Nepal | August 05, 2020

Tilicho as highest lake: Establish the facts

Anuj Ghimire
Share Now:

Maybe there is something behind Tilicho’s seemingly underserved title that most do not know about. But regardless of it, shouldn’t we at least research well before publishing or claiming something like that?

I was panting heavily, and the walls of my stomach were crumbling down with hunger. I could hear the noise from my insides out loud; it was that quiet. There were barely five people on the trail. I hadn’t had any food in about four hours. The last meal that I had was a very light breakfast, and I had run out of water for the last two hours. The last sign I saw read “Tilicho 35 minutes”, but I felt like I had been walking for more than that and the lake wasn’t even close. I looked at my GPS, which said 5,012 metres above sea level. Tilicho was supposed to be at 4,919 metres. I didn’t know what was going on. But after walking for some time after that, I saw a blue sky merging into a darker blue sky. At least that’s what I thought it was.

Maybe I was hallucinating. It took me a while to realise that it was the lake. The closer I went, the bigger it got, and the differentiation of the lake from the sky became more obvious. I looked at my GPS again, and now it said 5,016 metres. The trail to the lake stood at that elevation apparently and the lake was down at 4,919 metres. That was the highest I had been so far till that date. It was only then that I wondered if Tilicho was the lake situated at the highest elevation in the world. All the hunger disappeared, the tiredness was gone, it was all worth the effort to be at a lake that high. I still had to go find birds; I was there for my thesis.

Tilicho is absolutely spectacular — breath-taking and picturesque. No matter which adjective one conjures to describe Tilicho, it would still not suffice. However, the one thing that people cannot accurately say about Tilicho is that it is “the highest lake in the world”. The highest lake in the world is not the new one they found near Chame, either. Neither of those are the highest lakes in the world, as both of them are located around 5,000 metres above sea level.

The highest lake in the world is Ojos del Salado at an altitude of 6,390 metres above sea level. Ojos del Salado lies at the border of Chile and Argentina in South America. It is a crater lake with a 100-metre diameter and is anywhere from 5 to 10 metres deep, located at the world’s highest active volcano, which goes by the same name.

This fact raises the next question. Could it be that Tilicho or Kajin is the highest glacial lake in the world? The answer is still no.

The second highest lake in the world was supposed to be Lhagba Pool located in Tibet — only a few miles north of Mount Everest — which was supposedly to be at an altitude of 6,368 metres above sea level. It is apparently extinct presently based on satellite images. However, at one point it was the second highest lake in the world.

Tilicho Lake still does not make it to the top based on extinction of the highest glacial lake. The third highest lake in the world, at an altitude of 6,216 metres above sea level is the Changtse Pool in Tibet, which is a glacial lake that runs down from the Changtse Mountain. Changtse Mountain lies slightly north of Mount Everest, and the mountain can actually be seen from Everest base camp. So even among the glacial lakes, Tilicho or Kajin doesn’t make it to the top three list.

Likewise, the fourth highest lake in the world is Acamarachi Pool at 5,950 metres above sea level in Chile. The list goes on. If you were to look at the elevation of the lakes at the highest altitude in the world, the Ridonglabo Lake seems to be the 10th highest lake in the world, which again is near Mount Everest but on the Tibetan side. Its elevation is 5,801 metres above sea level.

So I wonder where we got that Tilicho is the highest lake in the world! The first time I heard about Ojos del Salado, I thought maybe it is the highest volcanic lake and Tilicho is the highest freshwater lake or glacial lake. However, with just a little research, I found out that that was not the case.

But why is our news media and everyone claiming Tilicho or Kajin to be the highest lake in the world without any research? Could it be the largest lake by area at the highest altitude? No, because the largest lake at the highest altitude seems to be Orba Co in Tibet, located at an altitude of 5,200 metres and with an area of 14.8 x 6.6 km whereas Tilicho has an area of 4.0 x 1.4 km. So what is with Tilicho or Kajin being the highest lake in the world? Is it the same as Nepal being the second richest in water resources? Or am I missing something?

Perhaps the superlative label that Tilicho has received is a product of media or popular sensationalism. After all, being able to claim that one’s nation has the highest, largest, biggest, tallest, or most extreme lake or any other such natural formation would do much to fuel nationalist pride and attract visitors, foreign and domestic alike, to spend money in industries that have monetised the process of experiencing these formations.

But to either wrongly or mistakenly make such uninformed claims would be a scientific and informational misstep, as most of us would agree that we should believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. It’s an essential basis for our survival in a world full of things trying to fool and harm us.

Maybe there is something behind Tilicho’s seemingly underserved title that most do not know about. But regardless of it, shouldn’t we at least research well before publishing or claiming something like that?

Ghimire, a PhD student, currently works at the Department of Biological Sciences, North Dakota State University


A version of this article appears in print on August 16, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

Former king Juan Carlos decides to leave Spain amid corruption allegations

Prosecutors looking into bribe allegations Pressure had been building on royals to take action Former king remains "at the disposal" of prosecutors The 82-year-old helped guide Spain back to democracy MADRID: Spain's former king Juan Carlos has decided to leave his country, a drama Read More...

Ruling party co-chairs stick to their guns

Oli to remain PM till general election, co-chair till General Convention: NCP leader Gokul Baskota Kathmandu, August 3 Co-chairs of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Sharma Oli held talks today in an attempt to break the current impasse in the party, but failed to Read More...

Airlines seek permission to resume flights

Airline companies have to resubmit their proposal for slots if flight operations are halted for more than 60 days Kathmandu, August 3 The government's decision to resume domestic and international flights from August 17 has prompted airline companies to start submitting their proposals to the Ci Read More...

Dhading bans sand mining during monsoon

Dhading, August 3 In view of increasing deaths related to river mining, the authority in Dhading decided to impose a complete ban on sand mining from rivers in the district during the monsoon season. There is already a rule that bans mining of river products using heavy equipment during the ra Read More...

File photo of Melamchi Water Supply Project tunnel.

‘Technical error caused Melamchi tunnel accident’

Kathmandu, August 3 A committee formed to investigate Melamchi tunnel incident has concluded that one of the sluice gates on the tunnel of the Melamchi Water Supply Project had broken due to a technical error. A project engineer and a driver had died due to the flood resulting from the breakag Read More...

reproductive health, Minister of State for Health and Population, Padma Kumari Aryal

Work responsibly, Minister Aryal directs employees

Kathmandu, August 3 Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal has directed government employees to work responsibly as the ministry has the responsibility of protecting the property of over 30 million people of the country. She said this at the annual Read More...

PM visits under-construction museum at his private residence

Bhaktapur, August 3 Prime Minister and Co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) KP Sharma Oli today visited his private residence at Balkot and met with people from different walks of life. This is the third time the prime minister has visited his private residence after being electe Read More...

‘Harsher punishment against acid attackers’

Kathmandu, August 3 Women and Social Welfare Committee of the House of Representatives has directed the home ministry to make some amendments to the legal arrangement and punishment related to incidents of acid attack, pointing out the need of timely revision. After the discussion held on ‘a Read More...