In the 19th century, Sir George Everest, the former surveyor general of the British-India Survey Office, and his team measured the world’s highest Himalayan peak at 8,840.07 meters, or 29,002.85 feet.
Since then India, China, the United States, Italy and Denmark have put forth their own measurements on famed Mount Everest.
Nepal has rejected them all — and has long eschewed the mountain’s colonial-era name, too, for its Nepali name: Sagarmatha.
This week, China and Nepal, two countries that share a treacherously mountainous border and increasingly warm relations, jointly announced a new height for the world’s tallest mountain, The New York Times reported.
Officially, according to Kathmandu and Beijing, Mount Everest stands at 8,848.86 meters, or 29,031.7 feet — two feet higher than previously recorded.
For 65 years, the consensus height had been 8,848 meters, or 29,028.87 feet, The Times reported.
As Mount Everest has grown, said Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Nepal’s foreign affairs minister, in a joint virtual briefing with his Chinese counterpart, so have ties between the two nations.
The China-Nepal relationship “will rise across the Himalayas, and it will reach a new height,” Gyawali said.
Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, endorsed the new measure, The Times reported.
The announcement fulfilled a promise Xi made a year ago during a visit to the Nepali capital, where he announced with his counterpart, Bidya Devi Bhandari, that the countries would jointly measure the mountain.
Though it looks immutable, even Mount Everest shifts with time and tectonics.
In the aftermath of a devastating 2015 earthquake, it was widely speculated that several Himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest, had shrunk. The new dual measurements suggest the opposite, The Times reported.
Scientists say Everest — also referred to as “Qomolangma,” its Tibetan name — is getting taller. As the Indian plate slips under the Eurasian plate, it lifts up the Himalayas. But earthquakes can reduce the height of mountain peaks.
Meanwhile, China’s relations with its other Himalayan neighbors have not been as warm, The Times reported.
Instead of a hand of friendship, Xi’s menacing “Wolf Warrior” politics have only brought trouble with India.
Tensions soared in June when unarmed troops from both countries brawled in perilously craggy territory that they both claim, killing 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number on the Chinese side.
China also recently completed a village built in territory claimed by Bhutan, another Himalayan country, The Times reported.
While both countries are reportedly seeking a peaceful solution to the border crisis, sources say China is digging in with military infrastructure, forcing India to react in kind.
The latter has boosted its military spending of late, increasing its stable of fighter jets, weapons and naval ships.
Beijing has been more deferential to Nepal. Communist parties friendly with Beijing won elections there in 2017.
China views Nepal as key to its Belt and Road Initiative, which envisions highways, railroads and other big-ticket projects built with Chinese financing across the old Silk Road routes that once connected China to the West, The Times reported.
Against that backdrop, India’s surveyor general offered in 2017 to remeasure Mount Everest. With wounded pride, Nepal said its surveyors were plenty capable of measuring the mountain on their own.
Nepal also initially declined an offer from China but eventually agreed to make it a joint project. Earlier this year, with the mountaineering season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, China sent a survey team up to Mount Everest’s summit with global satellite receivers to measure its northern side.
Nepal had measured the southern side the year before. Nepalese climbers had to work with Indian survey data when it came to precise sea level, since the country is landlocked, The Times reported.
According to Khim Lal Gautam, the survey officer who led Nepal’s measurement expedition team, it was the first time a surveyor had captured satellite data. Previously, he said, Sherpas, or mountain guides, had done it.
“We made it possible,” Gautam said.
Ironically, it was an Indian mathematician and surveyor, Radhanath Sikdar, who would first identify Everest as the world’s highest peak (then known as peak XV), according to The Economic Times.
It was Sikdar who would calculate the height of the mountain in 1852 using a complicated method called triangulation, though it was not announced officially until March of 1856.
British Surveyor General of India, Andrew Waugh, named the mountain after his predecessor sir George Everest, though Everest himself opposed the idea. Waugh was persistent because the mountain had several names locally.
Everest never did see the mountain that would actually bear his name.
In a story that some consider apocryphal, but one which is recounted in multiple books, Sikdar, a 19-year-old Bengali mathematical “genius” who was handpicked by Everest as a computor at SOI’s (Survey of India) Kolkata office, rushed into Waugh’s office exclaiming, “Sir! I have discovered the world’s highest mountain.”
In 1856, Waugh announced that Everest was 29,002 feet (8,840 meters) high. The most accepted elevation of 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) was first determined by an Indian survey in 1955. It was subsequently reaffirmed by a 1975 Chinese measurement.
Sources: New York Times, The Economic Times, BBVA Open Mind, Wikipedia, Live Mint