|Mount Nanda Devi, India. keywordsuggest.org|
|Mt. Nanda Devi, India en.wikipedia.org/|
Nanda Devi, a highly revered peak, is considered as among
the most difficult Himalayan climbs by Tenzing Norgay,
the man who first reached the roof of the world Mt. Everest along with Edmund Hillary (29 May 1953). This peak played a vital role during important clandestine missions in the 1960s. Unlike other peaks, Mt. Nanda Devi became a mysterious peak for decades and was not approachable by many mountain climbers. But for a few exceptions such as army or IMF sponsored expeditions, nobody was allowed either to climb or explore Nanda Devi. Reason: supposedly environmentally fragile place. Mount Nanda Devi was shrouded in mystery for decades and finally the veil over the puzzle was removed to let the public know the naked truth. Read further: .......
In the early 1960s, the sudden and unprovoked war with India, ended in favor of China. The China's military muscle became a subject of discussion, so it became a necessity to keep a tab on China's military activities. China's had first successful nuclear tests in Xinjiang province in 1964, and it made India and other countries to install a device on Nanda Devi to keep track of its military threats.
In October 1965, the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) together wanted to have a sophisticated nuclear-powered sensing device installed on the summit to keep an eye on China.
|Location map of Nanda Devi. wildspace.biz|
A mountaineering team consisting of some army men was entrusted with the job of installing the device on top of Mt. Nanda Devi. The team was led my one Manmohan Singh Kohli, an ace mountaineer and when the team reached Camp IV on 18 October, 1965 at over 24,000ft, an unexpected thing had happened. A terrible blizzard and severe cold conditions hampered the tough endeavor. The blizzard being severe, the leader was left with one choice - either to move up or abandon the mission for the time being. Being a smart leader, Kholi gave up the assault to save the lives of his men. Had he not taken the right decision “many would have been under the snow to day in the eternal grave in the snow-clad mountain.
|Expedition Poster: Nanda Devi East. blogger|
When the team returned to the mountain in May 1966 to resume their work, to their utter dismay, the container with Plutonium (it is an alloy of Pu-238 with 18 percent Pu-239. Pu-238 gives off far more heat than Pu-239) was missing and they made a vain attempt to find it. Theories and dangers of radiation were thick in the air. Nobody knew what had happened to the nuclear fuel pack. Team leader was of the opinion that the life span of the nuclear fuel was just 100 years and it is likely that the it lay buried in the snow as a result of a snow avalanche,
|Nanda Devi temple. Flicker. com|
Captain M.S. Kohli climbed Mt. Everest in 1966 and got an Arjuna award from the Indian Govt. He also scaled Mt.Annapurna. Captain kohli.com.
Believed to be the 20th century’s dangerous mountaineering - cum-espionage operation ever conducted on the slopes of the second highest peaks in the world, the mission tested the limits of human stamina, tenacity and courage. The US and Indian team, as part of the installation of the surveillance device and retrieval, witnessed as many as one dozen tough ascents, involving countless daring people between 1965 and 1968, according to Captain Kohli.
Since the fear of plutonium contamination of a vast area, stretching from the terrain of Rishiganga along the river Ganga up to Kolkata and the threats to millions of people along the river became a serious issue, the US and Indian teams monitored the entire stretch for some period. They continuously checked the various water resources and rocks for any trace of radiation according to Prabhat Kumar Ganguli, the author of Nanda Abhiyatra, a book written in Bengali. Captain Kohli’s 8th Indo-Tibetan Border Police Battalion (from Tapovan) was actively involved in checking the radioactivity in the Rishi Ganga area. In his 2005 book, "One More Step", Kohli described in detail the scare of nuclear contamination. When a team led by one Rawat went up to retrieve the device from Nanda Kot in the summer of 1968, the device was very much there with the cover prised and the perpetual radiation made a spherical cave around it in the ice. What about the plutonium capsules? There was no trace of them!! No body understood the ramification of missing plutonium and its repercussions. Fortunately, there was no calamity on account of this unexpected mishap, and it was a blessing in disguise.
It was only in 1967, the Americans, with the help of Kohli and other Indian climbers such as Sonam Wangyal, H.C.S. Rawat, et al successfully installed a second nuclear-powered listening device on the neighboring peak, the 22,510 ft Nanda Kot. The device worked well almost for a year before developing a snag. The faulty Nanda Kot equipment was removed away in 1968 in a helicopter by the Americans,
After reading countless reports and studies made by top Indian scientists, mountaineer Kohli concludes. “According to me, the plutonium capsules will remain hot and melt the snow. It is a mystery whether it formed a cavity or traveled to the bottom of the glacier or got stuck somewhere in between. I see very little chance of radioactivity. No chance,”
The news of the CIA-IB furtive operation and the missing plutonium broke out in the international media, for the first time in 1977 in the American magazine 'Outside'. The sensational adventure on Nanda Devi led to national and international outrage and the then PM Morarji Desai had to admit to the secret mission in Parliament, and further stated that no other device was kept on the Indian soil as the faulty device was already taken away from Nanda Kot by the Americans in 1968. In 1993 the team that did environmental study had found the steel case in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The steel cover had been prised away because of extreme forces of Nature.
The unfortunate fact is several Sherpas who carried the nuclear device up hill later died of cancer due to exposure to radiation. The mystery around the missing plutonium continues to haunt many Himalayan mountaineers and according to one author Stephen Alter (who wrote Himalayan Journeys In Search Of The Sacred And The Sublime) “There’s a lot of speculation and rumor surrounding those events, but it’s difficult to say exactly what happened.” According to the former VP of IMF
Kapadia, the “threat of radioactivity is certainly there”.
American author and climber Pete Takeda, authored the book An Eye At The Top Of The World: The Terrifying Legacy Of The Cold War’s Most Daring CIA Operation. ...."Some experts will say that the plutonium represents a major health threat. Others dismiss the danger as no more hazardous than an airport X-ray machine. The truth lies somewhere in between,” he writes over messages on Facebook.
CIA tactics in clandestine espionage operations and also the
recklessness of men to challenge the sanctity of nature, unmindful of the threats to a vast human population living on the banks of the Ganga river in case something goes awry.
Nanda Devi in local parlance means Blissful Goddess and she is the the patron - goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalayas. In view of its religious significance and delicate Eco System, Mt. Nanda
Devi sanctuary was closed to climbers and others in 1983. The surrounding Nanda Devi National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
camp, a place named Chaubata in memory” of his son, Lt Nawang Kapadia of 4/3 Gorkha Rifles. He was killed in a terrorist attack in Kashmir. The temple is dedicated to the supreme goddess of the region, Nanda Devi -the goddess who has protected the innocent Indian people by way of preventing a big national calamity.
This post is based on the following interesting article.
(corrections made 28 March 2017)