Uttarakhand formerly Uttaranchal, is an Indian State in the western Himalaya. It is the abode of gods and goddesses. There are many natural objects which are considered sacred such as rivers (Ganga, Yamuna), mountain peaks (Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Om parbat), lakes (Roopkund, Kedar tal, Hemkund) and forest areas.
Uttarakhand has a total area of 53,484 km², of which 93% is mountainous and 65% is covered by forest. Most of the northern part of the state is covered by high Himalayan peaks and glaciers.
Uttarakhand lies on the southern slope of the Himalaya range, and the climate and vegetation vary greatly with elevation, from glaciers at the highest elevations to subtropical forests at the lower elevations.
The prominent geographical features of Uttarakhand are as follows:
- Mountainous shrub land and plains
- The alpine bushes and pastures of Western Himalaya
- Moderate coniferous jungles
- Subalpine conifer jungles in the Western Himalaya
- Moderate broadleaf forests of the Western Himalaya
- Subtropical pine forests of the Himalayan mountain range
- Terai-Duar lowlands and savanna
- Humid broadleaf forests of the Upper Gangetic Plains
Biodiversity of Uttarakhand is rich because of the close relationship between the religious, socio-cultural beliefs and conventions. The biodiversity of Uttarakhand includes the sacred groves that exhibit a rich wealth of flora and fauna.
Uttarakhand has an age-old tradition of having protected temple forests near villages, where deity / deities are worshipped in a grove or groups of trees. The trees / vegetation growing in these groves are not allowed to cut / fell, as it is believed to belong to the deity. Only the dried parts are sometimes used by them. Even sometimes sudden dying of trees or plants of these forest are said to be bio-indicator of misfortune for the villagers. These types of restriction in these forests have helped conservation of indigenous species of these areas.
|Bajinath Machhiyal, Bageshwar District|
|Hadimba Sacred Grove|
In uttarakhand a systematic approach to the study of scared groves is lacking. Several researchers have traversed the wilderness of Uttarakhand in search of such sacred groves.
Some of groves already reported and researched upon include Hariyali Devi in Chamoli district, Chiplakedar in Askot wildlife sanctuary, Pithoragarh district, Binsar, Tarkeshwar, Tapovan, Nagdeo, Goldev, Mayavati, Kot, Nandisain, Paabo, Dewal and Chapdon. Infact the list is endless. Savita Bisht and J.C. Ghildiyal of Government P.G. College Kotdwara estimate that there may be more than 1000 such groves in Uttarakhand.
|Haat Kali Sacred Grove|
In addition several other groves like Thalkedar and Nakuleshwar, and Haat Kali sacred groves of Pithoragarh, have been reported by researchers from National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow
A recent addition to the long list has been made in a paper published in Current Science by Harsh Singh (Research Fellow), Tariq Husain and and Priyanka Agnihotri of NBRI, Lucknow. They have described two hitherto lesser known sacred groves of Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. While carrying out biodiversity survey in the area they noticed relict vegetation and dense forests maintained by the local communities. These folks have a strong belief that their deity resides in these forests. As such they protect it with the best of their ability. Grazing, cutting trees and poaching and collection of non-timber forest products are strictly forbidden.
|Sacred grove, Pithoragarh District|
The grove at Jakhani has trees more than 100 years old and is spread over 30 ha land. It has the temple of the Goddess Vaishno in the thick forest. The community which looks after the forest and the temple is called ‘Gangola’, so named after Gangolihat the nearby township.
The Chandika Devi sacred grove has the temple of Devi at the centre of the grove, surrounded by dense growth. This temple is known for ‘tantrik’ rituals and goat sacrifices. These groves are characterized by dense growth of pine, cedar and rhododendron trees. But the variety of flora is tremendous. There are 112 species of plants in these groves out of which 56 species are of medicinal plants, report Priyanka. In addition there are 12 species of fodder and forage plants, six species of oil yielding plants and four species of timber plants she says.
Potential of Sacred Groves in Promoting Ecotourism in Uttarakhand Himalayas by Kholiya, Deepak; Rawat, Laxmi; Joshi, Preeti