[The action against the climbers highlights the importance of Everest for an impoverished Nepal, which is reeling after a devastating earthquake last year. Veteran climbers and experts said they had never known Nepal to take such drastic action for a faked climb of the peak, and some said they believed the authorities wanted to send a message.]
By Kai Schultz and Nida Najar
Satyarup Siddhanta, an Indian climber, holding in his right hand a photograph
of him on Mount Everest, along with a version that he said an Indian couple
had altered. Credit Bikas Das/Associated Press
KATHMANDU, Nepal — The mountaineering community was dubious in June, when Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod announced that they had achieved a lifelong goal, becoming the first Indian couple to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
Those doubts were confirmed this week when the Nepalese authorities said that the Rathods, both police officers in the Indian state of Maharashtra, had doctored photographs submitted to the government in applying for a certificate of a successful climb. The couple were barred from climbing Nepal’s mountains for 10 years.
“They provided fake, cropped pictures to prove that they summited Everest,” said Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, the director general of the Nepalese Department of Tourism, in a telephone interview on Monday.
The action against the climbers highlights the importance of Everest for an impoverished Nepal, which is reeling after a devastating earthquake last year. Veteran climbers and experts said they had never known Nepal to take such drastic action for a faked climb of the peak, and some said they believed the authorities wanted to send a message.
“I think the whole scene around Everest is being taken more seriously by the government now,” said Dawa Steven Sherpa, the managing director of Asian Trekking, a company based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Mr. Sherpa has climbed Everest twice. “The reputation of Nepal and Nepal’s tourism is at stake,” he added. “Everest is sort of the jewel in the crown.”
The couple have been keeping a low profile since they made their claim at a news conference in Kathmandu. “We were committed that we would not give birth to a child until we climb Mount Everest,” Mr. Rathod told reporters at the briefing.
“With pride now, we want to become parents,” his wife had added.
Indian police officials said that the couple had not been seen lately and that they had not reported to their jobs in Maharashtra, where a separate investigation is underway.
“They are not cooperating and have been absent for the inquiry,” said Ganpatrao S. Madgulkar, a police official in the city of Pune, in Maharashtra, who is looking into the case.
Indian climbers had been quick to accuse the Rathods of altering the photographs. One climber, Satyarup Siddhanta, told the police in India that the couple had used photographs he had shot of his ascent. Surendra Shelke, a complainant against the couple, told the Press Trust of India that the two had appeared in different sets of clothing in the photographs, even though climbers almost never changed gear on the mountain for fear of frostbite.
The couple could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Elizabeth Hawley, a Kathmandu-based historian who has chronicled Everest climbs for over five decades, said she had heard of people faking ascents but could not recall the government ever penalizing anyone.
The authorities in Nepal said they were not concerned that the deception would harm the prestige of scaling Mount Everest. “I think because of this incident the reputation has gotten even better,” said Mr. Dhakal of the Department of Tourism. “People are faking summiting Everest. That shows how eager they are to reach the top and how difficult it really is.”
Kai Schultz reported from Kathmandu, and Nida Najar from New Delhi.
Suhasini Raj contributed reporting from New Delhi