Kathmandu, July 19 (IANS) From the new Nepali financial year that started Sunday, Nepal’s government began an ambitious two-year project to survey Mt Everest – the highest mountain in the world as well as the republic’s biggest revenue earner – and ascertain its height.
“The first survey to calculate the height of Mt Everest was conducted a long time ago and that too by foreigners,” said Gopal Giri, deputy spokesperson at Nepal’s land reform and management ministry that is undertaking the survey.
“Since then, there have been more than one surveys and each has come up with different figures. This is the first attempt by the Nepali government to estimate the height of the mountain entirely using Nepali resources,” the official told IANS.
Though Mt Everest stands on the border between Nepal and China, the first survey to deduce its height was conducted by the British East India Company as part of the Great Trigonometric Survey in the 19th century.
As Nepal remained closed to the outside world at that time under its dictatorial Rana rulers, the estimates had to be taken from Indian cities and in 1856, the mountain was officially stated to be 8,840 m.
In 1955, an Indian survey added another 8m to the mountain’s height and today, Nepal officially follows 8,848 m as the height of Mt Everest.
Four decades later, in 1999, an American Everest expedition determined the height of the world’s highest peak as 8,850 m and that is the figure mostly followed by American institutions.
The most recent survey of the peak occurred in 2005 when the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping came up with two heights for Mt Everest: a basic summer height of 8,844.43 m and a winter height of 8,848 m when the topmost rock gains additional height due to the accumulation of snow.
According to Kalyan Gopal Shrestha of Nepal’s Geodetic Survey division, the new survey is a two-year mission with the actual work to fix the height of Mt Everest to start only next year.
This year, the team will do the levelling survey, fixing the heights of base camp areas like Namche, Taksindu and PK2.
The levelling survey will regard the Indian Ocean, the nearest sea, to be at zero height, and measure the base camp areas accordingly.
While this part of the survey will be done physically, the more sophisticated global positioning system will be used next year to fix the height of Mt Everest.
After it is done, the government of Nepal will hold talks with the Chinese government to seek a mutually acceptable common height for the peak.
Mt Everest remains Nepal’s highest money-spinner, having earned the republic over $9 million in three months of spring 2011 with 92 expeditions seeking to climb the peak.
Besides the climbing permit fee, the economic gain spilled over into insurance, air fare, hotel stay and food and equipment.
According to climbing records, 3,448 people have summited the mountain since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.