Pune: Three weeks after being celebrated for being the first couple to reach the Everest summit, Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod have been rudely brought back to earth. Eight fellow mountaineers from Maharashtra have filed a complaint stating that the couple, who are police constables, was never at the summit and had, in fact, morphed pictures of themselves at the top.
Sources in the police department said, "After the mountaineers approached the commissioner, she spoke to a few experts and based on their opinion, directed the assistant commissioner to initiate a probe." Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla refused to comment.
Tarkeshwari Rathod, when asked about the inquiry and the morphed photographs, said, "I cannot comment as the case is being investigated by the Pune police and the Nepal government."
mid-day could not independently verify if the Nepal government had indeed instituted an inquiry.
On June 6, newspapers across the country had prominently published the Rathods' feat - that they had, on May 23, touched the summit of Mount Everest together - the first couple to have done so.
On June 16, mountaineers Anjali Kulkarni, Sharad Kulkarni, Surendra Shelke, Anand Bansode, Shrikant Chavan, Rupali Chavan, Manisha Waghmare and Amit Singh filed a complaint with police commissioner's office against the Rathods, disputing their claim of having reached the Everest summit. Four of them then met the police commissioner on June 17. On Monday, June 27, the complainants were called in to record their statements.
Anjali Kulkarni, one of the complainants, said the basis for their complaint is the photographs the Rathods submitted to prove their feat.
"These are the biggest giveaways. The pictures are clearly morphed. The couple's Himalayan suit colours and even their boots seem to have been changed at the summit. The colour of Dinesh Rathod's down jacket is red and black in his individual summit photo, whereas in the couple's summit photo his jacket colour is a yellow-orange. The same is the case with Tarkeshwari Rathod's outfit. Both seem to have changed their climbing boots too in separate pictures. Being able to change one's clothes mid-climb and not get frostbitten would be a miracle," Kulkarni said.
Among the other points made in the complaint is the date and time stamp on the photos. Dinesh Rathod had stated that he reached the Everest summit at 6.25 am on May 23, 2016, but the direction of the shadows indicates that the time the photo was taken was between 11 am and noon, the complaint states.
Interestingly, it is these very photographs that the Nepal Tourism Board 'verified' before awarding the couple their summit certificate. Officials from the Nepal Tourism Board remained unavailable for comment.
Makalu Adventures in Nepal, the agency that organised this climb for the Rathods, said they had done everything as per the rules. Speaking to mid-day over the phone, Mohan Lamsal, from Makalu, said, "I am aware of the complaint, but the Nepal Tourism Board verified the feat only after calling my two climbing Sherpas and me along with the Indian couple and asking detailed questions about the summit. They separately interviewed the couple and the climbing Sherpas and after four days officially declared the Rathods' Everest summit feat." Lamsal refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with the photographs submitted.
This is not the first time the Rathods have been alleged to have faked a summit. Eight climbers who scaled 10 of the highest peaks in Australia in November 2014 lodged a complaint that the Rathods completed only five peaks. "The couple had only completed five peaks. However, they came back and announced their successful summit of the Aussie10 Challenge in the Indian media and were felicitated. The Australian Mountaineering Agency refused to issue them the certificate," Kulkarni said, adding that this detail is also part of the complaint.
Kuntal Joisher, a mountaineer from Mumbai, who was in another climbing team on May 19, around the time the Rathods were supposed to have climbed, said he does not remember seeing Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod at any of the higher camps.
"Between May 19 and 24, we were at the Everest and neither my team nor I saw the constable couple at any of the higher camps. We did, however, see them at the Everest Base Camp."
The base camp comprises rudimentary camps that Everest climbers use during their ascent and descent.
Anjali Kulkarni said she and her fellow mountaineers decided to speak up when they discovered the truth about the photographs. "The reason we have taken up this case strongly is that such people are setting a bad example both in India as well as in Nepal. They should be stripped of their title."
Secretary of the Pimpri Chinchwad Mountaineering Association, Surendra Shelke, who is also a complainant, said, "We are not against the Rathods, but against what they have done. This belittles the efforts of genuine mountaineers. The Rathods were my students and had told me they wanted to be part of adventure sport to enable them to get faster promotions. I never imagined they would do something like this."