By Soutik Biswas
Feb. 21, 2021
In a village in the Indian Himalayas, generations of residents have believed that nuclear devices lie buried under the snow and rocks in the towering mountains above.
So when Raini got hit by a huge flood earlier in February, villagers panicked and rumours flew that the devices had “exploded” and triggered the deluge. In reality, scientists believe, a piece of broken glacier was responsible for the flooding in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, in which more than 50 people have died.
But tell that to the people of Raini – the farming mountain village with 250 households – and many don’t quite believe you. “We think that the devices could have played a role. How can a glacier simply break off in winter? We think the government should investigate and find the devices,” Sangram Singh Rawat, the headman of Raini, told me.
At the heart of their fears is an intriguing tale of high-altitude espionage, involving some of the world’s top climbers, radioactive material to run electronic spy systems, and spooks.
It is a story about how the US collaborated with India in the 1960s to place nuclear-powered monitoring devices across the Himalayas to spy on Chinese nuclear tests and missile firings. China had detonated its first nuclear device in 1964.
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