ITB Police

In 1962, soon after the Sino-India conflict, the Government of India decided to establish the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Even before it formally came into being, Kohli volunteered to join this force. His task was to introduce mountaineering skills among its personnel to enable them to carry out various challenging assignments at high altitude. He introduced mountaineering as part of the ITBP syllabus. An advance Training Centre was established at Shivpuri for rock climbing in the nearby ravines of the Chambal Valley. During his nine years tenure with the ITBP as Commandant, and six years as Advisor, the ITBP became known worldwide as a formidable mountaineering force.
His two spells of nine and six years with the ITBP were marked by momentous events. Mount Everest was climbed from both Nepal and Tibet; Kanchenzonga was scaled from a difficult route; and an Indo-Japanese team, led by S.P. Chamoli, rafted down the mighty Brahmaputra from the Chinese border in Arunachal to the Bangladesh border. This was the golden period of the ITBP. The ITBP tally of Himalayan peaks today is over 150 and half of these are virgin summits.


The Everest team was still recuperating from the gruelling expedition when the Indian Government asked Kohli to lead an Indo-US mission of great national importance. It was an expedition to Nanda Devi. Originally it was meant to be just one expedition comprising a large team of mountaineers, nuclear scientists and intelligence officers of the two countries. But it dragged on for four long years, extending operations to the neighbouring peak of Nanda Kot. Indian Members, all Everesters, were:


Captain M.S. Kohli, Sonam Gyatso, Sonam Wangyal, Harish Rawat and G.S. Bhangu

Indian and American climbers on slopes of Mt. Mc Kinley in Alaska for trials

After the Chinese detonated their nuclear test in 1964, America and India, which had just fought a border war with its northern neighbour, were both justifiably concerned. The CIA knew it needed more information on China's growing nuclear capability to see behind the bamboo curtain. Because of the extreme remoteness of the Chinese testing grounds, conventional surveillance in that pre-satellite era was next to impossible.

The solution to this intelligence dilemma was a joint American-India effort to plant a nuclearpowered sensing device on a high Himalayan peak in order to listen into China and monitor its missile launches. It was not a job that could be carried out by career spies. Instead, it required the special skills possessed only by accomplished mountaineers. For this mission, cloaks and daggers were replaced by crampons and ice axes.

Captian M.S. Kohli with B.N. Mullik India’s First DIB

Captian M.S. Kohli with B.N. Mullik India’s First DIB

The true nature of this expedition was kept under wraps for over a decade. It came to light in 1978, after years of rumours among mountaineers, when some American members leaked the story in an article in the outside magazine. It created worldwide media blitz forcing Prime Minister Morarji Desai and President Johnson to make official statement in the Parliament and Senate. There were several false facts in this article. To put all facts into a proper perspective and after knowing that an American Kenneth Comboy was anyway going ahead with a full-fledged book on this operation, Kohli decided to step in to avoid any further inaccuracies. A booklength treatment "Spies in the Himalayas", provides an inside view of this mission.