Nanda Devi National Park

From New World Encyclopedia
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

State Party Flag of India India
Type Natural
Criteria vii, x
Reference 335
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1988  (12th Session)
Extensions 2005
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Nanda Devi National Park, a national park situated around the peak of Nanda Devi, 7,817 m (25,646 ft), located in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. The park encompasses the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, a glacial basin surrounded by a ring of peaks between 6,000 m (19,700 ft) and 7,500 m (24,600 ft) high, and drained by the Rishi Ganga through the Rishi Ganga Gorge, a steep, almost impassable defile. Together with the nearby Valley of Flowers National Park to the northwest, UNESCO designated the park as a World Heritage Site.[1], covering 630.33 km² Both parks reside in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (223,674 ha), further surrounded by a (5,148.57 km²) buffer zone. The entire park sits at an elevation of more than 3,500 m (11,500 ft) above mean sea level.

Layout of the Sanctuary

Nanda Devi National Park
IUCN Category Ia (Strict Nature Reserve)
Location: Uttarakhand, India
Area: 630.33 km²
Established: 1982
Contour map of the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary divides into two parts, Inner and Outer. The main Sanctuary Wall, which forms a roughly square outline, with high, continuous ridges on the north, east, and south sides, surrounds them. On the west side, less high but still imposing ridges drop from the north and south toward the Rishi Ganga Gorge, which drains the Sanctuary towards the west.[2]

The Inner Sanctuary occupies roughly the eastern two-thirds of the total area, and contains Nanda Devi itself and the two major glaciers flanking the peak, the Uttari (north) Rishi Glacier and the Dakkhni (south) Rishi Glacier. The smaller Uttari Nanda Devi and Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glaciers fed them respectively .[2] Eric Shipton and H. W. Tilman made the first recorded entry into the Inner Sanctuary in 1934, via the Rishi Gorge.[3]

The Outer Sanctuary, occupying the western third of the total Sanctuary, separates from the Inner Sanctuary by high ridges, through which flows the Rishi Ganga, splitting them in two. On the north side lies the Ramani Glacier, flowing down from the slopes of Dunagiri and Changabang, and on the south lies the Trisul Glacier, flowing from the peak of the same name. That portion of the Sanctuary may be accessed (though requiring the crossing of a 4,000 m (13,000 ft) pass). T. G. Longstaff, who climbed Trisul I in 1907 via the eponymous glacier, completed the first climbing expedition to pass through the Outer Sanctuary.[3]

The Rishi Gorge

The Rishi Ganga begins in the Inner Sanctuary, near the confluence of the two Rishi Glaciers. It then flows through the Rishi Gorge, which has two separate sections. The Upper Gorge, about 3 km (2 mi) long, forms the connection between the Inner and Outer Sanctuaries, forming the crux of the route forged by Shipton and Tilman into the Sanctuary. From the peak of Rishi Kot, just to the north of the Upper Gorge, to the river stands a 2,500 m (8,200 ft) vertical drop, giving a sense of the scale and steepness of the terrain. The going through that section involves a good deal of travel on sloping rock slabs and steep, sparsely vegetated slopes, often with great exposure.[3]

After passing through the Upper Gorge the valley widens out somewhat and the slopes become less precipitous on either side, for about 4 km (2 mi). The Shipton-Tilman route crosses the river here over a natural bridge formed by a huge boulder, and ascends the north side of the canyon to bypass the Lower Gorge, into which the Rishi now descends. The Lower Gorge, about 4 km (2 mi) long, rises even steeper than the Upper, and in 1934, even though it had been circumvented by local shepherds, it had never been traversed directly.[3]

Named peaks of the Park and environs

Within the Sanctuary

Apart from Nanda Devi, the following peaks lie on ridges dividing the Inner and Outer Sanctuary areas.

  • Nanda Devi: 7,816 m (25,643 ft)
  • Devistan I, II: 6,678 m (21,909 ft), 6,529 m (21,421 ft)
  • Rishi Kot: 6,236 m (20,459 ft)

On the Sanctuary Wall

These peaks, given in clockwise order, start from just north of the Rishi Gorge. Some of them represent relatively minor summits and have small topographic prominence, while others stand as independent peaks.

  • Hanuman: 6,075 m (19,931 ft)
  • Dunagiri: 7,066 m (23,182 ft)
  • Changabang: 6,864 m (22,520 ft)
  • Kalanka: 6,931 m (22,740 ft)
  • Rishi Pahar: 6,992 m (22,940 ft)
  • Mangraon: 6,568 m (21,549 ft)
  • Deo Damla: 6,620 m (21,719 ft)
  • Bamchu: 6,303 m (20,679 ft)
  • Sakram: 6,254 m (20,518 ft)
  • Latu Dhura: 6,392 m (20,971 ft)
  • Nanda Devi East: 7,434 m (24,390 ft)
  • Nanda Khat: 6,611 m (21,690 ft)
  • Panwali Doar (or "Panwali Dwar"): 6,663 m (21,860 ft)
  • Maiktoli: 6,803 m (22,320 ft)
  • Mrigthuni: 6,855 m (22,490 ft)
  • Trisul I, II, III: 7,120 m (23,360 ft), 6,690 m (21,949 ft), 6,008 m (19,711 ft)
  • Bethartoli Himal: 6,352 m (20,840 ft)

Just outside the Wall

The following most notable peaks stand adjacent to the wall; they all connect to the Wall by high passes. They lie just outside the boundaries of the Park.

  • Hardeol: 7,151 m (23,461 ft) (northeast corner)
  • Trishuli: 7,074 m (23,209 ft) (just beyond Hardeol)
  • Nanda Kot: 6,861 m (22,510 ft) (southeast corner)
  • Nanda Ghunti: 6,309 m (20,699 ft) (southwest corner)

Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi
Elevation 7,816 m (25,643 ft) Ranked 23rd
Location Uttarakhand, India
Mountain range Garhwal Himalaya
Prominence 3,139 m (10,298.5564461 ft)[4]Ranked 74th
Geographic coordinates 30°22.5′N 79°58.2′E[4]
First ascent August 29, 1936 by Noel Odell and Bill Tilman[5][6]
Easiest Climbing route south ridge: technical rock/snow/ice climb

Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain in India, has the distinction of the highest elevation of any mountain standing completely within the country. (Kangchenjunga, on the border of India and Nepal, has the highest peak in India. According to the Indian Government, K2 measures as the highest mountain in India). Part of the Garhwal Himalaya, Nanda Devi stands in the state of Uttarakhand, between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the Goriganga valley on the east. Its name means "Bliss-Giving Goddess," regarded as the patron-goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalaya.

Description and notable features

Nanda Devi, a two-peaked massif, forms a 2 km (1.2 mi) long high ridge, oriented east-west. The west summit stands higher, and the eastern summit has been named Nanda Devi East. Together the peaks refer to the twin peaks of the goddess Nanda. The main summit stands guarded by a barrier ring comprising some of the highest mountains in the Indian Himalayas (Nanda Devi East numbering among them), twelve of which exceed 6,400 m (21,000 ft) in height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of the Himalaya in local myth and folklore. The interior of that almost insurmountable ring, the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, receives protection from the Indian government as the Nanda Devi National Park. Nanda Devi East lies on the eastern edge of the ring (and of the Park), at the border of Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts.

In addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak in the world, Nanda Devi has earned renown for its large, steep rise above local terrain. It rises over 3,300 m (10,800 ft) above its immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2 km (2.6 mi), and has a similar rise above the glaciers to the north. That makes it among the steepest peaks in the world at that scale, closely comparable to the local profile of K2. Nanda Devi enhances its impressiveness when considering the terrain relatively close by, surrounded by relatively deep valleys. It rises over 6,500 m (21,300 ft) above the valley of the Ghoriganga in only 50 km (30 mi).[2]

On the northern side of the massif lies the Uttari Nanda Devi Glacier, flowing into the Uttari Rishi Glacier. To the southwest, the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier flows into the Dakkhni Rishi Glacier. All of those glaciers flow within the Sanctuary, draining run off 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 those drain run off into the Milam Valley. To the south, the Pindari Glacier drains into the Pindar River. Just to the south of Nanda Devi East, dividing the Lawan Gad drainage from the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier, stands Longstaff Col, 5,910 m (19,390 ft), one of the high passes that guard access to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.[2]

Exploration and climbing history

Nanda Devi (main summit)

The ascent of Nanda Devi necessitated fifty years of arduous exploration in search of a passage into the Sanctuary. The Rishi Gorge, a deep, narrow canyon extremely difficult to traverse safely serves as the main entrance to the Sanctuary; any other route involves nearly impossible passes, the lowest standing 5,180 m (16,990 ft). In 1934, the British explorers 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 a British-American expedition climbed the mountain in 1936, it became the highest peak climbed until the 1950 ascent of Annapurna, 8,091 m (26,545 ft). (Higher non-summit elevations had already been reached by the British on Mount Everest in the 1920s.) It also involved steeper and more sustained terrain than had been previously attempted at such a high altitude.[6] The expedition climbed the south ridge, also known as the Coxcomb Ridge, which leads relatively directly to the main summit.[5] H.W. Tilman and Noel Odell accomplished the summit climb; Tilman took Charles Houston's place on the summit climb after he contracted severe food poisoning. Noted mountaineer and mountain writer H. Adams Carter joined the expedition, remarkable for the small team and light packs: it included only seven climbers, and used no fixed ropes, nor any Sherpa support above 6,200 m (20,300 ft). Eric Shipton, a non-climbing team member, called it "the finest mountaineering achievement ever performed in the Himalayas."[6]

After aborted attempts by Indian expeditions in 1957 and 1961, an Indian team led by N. Kumar in 1964, following the Coxcomb route, accomplished the second ascent of Nanda Devi.

The CIA attempted to place a plutonium-powered listening device high on Nanda Devi, to monitor possible Chinese nuclear activity in Tibet from 1965 to 1968, but the device had been lost in an avalanche.[5] (Recent reports indicate that radiation traces from that device have been discovered in sediment below the mountain.[7]) The actual data remains inconclusive, since the absence of Pu-238 (the isotope that powered the device) in the sample disproves the presence of the device. As a result of that activity, the Indian government closed the Sanctuary to climbing by non-Indian expeditions during much of the 1960s, re-opening in 1974.

A 13-person team climbed a difficult new route, the northwest buttress, in 1976. Three Americans, John Roskelley, Jim States and Lou Reichardt, summited on September 1. Louis Reichardt, H. Adams Carter (who went on the 1936 climb) and Willi Unsoeld, who climbed the West Ridge of Everest in 1963 co-led the expedition. Unsoeld's daughter, Nanda Devi Unsoeld, named after the peak, died on the expedition.[8][9] The first women to stand on the summit in 1981 belonged an Indian led expedition.

Nanda Devi East

Shaded contour map of Nanda Devi region

A four-member Polish expedition led by Adam Karpinski first climbed Nanda Devi East in 1939. They climbed the south ridge, from Longstaff Col; still the standard route on the peak. J. Klaner, J. Bujak, and D. Tsering (Sherpa) made up the summit party.[5] Karpinski and Stefan Bernardzikiewicz died later in an attempt on Trishuli.

The first attempt to traverse the ridge between the main summit and Nanda Devi East resulted in the death of two members of a French expedition in 1951. Team leader Roger Duplat and Gilbert Vignes disappeared on the ridge somewhere below the main summit.[5] Tenzing Norgay had worked in a support team on that expedition; he and Louis Dubost climbed Nanda Devi East to look for the missing pair. Some years later Tenzing, asked his most difficult climb had been expected to say Mount Everest; he surprised his interlocutors by saying Nanda Devi East.

The standard approach to the south ridge route, from the Milam Valley to the east, passes through Lawan Glacier via Lawan Gad and thence to Longstaff Col. The trek to base camp goes through the villages of Munsiyari, Lilam, Bogudiar, Martoli, Nasanpatti, and Bhadeligwar. An alternate route climbs the southwest face, from a base camp inside the Sanctuary.

Partial timeline

  • 1934: First entry into the inner Sanctuary by Eric Shipton and H.W. Tilman
  • 1936: The first ascent of Nanda Devi by Odell and Tilman.
  • 1939: First ascent of Nanda Devi East by Klaner, Bujak, and Tsering.
  • 1951: Attempted traverse and death of Duplat and Vignes. Second ascent of Nanda Devi East.
  • 1964: Second ascent of Nanda Devi by Indian team led by N. Kumar.
  • 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 climbed both Nanda Devi and Nanda Devi East but failed to accomplish the traverse of the connecting ridge.
  • 1976: A 21-member Indo-Japanese team approaches the south ridges of main peak and Nanda Devi East simultaneously, and achieves the first traverse, going from Nanda Devi East to the main summit.
  • 1981: An Indian Army expedition attempts both main and East peaks simultaneously. They climb the southwest face of Nanda Devi East for the first time, but both Premjit Lal and Phu Dorjee die in the descent. Three others – Daya Chand, Ram Singh, and Lakha Singh – also fell to their deaths, resulting in the highest number of casualties on the mountain in a single climb.

Recent history and conservation

After the re-opening of the Sanctuary in 1974 to non-Indian climbers, trekkers, and locals, the fragile ecosystem became compromised by firewood cutting, garbage, and grazing. Serious environmental problems had been noted as early as 1977, leading the government to close the sanctuary in 1983. Currently, 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, UNESCO declared Nanda Devi National Park a 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) have been made off-limits to locals and to climbing expeditions. The government made an exception in 1993 for a 40-member team from the Garhwal Rifles Regiment of the Indian Army to check the state of recovery and remove garbage left by prior expeditions. The expedition also successfully scaled the peak. Nanda Devi East remains open from the east side, leading to the standard south ridge route.


  1. Official UNESCO site Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 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.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 H. W. Tilman, The Ascent of Nanda Devi (Cambridge University Press, 1937. Reprinted in The Seven Mountain-Travel Books. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2003, ISBN 0898869609).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ultra-prominent peaks on Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Harish Kapadia, "Nanda Devi," in World Mountaineering, Audrey Salkeld, editor, (Bulfinch Press, 1998, ISBN 0821225022), 254-257.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Andy Fanshawe and Stephen Venables, Himalaya Alpine-Style. (Hodder and Stoughton, 1995, ISBN 0340649313).
  7. Carol Smith. "Spy Robert Schaller's life of secrecy, betrayal and regrets." Seattle Post-Intelligencer seattlepi. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  8. J. Roskelley. Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition. (The Mountaineers Books, 2000. ISBN 0898867398)
  9. American Alpine Journal (1977).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Aitken, B. The Nanda Devi Affair. Penguin Books India. 1994. ISBN 0140240454
  • Brown, Hamish. "Nanda Devi Sanctuary." Mountain 61 (1978).
  • Fanshawe, Andy, and Stephen Venables. Himalaya Alpine-Style. Hodder and Stoughton, 1995. ISBN 0340649313
  • Kapadia, Harish, "Nanda Devi," in World Mountaineering, Audrey Salkeld, (ed.) Bulfinch Press, 1998, ISBN 0821225022
  • Kohli, M.S., and K. Conboy. Spies in the Himalayas: Secret Missions and Perilous Climbs. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 2003. ISBN 0700612238
  • Roskelley, John. Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition. The Mountaineers Books. 2000. ISBN 0898867388
  • Shipton, E., H. W. Tilman, and C. Houston. Nanda Devi: Exploration and Ascent. The Mountaineers Books, 2000. ISBN 0898867215.
  • Sircar, Joydeep. The Himalayan Handbook. Calcutta: R. Sircar, 1979. OCLC 31475824
  • Takeda, Takeda. 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. 2006. ISBN 1560258454.
  • Thomson, Hugh. Nanda Devi A Journey to the Last Sanctuary. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. ISBN 978-0297607533
  • Tilman, H.W. The Ascent of Nanda Devi. Cambridge University Press, [1937] Reprinted in Seattle: The Seven Mountain-Travel Books, 2003. ISBN 0898869609

External links

All links retrieved November 10, 2022.


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