An Indian couple’s asserted triumph of Mount Everest was swiftly stripped away Monday when Nepalese authorities discovered the duo had faked photos of their trek to the famed summit, thus forcing the country’s government to ban them from climbing all mountains in Nepal for a decade.
Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod “provided fake, cropped pictures to prove that they summited Everest,” Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, director general of the Nepalese Department of Tourism, told The New York Times.
On June 5, the married couple, who are both 30 years old, announced at a press conference that they had successfully summited Everest, the tallest peak in the world, on May 23, a claim the Hindustan Times previously reported made them the first Indian couple to accomplish the feat.
After providing pictures showing the two atop the summit as proof, the Rathods were granted a certificate from the Nepalese government validating their historic climb. The couple even proclaimed to news reporters that their trek ― a joint lifelong goal ― symbolically meant that they could now become parents, HuffPost India reported.
At the time, media outlets, along with the Indian government and the Maharashtra police department where the couple works as constables, celebrated their achievement as a national victory, according to The Hindu.
Veteran mountaineers, however, were quick to tear down the couple’s supposed achievement, claiming that the alleged dates of their trek and summit did not add up and that their photos were doctored and did not provide proof that they had reached the treacherous, 29,000-foot summit. Additionally, BuzzFeed pointed out that the Rathods appeared to be wearing different gear in photos allegedly taken during and after their climb, which would be impossible given the extreme temperatures and risk for frostbite if the couple were to have changed their wardrobe mid-trek.
When confronted with these accusations, Tarakeshwari Rathod told BBC that she and her husband had indeed “climbed Everest.”
But on July 1, fellow Indian mountaineer Satyarup Siddhanta filed a formal complaint to local police claiming the Rathods had edited pictures of his own ascent to Everest’s summit on May 21, superimposing their faces on the images to purport their own successful climb, The Hindu and the Indian Express reported.
Consequently, Nepal’s tourism department opened an investigation into Siddhanta’s claims and reported that the Rathods were not cooperative during their probe. On Monday, the government banned the couple from mountaineering in the country for 10 years.
“Our investigation shows that the couple faked their summit,” Prasad Dhakal told Agence France‑Presse on Monday.
“Despite several attempts to get clarifications from them, they did not cooperate with us during the investigation,” he added. “The two Sherpas that assisted them are also absconding.”
A Mount Everest historian based in Kathmandu told The New York Times that while faking a summit climb is common, she could not recall the Nepalese government issuing a punishment for doing so.
Ryan Waters, a veteran mountaineer who has completed 20 expeditions in the Himalayan mountains, including four up to Everest, believes the harsh ban shows that the Nepalese government is starting to take its mountaineering industry more seriously.
“In a lot of ways [the Nepal ministry] are now waking up to the fact that the Everest industry is a big reflection on the country,” Waters, who is also a founder of the climbing expeditions company Mountain Professionals, told The Huffington Post.
“They are more aware of ideas like minimum requirements of experience to attempt the mountain and things like this, so I think banning people who knowingly try to dupe the community, will keep the ethics more in line,” Waters added. “These are not the kinds of people we all want to share a route with.”
An estimated 450 people completed the trek to Mount Everest’s summit during this year’s climbing season, which ran from March through May, according to The Guardian.
This story was updated to include a quote from Waters.