Mt Everest, still at the top

Mountains do not grow before our eyes, except in stories and fables, and nor do they shrink unless divine beings, monsters and the like have taken their form and have decided to suddenly downsize for tactical reasons in war or for deception. If the hills are old and tall they have always continued to be so and even an inch of change up or down has not been imagined and expected. Much thought has not been spent on the matter either. But Mt Everest is different from other mountains, being the tallest in the world, and its height has always been important for scientists, students and everybody else who has a penchant for general knowledge. The knowledge that it rises to 29,029 feet into the cold emptiness of the Himalayas is drilled into young heads in every school, and it has not changed in decades, except from feet to metres.

But scientists now doubt that the mountain has shrunk a little in the past two years, perhaps by a couple of feet or a metre. They think the 2015 earthquake in Nepal shook up the innards of the mountain, rearranged the rocks, bits and other pieces there and took it down by a whit. However high the mountain is, the low temblor is above it, because when the earth trembles what remains of the peaks, the seas and the plains? A metre of the mountain is nothing for nature dancing in primordial power; which has flattened cities, shifted rivers and humbled vanities higher than the Everest. A view from the sky has shown a diminished peak, and scientists and surveyors will now go and measure it the hard way, metre by metre, tapes, telescopes, trigonometry and all. They think it is as much a matter of pride to put a scale to the Everest, as scaling it. The results will help in the study of the mountain and the movement of tectonic plates. The wisdom till now was that the Himalayas, which carries the Everest, is rising by an inch or two every year because of the pre-historic collision between the tectonic plates which created the mountain, the earth’s measuring rod. The rise may resume next year, but for now, the peak may be less lofty than three years ago.

But it may not make any difference to the self-image of the mountain whose competitor is far too lower down in the Karakoram. It is also doubtful whether the mountain, shrunken by a metre, would make any difference to the climbers in future.

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