Nanda Devi is the second highest mountain in India and it is
the highest entirely within the country (Kangchenjunga being
on the border of India and Nepal); owing to this geography it
was regarded the highest known mountain in the world until
computations on Dhaulagiri by western surveyors in 1808. Its
name means Bliss-Giving Goddess. It is part of the Kumaon
Himalayas, and is situated in the state of Uttarakhand,
between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the Goriganga
valley on the east. It was also the highest mountain in India
before Sikkim joined the Indian Union. The peak is regarded as
the patron-goddess of the Uttrakhand Himalaya. In
acknowledgment of its religious significance and for the
protection of it’s 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 in 1988.
Description and Important Features
Nanda Devi is a two-peaked massif, forming a 2 kms long high
ridge, oriented east-west. The west summit is higher, and the
eastern summit is called Nanda Devi East. Together the peaks are
referred to as 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 (one of which is Nanda
Devi East), twelve of which exceed 6,400 m (21,000 ft) in
height, further elevating its sacred status as the daughter of
the Himalaya in Indian myth and folklore. The interior of this
almost insoluble ring is known as the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, and
is protected 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, Pithoragarhand Bageshwar districts.
Nanda Devi is well-known for its large, steep rise above local
terrain in addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak
in the world. It rises over 3,300 metres above its immediate
southwestern base on the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2
kms and it rises 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 amazing when considering terrain that is
a bit further away, as it is enclosed by relatively deep
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 Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier, flowing
into the Dakkhni 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
Lawan and Nandaghunti 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
Nanda Devi East divides the Lawan Gad drainage from the Dakkhni
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.
The eastern summit earlier called Nanda Devi East is now also
referred to as Sunanda Devi. 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 division of India as well as
Nanda Devi main peak
The ascent of Nanda Devi necessitated fifty years of difficult
investigation in search of a passage into the Sanctuary. The
channel is the Rishi Gorge, a deep, narrow valley which is very
difficult to cross safely and it 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 letter to The Times he wrote
that 'Nanda Devi entails 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 explorers H.W.
Tilman and Eric Shipton 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 which is 8,091 metres
high. It also involved steeper and more sustained landscape 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 was Noel Odell and H.W. Tilman; Charles Houston
was to be in place of Tilman, but he contracted harsh food
poisoning. Noted mountaineer and mountain writer H. Adams Carter
was also on the expedition, which was famous 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 climb of Nanda Devi was completed by an Indian team
led by N. Kumar in 1964, following the Coxcomb route.
In 1976, a large Japanese Indian expedition set up camp with the
stated purpose of completing the two peak traverse. This was
accomplished in efficient fashion by two members and several
members climbed both the East and West peaks.
In 1980, The Indian Army Corps of Engineers made an unsuccessful
In 1981, the first women stand on the summit as part of a mixed
Indian team, led by Col Balwant Sandhu. Rekha Sharma,
Harshwanthi Bisht and Chandraprabha Aitwal, partnered by Dorjee
Lhatoo, Ratan Singh and Sonam Paljor respectively, climbed on
three ropes and summitted consecutively.
In 1993, a forty 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 to attempt
Nanda Devi East
Nanda Devi East was first climbed on 2 July 1939 by a
four-member Polish expedition led by Adam Karpinski. They
climbed the south ridge, from Longstaff Col; this is still the
standard route on the peak. The summit parties were Jakub Bujak
and Janusz Klarner.Karpinski and Stefan Bernadzikiewicz were
later killed by an landslide in the night of 18/19 July in an
attempt on Tirsuli.
The first attempt to cross 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.Tenzing
Norgay was in a support team on this expedition; he and Louis
Dubost climbed Nanda Devi East to look for the missing pair.
Some years later Tenzing was asked what was the most difficult
climb he ever did; his interlocuters expected him to say Mount
Everest; he surprised them by saying Nanda Devi East.
An Indo-French East-West cross expedition, back for some
unfinished business, in 1975 successfully put several members on
both peaks but the traverse remained unconsummated until the
following year. The East Peak was climbed by Chamonix climbers
Walter Cecchinel and Yves Pollet-Villard and the Indian climber
Dorje Lhatoo, climbing lightweight and unroped from Camp IV.
In 1981, an Indian Army expedition followed the same line. Phu
Dorjee Sherpa, a climbing instructor from the Himalayan
Mountaineering Institute and his partner fell from the environs
of the final ice field. It is assumed that they summitted.
The standard approach to the south ridge route, from the Milam
Valley to the east, passes through Lawan Glacier via Lawan Gad
and then to Longstaff Col. The trek to base camp goes through
the villages of Bogudiar, Martoli, Bhadeligwar, Lilam,
Nasanpatti, and Munsiyari. An alternate route climbs the
southwest face from a base camp inside the Sanctuary.
History and Conservation
After the re-opening of the Sanctuary in 1974 to foreign
climbers, trekkers, and locals, the weak ecosystem was soon
compromised by firewood cutting, grazing, and garbage. Serious
environmental problems were noted as early as 1977 and the
sanctuary was closed in 1983. Presently Nanda Devi forms the
core of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve which includes Nanda
Devi National Park which was declared as a national park 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
whole 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 group of
Engineers to check the state of recovery and to remove garbage
left by prior expeditions. Nanda Devi East remains open from the
east side, leading to the standard south ridge route.