Rekindling a forgotten Himalayan story

New Delhi (IANS) Did the CIA, in association with Indias Intelligence Bureau, clandestinely plant nuclear devices on Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain in India, in the 1950s to spy on Chinas nuclear programme and which are said to have led to a glacier break and triggered the devastating floods in Uttarakhand earlier this month?

The truth may never be known but award-winning author Scott Ellsworth’s new book, “The World Beneath Their Feet” (Hachette), is bound to revive the debate in the context of one of the most compelling international dramas of the 20th century and an unforgettable saga of survival, technological innovation, and breathtaking human physical achievement – all set against the backdrop of a world headed toward war.

While tension steadily rose between European powers in the 1930s, a different kind of battle was raging across the Himalayas. Contingents from Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States had set up rival camps at the base of the mountains, all hoping to become recognized as the fastest, strongest, and bravest climbers in the world.

Carried on across nearly the entire sweep of the Himalayas, this contest involved not only the greatest mountain climbers of the era, but statesmen and millionaires, world-class athletes and bona fide eccentrics, scientists and generals, obscure villagers and national heroes.

Centered in the 1930s, with one brief, shining post-war coda, the contest was a struggle between hidebound traditionalists and unknown innovators, one that featured new techniques and equipment, unbelievable courage and physical achievement, and unparalleled valor. And death. Nanda Devi, alone claimed twenty-five lives in less than three years.

Climbing the Himalayas was the Greatest Generation’s moonshot – one shrouded in the onset of war, interrupted by it, and then fully accomplished. A gritty, fascinating history that promises to enrapture fans of historian and journalist Hampton Sides, writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, and author Laura Hillenbrand, “The World Beneath Their” Feet brings this forgotten story back to life.

Ellsworth is the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Game, which was the winner of the 2016 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. He has written about American history for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

Formerly a historian at the Smithsonian Institution, he is the author of “Death in a Promised Land”, his groundbreaking account of the 1921 Tulsa race riot when mobs of white residents, many of them deputised and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents. He lives with his wife and twin sons in Ann Arbor, where he teaches at the University of Michigan.

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