extensively poached. Its meat is also consumed as a delicacy.

Visitor information

Visitors are mostly Indian nationals on pilgrimage to various temples, though a few international tourists also visit the area. The approach to Kedarnath Temple is only through the sanctuary.

Visiting season is from April to June and again from September to November. The Chameli-Ukhimath road skirts this sanctuary from the south and serves as an excellent approach.

The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun at a distance of 227 km (141 mi) from Chopta, the entry point to the sanctuary. Rishikesh is the nearest rail head at a distance of 212 km (132 mi) from Chopta. National Highway NH 58 from Delhi passes through Chamoli via Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Devprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Okhimath; and by state highway to Chopta.

Within the sanctuary area, the road distances from Kedarnath are to: Rambara 6 km (3.7 mi), Gaurikund 15 km (9.3 mi), Soneprayag 20 km (12 mi), Guptkashi 49 km (30 mi), Kund 54 km (34 mi), Tilwara 83 km (52 mi), Rudraprayag 92 km (57 mi), Chopta 89 km (55 mi), Mandal 117 km (73 mi) and Chamoli 138 km (86 mi).

Visitors could stay at the forest hut at Madhyamaheshwar for which prior reservation needs to be done through the DFO, Kedarnath Wildlife Division, Gopeshwar. The Temple Committee maintains Dharamshalas (rest houses or inns) for use by pilgrims and tourists at Trijuginarayan, Dougalbitta, Mandal, Gaurikund and Kedarnath. There is also a guest house at Sonprayag.

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