- Soutik Biswas
- BBC India correspondent
In a village on the Indian side of the Himalayas, generations of villagers believed that under the towering snow and rocks of the mountains above them, nuclear devices were buried.
Therefore, when a major flood hit Raini in early February this year, the villagers there were very panicked, and there were rumors that those devices “exploded” that caused the flood. In fact, scientists believe that the flood that killed more than 50 people in Uttarakhand, India, was caused by a broken glacier.
Lenny is a farming mountain village composed of 250 households. If you tell the scientists’ theory to the people who live there, many people will not accept this statement. “We think those devices may be part of it. How could a glacier break casually in winter? We think the government should investigate and find those devices,” the leader of the village of Leni, Sangram Singh Rawat, told me. .
What brought them the greatest fear was a mysterious spy legend that took place at a high altitude, which involved several world-class climbers, some radioactive materials needed for the operation of electronic reconnaissance systems, and secret agents.
In the story, the United States and India cooperated in the 1960s and wanted to place nuclear power monitoring devices across the Himalayas to monitor China’s nuclear tests and rocket launch activities. In 1964, China detonated its first nuclear device.
“The cold war delusion was at its peak. At that time, no plan was too ridiculous, no investment was too large, and no tactics were improper,” said Pete Takeda. Takeda is a contributing editor of Rock and Ice Magazine in the United States, and he has written many works on this issue.
In October 1965, a group of Indian and American climbers went up the mountain with seven capsules and surveillance equipment weighing 57 kilograms. These devices were originally planned to be placed on the top of Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India, at 7,816 meters, near the border of northeastern India with China.
When they were close to the top of the mountain, a snowstorm forced them to abandon their climbing plan. When they hurried down the mountain, they left these devices behind. Including a six-foot-long antenna, two sets of radio communication equipment, a power supply device, and the capsules, all of which were left on a “platform.”
Magazines reported that these objects were left in a wind-proof “gap with shelter” on the mountainside. Manmohan Singh Kohli (Manmohan Singh Kohli) is a famous climber who worked for the border patrol organization and was the leader of the Indian mountaineering team. He said, “We have to go down the mountain. Otherwise, many climbers will die.”
In the spring of the following year, the climbers returned to the mountain, trying to find the device and put it back to the top of the mountain, but the equipment disappeared.
More than half a century later, although there were many visits to Nanda Devi Mountain during the period, no one knew the fate of those capsules.
“Right now, those missing pandas may be in a glacier, or they may have been smashed into dust, swimming up the Ganges,” Takeda wrote.
Scientists believe that this is likely to be an exaggeration. Plutonium is the main component of the atomic bomb, but the plutonium battery uses another isotope called plutonium-238 (different forms of the same chemical element). The half-life of this isotope (the time required for half of the radioactive isotope to decay) is 88 year.
What has been passed down is a series of fascinating adventure stories.
In the book Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Final Refuge, British travel writer Hugh Thompson wrote that American climbers were asked to use an Indian tanning lotion to make their skin complexion. Deeper, so as not to arouse the suspicion of locals. He also wrote that those climbers were asked to pretend that they were participating in a “high altitude project” in order to study the effects of low oxygen levels in their bodies. Porters carrying nuclear materials were told that what they were carrying was “some kind of treasure, possibly gold.”
Prior to that, the American magazine “Outside” reported that the climbers were taken to the CIA’s Harvey Point base in North Carolina to participate in a ” “Nuclear Spy” Crash Course. There, a climber told Outdoor magazine, “After some time, we spent most of our time playing volleyball and drinking a lot of alcohol.”
This failed expedition remained a secret in India until 1978, when the Washington Post reported the story published in Outdoor magazine and wrote that the CIA hired several American climbers. Among them were members who had climbed the summit of Mount Everest not long ago and asked them to place nuclear power plants on two peaks in the Himalayas to monitor the Chinese.
The “Washington Post” report confirmed that the first expedition ended with the missing instrument in 1965, and “the second attempt occurred two years later. A former CIA official described the result as “partial success”.”
In 1967, the third attempt was made to place a new set of equipment in the mission plan. This time the destination was an easier 6861-meter high mountain called Nanda Kot. This mission was successful. In order to place the reconnaissance equipment on the Himalayas, 14 American climbers were paid 1,000 US dollars per month for three years.
In April 1978, then Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai threw a “blockbuster” in Parliament. According to him, India had cooperated with the United States at a “high level” to place these nuclear power plants on the Nanda Devi Mountain. But according to the results recorded in a report, Desai did not mention the success of this mission.
The U.S. State Department telegram declassified in the same month showed that about 60 people protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Delhi against “the alleged CIA activities in India.” These demonstrators held slogans, claiming that “the CIA is leaving India” and that “the CIA is poisoning our water.”
As for the nuclear devices lost in the Himalayas, no one knows exactly what the result will be. “Yes, that device was covered by an avalanche and got stuck in a glacier. God knows the consequences of this,” said Jim McCarthy, one of the American climbers, to Takeda.
The climbers said that a small site in the village of Leni regularly conducts radioactive tests on the water and sand of the local river, but it is not clear whether they have received any evidence of contamination.
“Before the decay (the radioactive source in the power supply device), this device will always be radioactive and may leak into the snow in the Himalayas and pass through the Ganges. The upstream infiltrates into the river system of India,” “Outdoor” magazine reported.
Team leader Corley is 89 years old this year. I asked him if he regretted being part of an operation that caused nuclear equipment to be left in the Himalayas.
“It doesn’t matter whether you regret or be happy. I was just following orders,” he said.
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