Researchers question claims, old and new, of seeing Himalayan peaks from plains

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Pune, Jun 10 (PTI) Claims of Himalayan peaks becoming visible from cities in north India hundreds of kilometers away appeared on social media last year when the decline in economic activity due to the pandemic reduced air pollution.

But a physics professor and a 17-year-student have challenged not only these recent claims but even over a two-century-old record of such sightings by Sir William Jones, famous orientalist and founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Vijay Singh, 71, and Arnav Singh, 17, say in their report titled 'On viewing the Himalayas from the plains', published recently in the American Journal of Physics, that even Sir Jones might have got it wrong.

Jones in 1785 had claimed of seeing Mt Jomolhari in eastern Himalaya from Bhagalpur in Bihar, 366 km away. Five years later, his successor Henry Colebrooke claimed of seeing the peak from Purnia, 80 km from Bhagalpur.

According to Vijay Singh, who was a professor at IIT Kanpur and has now retired, it is impossible to spot Mt Jomolhari, also known as 'the bride of Kanchenjunga', from Bhagalpur.

When reports of sightings of Himalayan peaks from Jalandhar in Punjab and Sitamadhi and Purnia in Bihar appeared last year, he was reminded of Jones' and Colebrooke's sightings, and decided to revisit these claims with Arnav, Singh told PTI on Thursday.

'These sightings are remarkable, but raise some obvious questions. Given the curvature of the Earth and considerable distance between the peak and the point of observation, is such a sighting possible? And if so, what would be the apparent height of the peak as viewed from a distance?' Singh stated.

Due to the curvature of the Earth, the sighting claimed by Sir Jones was not possible, he concluded.

The farthest point from which Mt Jomolhari can be seen is 300 km away while Bhagalpur is 366 km away from the peak, he said.

'Suppose Bhagalpur is like a big tower or a structure like Burj Khalifa, one can only see it from the top of Mt Jomolhari when the air is extremely pristine and clear,' said Singh.

What exactly did Jones see then? 'It could be that Mt Kanchenjunga, which has coordinates closer to Mt Jomolhari, was sighted by Sir Jones as it is closer to Bhagalpur,' he added.

'From Bhagalpur, you can not see any mountain as the city is south of the Ganges. From Purnia, one may see the peaks if the air is very clear. In spite of the clarity courtesy of the pandemic, it is near impossible to see the mountains from Purnia also,' he said.

What about catching a glimpse of the mighty peaks from Jalandhar? Singh said the peaks of Dhauladhar can be seen from the Punjab city. PTI SPK KRK KRK