Dinesh Rathod had posted this picture on Facebook of him at the Everest base camp.
In early June, Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod told reporters that they had climbed the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest. In doing so, the two 30-year-olds - both police officers from the city of Pune - were thought to have become the first Indian couple to conquer the 29,035-foot-tall Everest together.
The couple proudly told reporters that they had put off becoming parents until they made the climb. "We were committed that we would not give birth to a child until we climb Mount Everest," Dinesh Rathod told reporters at a news conference June 5. "With pride now, we want to become parents."
For many, it was a feel-good story. At least 70 Indian nationals had climbed the mountain over the past season, but three from West Bengal had died during their climb. The Pune police force and Ram Shinde, the minister of state for Maharashtra, where Pune is located, were among those to offer congratulations.
However, several media outlets this week began to question whether the couple's feat was real. Now police have opened a probe to determine whether the couple actually made it to Everest's summit - or whether they faked it.
Speaking to the Hindu newspaper, Pune-based mountaineer Surendra Shelke said the timing of the climb had immediately struck many in the climbing community as unusual. "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," Shelke said.
According to Shelke, although the Rathods were seen at the Everest base camp, no one had seem them higher up the mountain. "From the people in the team who accompanied the Rathods, we gathered that the duo had not even reached what is known as the first acclimatisation rotation before the main push to the summit - the Khumbu icefall [at 17,999 ft] - by May 10," the climber told the Hindu. "So, there is no way they could have completed their climb by May 23 as they claimed."
Questions were also raised about the evidence of the trip that the Rathods had shared on social media.
Buzzfeed India uncovered evidence that one photograph 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. Buzzfeed noted that the couple appeared to be wearing different sets of kits, boots and all, in the photographs they shared - something mountaineers like Shelke said would be almost impossible on a climb as difficult as Everest.
Climbers who knew the couple said their previous boasts were also inaccurate. The couple had claimed to have completed the Aussie 10 challenge by climbing the 10 highest peaks in Australia, but Anjali Kulkarni told the Hindu that she was with the couple on that trip and that their claims were "completely fake," as they had barely climbed five peaks.
The Indian media is reporting that the Pune police department is investigating the Rathods' claims after eight climbers from Maharashtra filed a complaint against the couple.
The group that organized the Rathods' climb features pictures of the couple that appear to have been taken on the summit and have disputed suggestions that the climb was faked. "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," Mohan Lamsal of the Nepali company Makalu Adventure explained. "They separately interviewed the couple and the climbing Sherpas and after four days officially declared the Rathods' Everest summit feat."
Speaking to the BBC, Lamsal also said that there was "some politics going on" within the climbing community about the case. The couple has mostly kept quiet except for a short statement from Tarakeshwari Rathod to the BBC saying that she and her husband had "climbed Everest."
However, some in the international mountaineering community have suggested that fake claims about reaching the Everest summit are hardly rare, although they had reduced in recent years as fewer climbers made attempts. "This all seems to point at yet another Everest fraud, indicating that things have indeed gotten back to normal," Kraig Becker, a mountaineering writer based in Tennessee, observed on his blog.