History of Valley of Flowers

In the year 1796, while traversing the Garhwal Himalayas Thomas Hardwicke brought several invaluable specimens from Alaknanda Valley but it was unclear whether he visited the Bhyundar Valley or not. While some records suggest that Colonel Edmund Smith paid a visit to the valley for a botanical exploration in 1862. Later in 1907, D.G. Longstaff and A.L. Mumm explored the Bhyundar Valley and celebrated its beauty by quoting, “I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most beautiful Himalayan valley I have ever seen”. However, this treasure trove of nature was unveiled to the British mountaineers Frank S. Smythe and R.L. Holdsworth on July 9, 1931, when they accidently reached the valley with their fellow members after successfully completing their expedition to Mount. Kamet (Summit on June 21, 1931).

Discovery of Valley of Flowers

Smythe and Holdsworth revisited the valley in 1937 :Swept off by the virgin beauty of this smouldering Himalayan valley, Smythe revisited it in 1937 with Mr R.L. Holdsworth, who took note of the valley’s indigenous plant species and other rare Himalayan flora. Holdsworth later gave an account of what he saw in a short note stating, “All of a sudden I realised that I was simply surrounded by Primulas. Forgotten were all pains and cold and lost porters. And what a Primula it was! Its leek-like habitat proclaimed it a member of the invalid section. All over the little shelves and terraces, it grew, often with its roots in running water. At the most, it stood six inches high, but its flowers were enormous for its stature and ample in number-sometimes as many as thirty to the beautifully proportioned umbel and colour of the most heavenly French Blue, sweetly scented”.

Frank S. Smythe’s book “The Valley of Flowers” celebrates the discovery of this mystical flower valley :Later Smythe took all the credits of the discovery when he authored a book named “The Valley of Flowers” in 1938. The Valley of Flowers book is an ode to the enchanting beauty of the alpine valley. In his book, Smythe reveals his first encounter with the valley’s profound beauty and celebrates its discovery with the mankind. He writes, “Whether Bhyundar Valley deserves the title the Valley of Flowers, others will visit, analyze it, probe it but whatever their opinions, to me it will remain as the Valley of Flowers, a Valley of peace and perfect beauty where human spirit may find repose”.

Joan Margaret Legge’s memorial at VOF :Later in 1939, Joan Margaret Legge a 54-year-old botanist deputed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew England visited the Valley of Flowers. Legge’s visit came to an abrupt ending when she slipped and died while traversing on a rocky terrain to collect flowers. Her sister later visited the valley and installed a memorial near her death spot which read “I will lift up mine eyes unto the Himalaya from whence cometh my help”.

In 1993 Prof. Chandra Prakash Kala from WII visited the valley for a botanical research : Many years later, Prof. Chandra Prakash Kala, a botanist deputed by the Wildlife Institute of India carried out a research study on the floristic and conservation of the valley, for a decade beginning in 1993. He made an inventory of 520 alpine plants thriving in this national park and published two important books- The Valley of Flowers-Myth and Reality and Ecology and Conservation of the Valley of Flowers National Park, Garhwal Himalayas.

Timeline of the Valley of Flowers

1862: The Pushpawati valley was discovered by Col. Edmund Smyth;
1931: The valley was visited by Frank S. Smythe, a climber who penned a book called “Valley of Flowers”;
1934: The upper Nanda Devi Sanctuary was reached and described by mountaineers Eric Shipton & Bill Tilman;
1936: Mountaineers Bill Tilman & Noel Odell climbed Nanda Devi;
1939: The basin established as the Nanda Devi Game Sanctuary by Government Order 1493/XIV- 28 of 7/01;
1962: Border disputes closed the area to traffic, altering the local economy;
1974-82: The sanctuary was opened to mountaineering, but the ensuing degradation led to its closure to all users;
1980: The Park was established as Sanjay Gandhi National Park by Notification 3912/ XIV 3-35-80; grazing and mountaineering stopped;
1980: The Valley of Flowers was declared a national park by Government Order 4278/XIV-3-66-80 under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, for the conservation of its flora;
1982: The park was renamed Nanda Devi National Park;
1988: The Nanda Devi National Biosphere Reserve established (223,674 ha) with the national park as core zone (62,462 ha) and a 514,857 ha buffer area surrounding both sites; restrictions were imposed on the rights of nearby villagers;
2000: The Biosphere Reserve extended by the government to 586,069 ha and the Valley of Flowers National Park was added as the second core zone (62,462 ha+ 8,750 ha, totalling core areas of 71,212 ha);
2004: The two core zones and buffer zone designated a UNESCO MAB reserve.