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Nanda Devi
About Nanda Devi

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 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 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 valleys.

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 elsewhere.

 
Exploration and Climbing History

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.

Subsequent climbs
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 attempt.

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 the peak.

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.

Recent 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.

 

 


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