The centerpiece of the Garhwal region is undoubtedly the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Until 1934, the gorge of the Rishiganga river and the immediate area around Nanda Devi peak was one of the least known and most inaccessible parts of the Himalayan region. In the Sanctuary, the mountains stand in a vast amphitheater, seventy miles in circumference and about 6,000m high. The Nanda Devi Sanctuary is drained in part, by the Alaknanda and Saraswati rivers.
The early Indian Surveyors and mountaineers alike were unable to venture into the Inner Sanctuary. It was in 1934 the Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman eventually managed to find their way to the Sanctuary. This paved the way for the Anglo-American mountain expedition of 1936 to ultimately climb the peak. When Tilman and Odell reached the top of Nanda Devi on 29th August, 1936, they had reached the highest point ever climbed by man till then. And this height record stood till the French stood on top of Annapurna in Nepal in 1950 - the first 8,000m peak to be climbed by man.
Even if not counted among the20 most highest peaks in the world, still Nanda Devi at one point in time, enjoyed the singular status of being the highest mountain in the British empire. At present too this peak is considered to be the second highest mountain peak in India, standing at a height of 7, 816m.
The Inner Sanctuary bears similarity to wrongly written alphabet letter E, with the middle strokes made up of the twin peaks of Nanda Devi - the main and the east peaks. The other formidable peaks, which form on the other strokes of the letter include Latu Dhura (6,392m), Sakram (6,254m), Bamchu (6,303m), Deo Damla (6,620m), Mangraon (6,569m), Kalanka (6,864m) and Changabang (6,864m). Towards the south lie peaks like Maiktoli (6,803m), Devtoli (6,788m), Devistan (6,678m), Panwali Dwar (6,663m) and Nanda Khat (6,611m).
The outer area of the Nanda devi Sanctuary is easier to enter. This is the reason why it has provided rich pasture ground for shepherds for centuries. Many high Himalayan peaks lie on the outer rim as well including Ronti (6,063m), Nanda Ghunti (6,309m), Trishul (7,120m), Bethartoli Himal (6,352m), Hanuman (6,075m), Dunagiri (7,066m) and Mrigthuni (6,855m).
The peak of the Nanda devi national park - the goddess herself - presiding over the panorama of fantastic beauty and piece. When Shipton and Tilman first entered the region, there were herds of Bharal, totally unafraid at the approach of man.
Unfortunately the love of mountain beauty was short-lived. In the year 1974 the park bacame an open ground of the mountaineers. Forests were hacked to build bridges and provide fodder for the animals. Fragile juniper slopes above the tree line were deliberately burnt to provide charcoal for the porters accompanying the mountaineering expeditions, whom the foreign expeditions had neglected to supply with warm clothes.
Ultimately, the Sanctuary was declared a National Park. This disallows anyone to enter it. Only in the last few years, some scientific expeditions have ventured into the area to analyze the situation and also to organize clean-up operations.