Nanda Devi is the second highest mountain in India, and the highest
located entirely within the country. (Kangchenjunga, which is higher,
is on the border of
India and Nepal.) It is the 23rd-highest peak in
the world. It was considered the highest mountain in the world before
computations in 1808 proved
Dhaulagiri to be higher. It was also the
highest mountain in
India before 1975 when Sikkim, the state in which
Kangchenjunga is located, joined the Republic of India. It is part of
the Greater Himalayas, and is located in
Chamoli district of
Uttarakhand, between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the
Goriganga valley on the east. The peak, whose name means "Bliss-Giving
Goddess", is regarded as the patron-goddess of the Uttarakhand
Himalaya. In acknowledgment of its religious significance and for the
protection of its fragile ecosystem, the peak as well as the circle of
high mountains surrounding it—the
Nanda Devi sanctuary—were closed
to both locals and climbers in 1983. The surrounding Nanda Devi
National Park was declared a
UNESCO World Heritage Site
UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
1 Description and notable features
2 Exploration and climbing history
2.1 CIA mission
2.2 Subsequent climbs
2.3 Partial timeline
3 Recent history and conservation
6 External links
Description and notable features
Nanda Devi is a two-peaked massif, forming a 2-kilometre-long
(1.2 mi) high ridge, oriented east-west. The western summit is
higher, and the eastern summit is called
Sunanda Devi formerly known
Nanda Devi East is the lower one. The main summit stands guarded by
a barrier ring comprising some of the highest mountains in the Indian
Himalayas, twelve of which exceed 6,400 m ( 6.4 km) in
height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of the
Himalaya in Indian myth and folklore. The interior of this almost
insurmountable ring is known as the
Nanda Devi Sanctuary, and is
protected as the
Nanda Devi National Park.
Sunanda Devi lies on the
eastern edge of the ring (and of the Park), at the border of Chamoli,
Together the peaks may be referred to as the peaks of the goddesses
Nanda and Sunanda. These goddesses have occurred together in ancient
Sanskrit literature (Srimad Bhagvatam or Bhagavata Purana) and are
worshipped together as twins in the Kumaon, Garhwal and as well as
elsewhere in India. The first published reference to
Nanda Devi East
Sunanda Devi appears to be in a recent novel (Malhotra 2011) that
has the Kumaon region as backdrop.
In addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak in the world,
Nanda Devi is also notable for its large, steep rise above local
terrain. It rises over 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) above its
immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhini
Nanda Devi Glacier in
about 4.2 kilometres (2.6 mi), and its rise above the glaciers to
the north is similar. This makes it among the steepest peaks in the
world at this scale, closely comparable, for example, to the local
profile of K2.
Nanda Devi is also impressive when considering terrain
that is a bit further away, as it is surrounded by relatively deep
valleys. For example, it rises over 6,500 metres (21,300 ft)
above the valley of the Goriganga in only 50 km (30 mi).
On the northern side of the massif lies the Uttari
Nanda Devi Glacier,
flowing into the Uttari Rishi Glacier. To the southwest, one finds the
Nanda Devi Glacier, flowing into the Dakkhini Rishi Glacier.
All of these glaciers are located within the Sanctuary, and drain west
into the Rishiganga. To the east lies the Pachu Glacier, and to the
southeast lie the Nandaghunti and Lawan Glaciers, feeding the Lawan
Gad; all of these drain into the Milam Valley. To the south is the
Pindari Glacier, draining into the Pindar River. Just to the south of
Sunanda Devi, dividing the Lawan Gad drainage from the Dakkhini Nanda
Devi Glacier, is Longstaff Col, 5,910 m (19,390 ft), one of
the high passes that guard access to the
Nanda Devi Sanctuary. For
a list of notable peaks of the Sanctuary and its environs, see Nanda
Devi National Park.
Exploration and climbing history
Main article: Shipton–Tilman
Nanda Devi expeditions
Shaded contour map of
Nanda Devi region
The ascent of
Nanda Devi necessitated fifty years of arduous
exploration in search of a passage into the Sanctuary. The outlet is
the Rishi Gorge, a deep, narrow canyon which is very difficult to
traverse safely, and is the biggest hindrance to entering the
Sanctuary; any other route involves difficult passes, the lowest of
which is 5,180 m (16,990 ft).
Hugh Ruttledge attempted to
reach the peak three times in the 1930s and failed each time. In a
The Times he wrote that '
Nanda Devi imposes on her votaries
an admission test as yet beyond their skill and endurance', adding
that gaining entry to the
Nanda Devi Sanctuary alone was more
difficult than reaching the North Pole. In 1934, the British
Eric Shipton and H. W. Tilman, with three Sherpa companions,
Angtharkay, Pasang, and Kusang, finally discovered a way through the
Rishi Gorge into the Sanctuary.
When the mountain was later climbed in 1936 by a British-American
expedition, it became the highest peak climbed by man until the 1950
ascent of Annapurna, 8,091 metres (26,545 ft). (However higher
non-summit elevations had already been reached by the British on Mount
Everest in the 1920s, and it is possible that
George Mallory reached
Everest's summit in 1924.) It also involved steeper and more sustained
terrain than had been previously attempted at such a high altitude.
The expedition climbed the south ridge, also known as the Coxcomb
Ridge, which leads relatively directly to the main summit. The
summit pair were
H. W. Tilman
H. W. Tilman and Noel Odell; Charles Houston was to
be in place of Tilman, but he contracted severe food poisoning. Noted
mountaineer and mountain writer
H. Adams Carter was also on the
expedition, which was notable for its small scale and lightweight
ethic: it included only seven climbers, and used no fixed ropes, nor
any Sherpa support above 6,200 m (20,300 ft). Eric Shipton,
who was not involved in the climb itself, called it "the finest
mountaineering achievement ever performed in the Himalaya."
After abortive attempts by Indian expeditions in 1957 and 1961, the
second ascent of
Nanda Devi was accomplished by an Indian team led by
N. Kumar in 1964, following the Coxcomb route.
From 1965 to 1968, attempts were made by the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), in co-operation with the Indian Intelligence Bureau
(IB), to place a nuclear-powered telemetry relay listening device on
the summit of Nanda Devi. This device was designed to intercept
telemetry signals from missile test launches conducted in the Xinjiang
Province, at a time of relative infancy in China's missile program.
The expedition retreated due to dangerous weather conditions, leaving
the device near the summit of Nanda Devi. They returned the next
spring to search for the device, which ended without success. As a
result of this activity by the CIA, the Sanctuary was closed to
foreign expeditions throughout much of the 1960s. In 1974 the
The southwest side of
Nanda Devi photographed from Sassanian
A difficult new route, the northwest buttress, was climbed by a
13-person team in 1976. Three Americans, John Roskelley, Jim States,
and Louis Reichardt, summitted on 1 September. The expedition was
co-led by Reichardt,
H. Adams Carter (who was on the 1936 climb), and
Willi Unsoeld, who climbed the West Ridge of Everest in 1963.
Nanda Devi Unsoeld, who was named after the peak,
died on this expedition. She had been suffering from "diarrhea
and flare-up of an inguinal hernia, which had shown up originally on
the second day of the approach march", and had been at 7,200 metres
(23,600 ft) for nearly five days.
In 1980, the
Indian Army Corps of Engineers
Indian Army Corps of Engineers made an unsuccessful
In 1981, the first women stood on the summit as part of a mixed Indian
team, led by Col. Balwant Sandhu, Rekha Sharma, Harshwanti Bisht and
Chandraprabha Aitwal, partnered by Dorjee Lhatoo, Ratan Singh and
Sonam Paljor respectively, climbed on three ropes and summitted
consecutively. The expedition was notable for the highest ascent ever
made by Indian women up to that point in time, a descent complicated
by retinal oedema and vision loss in the climbing leader and a
subsequent failed claim of a solo ascent by a later member of the same
expedition. All three women went on to Everest in 1984 but did not
make the summit although Sonam Paljor and Dorjee Lhatoo did. Dorjee
Sunanda Devi in 1975, she also participated in the 1976
This was followed in 1981 by another Indian Army expedition of the
Parachute Regiment, which attempted both main and eastern peaks
simultaneously. The expedition had placed a memorial to Nanda Devi
Unsoeld at the high altitude meadow of Sarson Patal prior to the
attempt. The successful attempt lost all its summitteers.
In 1993, a 40-member team of the Indian Army from the Corps of
Engineers was given special permission. The aim of the expedition was
multifold – to carry out an ecological survey, clean up the garbage
left by previous expeditions, and attempt the summit. The team
included a number of wildlife scientists and ecologists from Wildlife
Institute of India, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural
World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wide Fund for Nature and Govind Ballabh Pant Institute
for Himalayan Environment and Development amongst others. The
expedition carried out a comprehensive ecological survey and removed
from the park, by porter and helicopter, over 1000 kilograms of
garbage. Additionally, five summiteers scaled the summit: Amin Nayak,
Anand Swaroop, G. K. Sharma, Didar Singh, and S. P. Bhatt.
1934: First entry into the inner Sanctuary by
Eric Shipton and H. W.
1936: The first ascent of
Nanda Devi by Odell and Tilman.
First ascent of
Sunanda Devi by Klarner, Bujak.
1951: Attempted traverse and death of Duplat and Vignes. Second ascent
of Sunanda Devi.
1957: First Indian attempt on
Nanda Devi led by Major Nandu Jayal.
1964: Second ascent of
Nanda Devi by Indian team led by N. Kumar.
Nawang Gombu, first man to climb Everest twice, climbs main peak in
between his Everest climbs.
196?: Covert ascent by Indo-American expedition?
1975: A 13-member Indo-French expedition led by Y. Pollet-Villard
including Coudray, Renault, Sandhu, and Chand ascend the western peak.
Pollet-Villard, Cecchinel and Lhatoo climb eastern peak but do not
1976: Fifth successful ascent by 13-member Indo-American expedition.
Three members (John Roskelley, Jim States, Lou Reichardt) reach summit
despite extremely adverse conditions.
Nanda Devi Unsoeld died from
acute mountain sickness.
1976: A 21-member Indo-Japanese team approaches the south ridges of
main peak and eastern peak simultaneously, and achieves the first
traverse, going from
Sunanda Devi to the main summit.
1980: An Indian Army expedition by the Corps of Engineers led by Jai
Bahuguna unsuccessfully attempts the peak driven back by bad weather
1981: An Indian Army expedition by the Parachute Regiment attempts
both main and eastern peaks simultaneously but has the highest ever
number of casualties on the mountain.
1981: A second Indian-led expedition places women climbers on the
1993: Indian Army team from the Corps of Engineers, led by V. K.
Bhatt, succeeds in placing five summiteers on top, including Amin
Naik, Anand Swaroop and. G. K. Sharma.
1995: International Army Expedition (HIMEX): India, Great Britain,
Australia, United States,
Nepal all took part in a climb to assess the
mountain 13 years after its closure. The route was going to be the
Polish route that went to Longstaff Col, over the eastern summit to
the western and return. After the eastern summit the American Special
Forces climber Jakob Nommensen fell to his death and disappeared in
the Sanctuary; he has never been recovered. Two weeks prior to this
even 1 Polish expedition turned back after losing their expedition
leader while climbing the head-wall to the eastern summit.
2001 : Indian Army
Garhwal Rifles Expedition was undertaken in
the post-monsoon season in Aug–Sep. Led by Col.
Ajay Kothiyal with
Samrat Sengupta as deputy leader, the expedition achieved success when
two teams reached the summit on 26 & 27 Sep 2001 and placed eight
members atop the Nanda Devi. The expedition also undertook the noble
task of bringing back the garbage left by previous expeditions.
2007: An Indian Army expedition led by Major Shyamal Sinha of the
Kumaon Regiment Centre,
Ranikhet attempted to scale the eastern summit
and clean up the trekking route by collecting the garbage, but Sinha
and four other climbers went missing in bad weather after reporting on
26 September 2007 that they were going down to a lower camp. Sinha was
Kargil war hero who had won the Vir Chakra.
2013: In May 2013 a Tiny team attempted to
Summit Nandadevi in tribute
to Roger Payne who died on 12 Jul 2012. Team Consisted of 4 climbers,
2 climbing sherpas. They are Ananth HV from Bengaluru, Suman Guhaneogy
from Chandannagar, Alok Das from Kolkata and Anindya Mukherjee from
Belurmath, Howrah. Sherpa's are Thendup Sherpa and Temba Sherpa from
Darjeeling. Team was unsuccessful to summit due to high wind faced at
height of 7100m on 23 May 2013 forcing back to basecamp and making
expedition as unsuccessful.
2014: After failure of 2013 expedition, Anindya Mukherjee who was also
part of 2013 expedition attempted to summit with a team consisting of
George Rodway (USA), Thendup Sherpa (India), Anindya Mukherjee
(India), Temba Sherpa (High altitude supporter), Dup Tsering (High
altitude supporter), Lhakpa Sherpa (Base Camp Cook) and Himanshu
Pandey (Liaison Officer). On 3 July 2014, summit was reached by 4
members Thendup Sherpa, Anindya Mukherjee, Temba Sherpa and Dup
Tsering. Team claims that they have bought some garbages from the
summit that was left during previous expeditions.
Recent history and conservation
After the re-opening of the sanctuary in 1974 to foreign climbers,
trekkers, and locals, the fragile ecosystem was soon compromised by
firewood cutting, garbage, and grazing. Serious environmental problems
were noted as early as 1977, and the sanctuary was closed again in
Nanda Devi forms the core of the Nanda Devi
Biosphere Reserve (which includes
Nanda Devi National Park), declared
by the Indian government in 1982. In 1988,
Nanda Devi National Park
was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, "of outstanding cultural or
natural importance to the common heritage of humankind." The
entire sanctuary, and hence the main summit (and interior approaches
to the nearby peaks), are off-limits to locals and to climbing
expeditions, though a one-time exception was made in 1993 for a
40-member team from the
Indian Army Corps of Engineers
Indian Army Corps of Engineers to check the
state of recovery and to remove garbage left by prior expeditions.
Sunanda Devi remains open from the east side, leading to the standard
south ridge route.
^ a b c "High Asia I: The Karakoram, Pakistan Himalaya and India
Himalaya (north of Nepal)". Peaklist.org. Retrieved 2014-05-28.
^ The Himalayan Index gives the coordinates of
Nanda Devi as
30°22′12″N 79°58′12″E / 30.37000°N 79.97000°E /
^ a b c Harish Kapadia, "Nanda Devi", in World Mountaineering, Audrey
Salkeld, editor, Bulfinch Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8212-2502-2, pp.
^ a b c d Andy Fanshawe and Stephen Venables, Himalaya Alpine-Style,
Hodder and Stoughton, 1995, ISBN 0-340-64931-3.
^ a b Garhwal-Himalaya-Ost, 1:150,000 scale topographic map, prepared
in 1992 by Ernst Huber for the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research,
based on maps of the Survey of India.
^ "River Deep Mountain High". Caravan Magazine. 1 December 2010.
Retrieved 20 May 2013. first1= missing last1= in Authors list
^ J. Roskelley, Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition (The Mountaineers
Books, 2000) ISBN 0-89886-739-8
^ American Alpine Journal, 1977.
^ Unsoeld, Willie (1977). "Darkness at Noon: The life and death of
Nanda Devi Unsoeld". THE AMERICAN ALPINE JOURNAL.
^ a b Sanan, Deepak (1995) Nandadevi – Restoring Glory Sapper
Adventure Foundation & Wiley Eastern Limited
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks – UNESCO World
Aitken, Bill. (reprinted 1994). The
Nanda Devi Affair, Penguin Books
India. ISBN 0-14-024045-4.
Kohli, M.S. & Conboy, K. (2003). Spies in the Himalayas: Secret
Missions and Perilous Climbs, University Press of Kansas.
Jose, Vinod (2010). River Deep, Mountain High, The Caravan Magazine.
Malhotra, Ashok (2011) Nude Besides the Lake, Createspace
Roskelley, John. (2000). Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition, The
Mountaineers Books. ISBN 0-89886-739-8 .
Sanan, Deepak. (1995) Nandadevi – Restoring Glory – New Age
International (Wiley Eastern Ltd), New Delhi. ISBN 81-224-0752-8.
Shipton, E., Tilman, H.W. & Houston, C. (Reprinted 2000). Nanda
Devi:Exploration and Ascent, The Mountaineers Books.
Sircar, J. (1979) Himalayan Handbook, (private pub., Calcutta).
Takeda, Peter. (2006) An Eye at the Top of the World: The Terrifying
Legacy of the Cold War's Most Daring C.I.A. Operation, Thunder's Mouth
Press. ISBN 1-56025-845-4.
Thomson, Hugh (2004) Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary,
Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-297-60753-7
Tilman, H. W., The Ascent of Nanda Devi, Cambridge University Press.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nanda Devi.
Kargil war hero missing in
Nanda Devi snowstorm" Indianexpress.com
Nanda Devi Campaign – web site of the local inhabitants
Nanda Devi on Peakware – photos
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site on Nanda Devi
Uttarakhand Tourism page on
Nanda Devi National Park
'High heaven: a trek to the top of the world' The Independent- article
Nanda Devi Sanctuary
State of Uttarakhand
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