River Deep Mountain High

Forty-five years ago, a joint Indo-US espionage mission lost five kilograms of plutonium in the Himalayas. It’s still missing—but the government has decided to ignore the ongoing threat.

01 December 2010
Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest peak
Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest peak


ONE MORNING IN EARLY AUGUST, in a tiny village in the upper Himalayas, Karthik Rana heard a warning come over All India Radio—heavy rains were on the way. The 80-year-old shouted at his wife, daughters, daughters-in-law and grandchildren: “Get the sheep home! The clouds are going to open!”

I had arrived at Lata Kharak earlier that morning, a few hours before heavy rains and avalanches descended on the Himalayas. A few hundred miles to the north, in Leh, 200 people were killed in a massive cloudburst; across the mountains, in China, landslides claimed 1,000 lives.

Vinod K Jose was the executive editor of The Caravan from 2009 to 2023.

Keywords: china Nepal CIA USA Nehru atomic energy Sikkim Vinod K Jose Plutonium Himalayas Xinjiang RAW New Delhi Nanda Devi Outside MS Kohli National Geographic Curtis LeMay Indira Gandhi R N Rao Alaska Barry Bishop Morarji Desai Kanchenjunga Ganga