When the lovely Himalayan Musk Deer – which till mid-20th century was living peacefully in the Himalayan region – was suddenly in demand for its heavenly musky scent, it sounded the alarm bells for its survival. Poaching became a major problem, especially in Uttarakhand, where this animal was found in large numbers.
So in 1972, the Kedarnath forest reserve was declared a protected area and named Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (also sometimes known as the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary). This sanctuary is not only a safe haven for the endangered Musk Deer, but also home to 23 mammal species, of which 11 are fighting a survival battle, in addition to 250 different types of birds.
It is close to the famous Kedarnath shrine, a major pilgrimage spot for Hindus, and has many other smaller temples in its vicinity. The surrounding area, scattered with temples, is called Kedar Khand.
Kedarnath Sanctuary in numbers
Area covered by the Sanctuary: 97517.80 ha or 975 sq km.
Districts: Rudraprayad and Chamoli
Elevation range: 1160m to 7068m
Average summer and winter temperature: 25°c and -10°c
The Kedarnath Sanctuary lies in the catchment area of river Alaknanda. The sanctuary is part of the Garhwal Himalayas and is one of the XXX wildlife sanctuary and national parks in the state of Uttarakhand.
At the centrestage of operations in Kedarnath Sanctuary is the Musk Deer. The place is also house to several other threatened species like snow leopard, Himalayan thar, Serow, Himalayan black bears, Himalayan brown bears, Indian muntjac, yellow-throated marten, fox and goral.
Many animals prefer to come out of their resting place early in the morning or in evenings. Nocturnal animals are active during the night, and can often be found peacefully resting in the day. The sanctuary’s official guide usually accompanies tourists to help them understand the flora and fauna better. He would also know which places are safe and the routes that won’t disturb the day-slumber of animals.
Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary is a big hit among birders as well. Enthusiastic birders come from all over India and the world to catch a glimpse of the Himalayan Monal, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Little Pied Flycatcher, and Nepal Tree-creeper, Koklass Pheasant and Kalij Pheasant – that are just a few of the 250-odd species of birds here.
By the way, Himalayan Monal and Himalayan Musk Deer are the state bird and animal of Uttarakhand, respectively.
The sanctuary’s flora is a mix of sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine forests and add a generous dash of diversity to the valleys and mountains here.
When to drop by
Monsoon and winter months are when you don’t want to find yourself in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, for the simple reason that rains make the trekking trail slippery and prone to landslides, while in winter, it is covered in snow with the average temperature dipping to -10°C.
So the best time to come and enjoy the pristine beauty of this sanctuary is in the months of April to June and September to November.
Getting here and accommodation
The nearest railway station is Rishikesh, though you can choose to get down at Haridwar as well, since train traffic is higher here. Rishikesh is also the nearest major bus stand. The closest airport is the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun. From there one, you need to hit the road.
You can hire a jeep or board a bus and go via Chamoli (134km), Gaurikund (14km), Gopeshwar (20km) or Guptkashi (47km).
There are many accommodation options for visitors around the sanctuary, including some lodges, budget hotels, dharamshalas and homestays. Advance reservations can be made through the Kedarnath Wildlife Forest Division in Gopeshwar.