Indian Army

Explained: The Nanda Devi Nuclear Device Mystery

In a village located in the Indian Himalayas generations of people believe that a nuclear device is buried under the snow and rocks up in Nanda Devi mountain peak. It all happened after an accident that took place back in 1965. It is believed, that nuclear device is still active and can cause a catastrophe situation in India. Locals believe that the recent Chamoli floods were triggered by the lost nuclear device.


In 1964 China conducted its first nuclear test which alarmed the USA. During a cocktail party in Washington D.C, a photographer associated with national geographic whose name was Barry Bishop met the US air force chief Curtis LeMay. In American defense history, Curtis LeMay holds an important position he led the bombings of Japan during World War II. They both had a discussion over nuclear tests conducted by China later the US realized how important it was to top keep an eye on China’s nuclear capabilities.

US Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay

Reportedly the area where China was conducting tests Americans lacked satellite technology in that area which means they could not spy over that area using satellites. The peaks of our Himalayan mountains were strategically very important as China was visible from there. The USA approached India to monitor activities that were being undertaken by the Chinese side. India was also interested in the offer as India recently lost a war in 1962 against China and India’s immediate neighbor was arming itself with nuclear arms which led to cop-operation between India and the USA as it was in interests of both the nations. To keep an eye on Chinese nuclear activities the plan was to install a nuclear spying device on the peaks of Nanda Devi mountain peak. Nanda Devi is the second highest peak in India it is over 25,643 ft above sea level.


Manmohan Singh Kholi in the mountaineering history of India has made a great contribution. He led India’s first successful mountain climbing team to Mount Everest in 1965. He didn’t know what kind of mission was waiting for him. American CIA and Indian Intelligence Bureau came on board. The mountaineers of India and America who were supposed to undertake this mission were assembled in Alaska, the USA at mount Mckinley where those mountaineers were trained under vigorous circumstances. Mount Mckinley is the highest peak in North America.

Manmohan Singh Kholi

The nuclear spying device was supposed to be installed on the peak of Nanda Devi mountain the device was around 56 kilograms heavy along with it an 8-10 feet antenna, transceivers, and snap generator were also to be carried to the peak. Reportedly the snap generator was half the size of the bomb dropped in Hiroshima and 7 plutonium devices were also carried to the peak. In an interview, Manmohan Singh Kholi revealed that along with mountaineers, porters, sherpas, nuclear experts, intelligence officers, signal experts, and communicators also accompanied them. In October 1965 when the team was about to reach the end of the summit a misfortune struck, when the team reached camp IV at 24,000 feet the team met with a snow blizzard. As captain of the group Manhoman Singh Kholi had to take a quick decision he told the team to secure the device by making caves and putting the device inside that cave and tying it with ropes and securing it with batons both the Indian and American intelligence officers were happy with the arrangement and the team came back as it was not possible to continue with the mission due to bad weather conditions.


In 1966 the team returned back and they found that the device was missing the ropes were broken and things have fallen due to an avalanche triggered by a snow blizzard causing panic among intelligence agencies of India and the USA. The question still remains where the device vanished this mystery could not be solved to date.

In 1967, near Nanda Devi peak another device was installed on Nanda Kot. But the whereabouts of the 1965 nuclear device could not be found. A nuclear device along with a plutonium device was lost in the mountains. Plutonium is a dangerous element. Till 1974 Nanda Devi peak and surrounding Nanda Devi sanctuary were closed for expeditions. Remember this was a secret operation but it remained a secret till the late 1970’s only as later international media started reporting about it. After which then Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai acknowledged this operation in the Indian Parliament. From 1965 till now a few search operations took place but nothing was found. The water samples were tested for radioactivity. Some reports suggest that in 1993 a team found a round steel case in which the Plutonium devices were being carried. It is assumed that plutonium devices got separated from the steel protection. In this mission, Plutonium Pu238 was used whose half-life or radioactive isotope to decay is around 88 years which means around 30-35 years are still left.

Plutonium Pu238

There are concerns as well that will it contaminate the Rishi Ganga River. During an interview, Uttrakhand tourism minister Satpal Maharaj told that the water should be monitored. He also spoke to PM Modi back in 2018 but the concerns will remain till the nuclear device is found. During the Chamoli floods, local villagers suspected that the nuclear device lead to the burst of the glacier at Nanda Devi. but according to Manmohan Singh Kholi, he said: “One should not worry about it according to him once the device hits a glacier it will keep sinking and will settle at the rock bottom”.


Kartik Sud

I am working as a News Author With the DefenceXP network, Observing LOC and LAC

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