Pair who claimed to have climbed Everest banned from Nepal

By Adam Taylor

Indian climber, Satyarup Sidhantha holds on his right hand a photograph that shows him on Mount Everest, with an altered version of the same photo. Photo / AP
Indian climber, Satyarup Sidhantha holds on his right hand a photograph that shows him on Mount Everest, with an altered version of the same photo. Photo / AP

On June 5, Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod held a news conference to make an announcement: They had just become the first Indian couple to climb Mount Everest.

The pair, both 30-year-old police officers, told reporters that they had reached the summit on May 23. "We were committed that we would not give birth to a child until we climb Mount Everest," Dinesh Rathod said at the time. "With pride now, we want to become parents."

But less than two months later, the Rathods' triumph has become mired in scandal.

Officials in Nepal told reporters that they were not only cancelling the climbing certificates given to the couple - but also banning them from climbing any mountains in the country for 10 years.

Initially, the Rathods' story received widespread coverage in the Indian media and praise from officials.

The police force in the couple's home city of Pune and Ram Shinde, a government minister for Maharashtra state, were among those to offer congratulations.

Coming after a climbing season in which three people from West Bengal state had died on Everest, it was very welcome news for India's climbing community. But it didn't take long for seasoned climbers to begin pointing out discrepancies in the Rathods' story.

If nothing else, the timing didn't seem right. "Our suspicions were first aroused owing to the time lag between the day the Rathods claimed to have reached the summit [May 23] and their [June 5] press conference announcing their achievement," Pune-based mountaineer Surendra Shelke told the Hindu newspaper on June 29.

Shelke also noted that although the Rathods were seen at the Everest base camp, no one had seem them higher up the mountain.

Questions were also raised about the photographs that the pair had taken of their trip. BuzzFeed India noted that the couple appeared to be wearing different sets of kits, right down to the boots, in these photographs. Experienced climbers said it was extremely unlikely that anyone would take along extra boots on such a difficult mission.

BuzzFeed also uncovered evidence that an image posted to Dinesh Rathod's Facebook page (and since deleted) had been previously published on another website and did not appear to feature the couple. Satyarup Sidhantha, a climber from Bangalore, later alleged on Facebook that the couple had stolen his pictures and edited them.

"This is so so so amazing!!!!!!!! They took my pics and photoshopped their image of summit... And got certificates too......," he posted.

Some climbers also cast doubt on the couple's previous claims. Anjali Kulkarni told the Hindu that she was with the couple on a trip to Australia and that their claims of climbing the 10 highest peaks in that country were "completely fake," as they had barely climbed five.

Despite the controversy, the Nepal Tourism Board had certified the Everest feat. In June, the company that arranged the Rathods' climb said that it had not been faked and that there was "some politics going on." Tarakeshwari Rathod issued a terse statement to the BBC saying that she and her husband had "climbed Everest".

But Nepalese authorities evidently do not agree. Tourism department chief Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal told AFP this week that they had analysed the photos the couple had submitted and found them to be forgeries.

"Despite several attempts to get clarifications from them, they did not cooperate with us during the investigation. The two Sherpas that assisted them are also absconding," Dhakal said, referring to Nepalese mountain guides. Indian police have said they will follow up on the investigation.

The case has received widespread attention in Nepal, where mountain climbing has long been a key source of revenue. An earthquake last year killed 9000 people and helped trigger an economic crisis from which the country has struggled to recover.

Dhakal told AFP that authorities would talk to experts about how to prevent false claims in the future. "The ban should serve as a warning for mountaineers to follow ethics," he said.

- Washington Post

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