KATHMANDU: Nepal’s Department of Tourism under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has initiated an investigation into the veracity of claims made by an Indian police couple of having reached the summit of Mt Everest in the last spring climbing season.
The move comes after Dinesh Chandrakant Rathod and his wife Tarkeshwari Chandrakant Bhelerao of Maharashtra obtained summit certificates from the DoT by allegedly submitting doctored photos showing them on the top of world’s highest peak.
“A thorough investigation has started,” Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, Director General at DoT said, adding that the DoT today asked the expedition organising company to furnish its written clarification within 24 hours why it applied for summit certificates to the Rathods by providing such ‘morphed’ photographs as substantial evidences.
The DoT awarded the couple with summit certificates on June 10 endorsing their claims of having reached the summit in the early morning of May 23. The photos submitted by the Indian cops to the DoT as a proof were found faked after Satyarup Siddhantha, a climber from Bangalore, accused the couple of plagiarising his summit photos while the Bengaluru climber scaled the world’s highest mountain on May 21.
As Makalu Adventure Treks applied for summit certificates to the Rathods at the DoT, the company should first clarify its motive behind the submission of fake photos, the Director General said. According to him, the DoT would inquire with the Liaison Officer and climbing Sherpas once it reviewed the company’s clarification.
“It’s proven that the photos provided by Dinesh and his wife Tarkeshwari to DoT are morphed,” he claimed.
Mohan Lamsal, Managing Director at Makalu Adventure Treks said that he would reply to DoT by tomorrow. “I’ve also asked the couple to come to Kathmandu to clarify their stances at the earliest,” he added. According to him, both climbing Sherpas who assisted the Rathods are still out of reach.
As the DoT had not consulted with the climbing Sherpas — Furba from Sankhuwasabha and Fursemba from Solukhumbu — who accompanied the Rathods to Everest summit, while awarding summit certificates, Ganesh Prasad Timsina who serves as an officer at Kakarvitta Tourism Office in Jhapa, verified the couple’s claim, saying he was at the Everest Base Camp for 13 days to monitor their activities.
“The Rathods’ case also inspires us to review the existing procedures in mobilising Liaison Officers in different mountains and awarding the summit certificates to the climbers,” DG Dhakal said.
According to Satyarup, he also lodged a complaint at the Cyber Crime Police Station in Kolkata, seeking necessary action against Rathod couple for plagiarising his summit photos. Maharashtra police has already initiated a probe into the Rathods’ claims.
It’s still a mystery to investigators that how the Rathods accessed to Satyarup’s photographs. “I used my laptop at the Base Camp after returning from the summit while a few of climbing sherpas from our team transferred the summit photos to their mobile chips,” the Indian climber said. According to him, it was obvious to share the photos with the climbing sherpas who accompanied our team to the summit. “But, I am not blaming them for the goof-up,” he added.
“The image of local operators in the eyes of the western climbing community is already bad as it is,” Iswari Paudel, owner of Himalayan Guides Nepal Treks and Adventure, commented, “Activities like these from an expedition operator, is completely unethical and disgraceful not only to themselves but to the mountaineering industry in Nepal itself.”
The DoT needs to take swift and strict action against liars and forgers, he demanded.
If fraud was proved then the DoT could revoke the company’s licence, cancel the summit certificates and impose a restriction on the Rathods from coming to Nepal for mountaineering expeditions as per the existing regulations.
As per the DoT’s record, nine foreigners including two Indians (the Rathods) stood atop the summit along with 13 more climbing sherpas on May 23. But, the climbers who summitted from the northern side on the same day claimed that they had not spotted anyone at the top of summit from Nepal side till noon.
A climber shared that some of them met the Rathods on May 10, and until the date the Rathods had not even visited the Khumbu Icefall for their first rotation up the mountain. “They had done some minor training on the ice pinnacles near Everest Base Camp. They, however, had not gone to the Pumori high camp, or Kala Patthar or Icefall. If a team has not started acclimatisation until May 10, it is close to impossible to summit on May 23 unless the Rathods are super human fitness stars,” he added.
With the discussion with other Indian climbers who were at Camp 2, Camp 3 and Camp 4 during the period — from May 19 to May 24 — we came to know that none of the climbers had spotted the couple en route to the summit, Anjali Kulkarni, a climber from Mumbai said, referring to a joint complaint filed against the Rathods at Maharashtra Police.
“In fact, they added that all of them had seen this couple up to Everest Base Camp only and not above Base Camp,” she added.