Interesting Facts About Mount Everest

If we were to look at some of the tallest mountains in the world, the names we will hear would be Kanchenjuand Nga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat, and Annapurna.
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Only two are considered different which is the Mount K2 and Mount Everest. With regards to Mount K2, we understand that it was named as such due to it being the second mountain in the Karakoram in which the height was measured. But how about Mount Everest?

Some might wonder why it was named after George Everest, a British land surveyor in India. If it was to remember the contributions that he did, the name itself does not represent the local names as with other mountains. Or perhaps it was ill himself that gave the hill its name?

Many historians believed such. For instance, Niall Ferguson in his work called Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World.

But the answer to that will be a no and even George himself did not agree with the statement. For him, it was outrageous.

To understand this matter even further, we need to go back to the year 1802. During this time, A British officer, William Lambton established an organization called Great Trigonometric Survey(GTS). Just by looking at the name, we have already known its primary objective.

Lambton under the sponsor of East India Company wanted to measure the whole sub-continent of India precisely by using a scientific method. This is very crucial to plan the growth of the economy, strategize military movement and estimate the gross domestic product of a country.

Therefore, the job scope of GTS primarily focuses on 4 things; topography observation(research the terrain on land), trigonometric observation(height measurement, distance, latitude, and longitude), marine observations(shipping activities), and economic activity observation(land ownership patterns of the Indians).

George Everest

During its operation, GTS is responsible to measure the peak height of 79 Himalayas including Everest, K2, and Kanchenjunga. However, not all of them were done under Lambton's operation as he passed away in 1823.

His work was then continued by George Everest who was already working alongside Lambton since 1806. In 1830, Everest was appointed as the first land surveyor chief(known as Surveyor-General of India) in India. Under his administration, GTS got the service from a young local genius.

His name is Radhanath Sikdar. Sikdar joined GTS when he was only 19 years old and at the time he was still studying at Presidency College, Calcutta. His entry into GTS was from the recommendation of his mathematics lecturer, John Tyler.

Despite Sikdar not being the only Bengali working for GTS, he was among the favorites of Everest. It was to the extent that Everest stop the top management from transferring him to other departments.

The involvement of Sikdar in GTS was ongoing even after Everest retired in 1843 and was replaced with Andrew Scott Waugh. At that time, Sikdar was promoted to Chief Computer of Calcutta. Some of his big roles include measuring the height of Mount Everest.

Back then the mountain was known as XV Mountain and it has ever since gotten the attention of GTS as of 1847. However, the work of measuring it was only done in 1852. By then, the height of Mount Everest was the contender for the tallest mountain in the world at the time, Kanchenjunga Mountain.

According to the calculations being done by Sikdar, the height was 29,000 feet which is almost 1000 feet taller than Kanchenjunga. But because he was not fond of even numbers, Waugh decided to add 2 more feet to the calculation.

And as it turns out, the figure was not far off from the current height as it was only 30 feet from today's calculation which is 29,032 feet.

Radhanath Sikdar

Regardless of all of that, the main question will be how did Mount XV change to Mount Everest?

After gazetting the calculation officially in 1856, Waugh wrote to the Royal Geographic Society. In his letter, he requested that the mountain be named after Everest in conjunction with being the first land surveyor of GTS. The request was officially accepted and Mount XV was changed to Mount Everest 9 years later in 1865.

But George Everest(who passed away in 1866) was definitely not happy with this news as he was in the UK at the time holding the position of fellow in the Royal Society. This is because he has set a specific order in GTS stating that all the mountains being measured must remain as their original name by what the locals called them.

This is the reason why most mountains as mentioned previously are in the local language. It was only Everest that was against its norm. If not because of this, the name might be rather different as some might call it Chomolungma(Tibet) or Sagarmatha(Nepal).

But Waugh definitely thought otherwise as he said that he has got no choice and did not know about the names being used by the locals with regards to Mount Everest. He also added that the Tibets forbid any outsiders from entering making information inaccessible. 

If we were to look back in the past before GTS did their work, China through the Qing Dynasty has made a similar observation. It was done in 1708-1716 under the order of the Kangxi Emperor. Based on the observation, the Jesuits in Beijing managed to produce a map.

Copies of the map were made in 1718 comprising the location of Mount Everest being labeled as Jumu Lungma Alin which is almost the same as what the Tibets called them.

Later in 1733, the main was included in the French Cartography members called Jean D'Anville in his best works, Noveau Atlas de Chine(New Atlas of China). According to his works, the map of Mount Everest including Tibet's name can be accessed by Westerners.


In other words, Waugh's reason does not make sense and there could only be two possibilities. The first one is that Waugh knew of the existence of the map in the works of D'Anville but chose to ignore it. Secondly, he obviously did not know anything about it.

There were 9 years for Waugh to do his research and find the name for Chomolungma, a name which clearly shows the origin of Mount Everest being located in the Himalayas and not in America. It also showed that the person behind the measurements was a Bengali and not an English man.

Source:
  • Arvind, Lavanya Shanbhouge. (2019, 24 May). The Great Trigonometric Survey of India: A History of How India Was Measured. Madras Courier.
  • Dagupta, Prateek. (2021, 16 October). Why is Mount Everest Named After a Person, Unlike Other Himalayan Peaks? History of Yesterday.
  • Patel, Tanvi. (2018). This Brilliant Bengali ‘Computer’ Discovered the World’s Highest Mountain Without Ever Climbing It! The Better India.

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