Tenzing Norgay Award Winner Accused of Falsely Claiming He Reached Mt Everest Summit

Narender Singh Yadav is scheduled to receive the prize on August 29, but several mountaineers, including Tenzing Norgay’s son, have demanded cancelling his award.

Kolkata: Narender Singh Yadav, one of the recipients of the prestigious Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award this year, allegedly faked his claim of summiting Mt Everest in 2016, mountaineers from around India have alleged on social media since Tuesday.

On August 22, the 26-year-old was named one of the five recipients of India’s highest award for adventure sports in the ‘land adventure’ category for the year 2019 and President Ram Nath Kovind is slated to hand over the award on August 29. He is a resident of Nehrugarh in Rewari district of Haryana.

The controversy broke out after Kathmandu-based leading Nepali language daily newspaper Kantipur, on August 23, published the photo that Singh Yadav had submitted before authorities in Nepal as proof of reaching the summit. The article explained that the photo was morphed. Thereafter, Indian mountaineers shared the photo from their social media accounts and almost unanimously called it morphed.

A screenshot of the report in the Nepali newspaper Kantipur.

Besides, other mountaineers and sherpas (guides) who were present at the Everest during that time have claimed that Singh Yadav returned without reaching the summit.

Many discrepancies

Mountaineers pointed out what they feel are discrepancies in the photo: the oxygen mask he was wearing had no pipe; no reflections could be seen in his sunglasses; his shadows were contradictory to the shadows of anther mountaineer seen by his side and the flags he was carrying stood still despite the usual high wind. There was also no headlamp on his head and mountaineers said that Singh Yadav was wearing a helmet, which climbers do not wear on the day of attempting to reach the summit.

On August 25, mountaineering world record holder Satyarup Siddhanta published on Facebook two photos, one that was carried in the Nepal newspaper and another showing seemingly the same person in the same posture and clothing, only with a slightly different background and the oxygen mask missing, revealing lower half of his face. Dozens of mountaineers commented on Siddhanta’s post, calling the photos morphed.

Climbers recalled that Singh Yadav was part of a three-member team comprising him, Naba Phukon (Assam) and Sheema Goswami (Haryana). Phukon was the leader of the team. He, too, has alleged that Singh Yadav never made it to “the top of the world”.

“He never climbed the Everest summit. I was the leader of the team. He returned because he had insufficient oxygen. The photo he presented is morphed. I want the government to investigate and arrest the conman,” Phukon said. He also held a press conference in Assam.

A reputed Sherpa based in Kathmandu has also supported the claims of the other Indian mountaineers, saying that he was witness to how Singh Yadav and his female companion Seema Goswami had fallen ill.

Rescue team member says claim is fake

“I know for sure that he did not climb the summit (8,848 meters). I was part of the rescue team at Mt Everest that year and I know that he had lost touch with his guide, got stranded at ‘balcony’ (8,400 meters), and was feeling ill. He was running out of oxygen. Sherpas belonging to the rescue team had to bring him down. Goswami was finally airlifted,” Lakpa Sherpa, who climbed the Everest summit 7 times and the K2, the world’s second-highest peak, twice, said over the phone from Kathmandu.

“I remember it so vividly because he was profusely crying for failing to reach the summit and I consoled him, saying that there would be more chances. I am shocked to hear that he is getting India’s highest award for adventure sports,” Lakpa Sherpa said.

Debashis Biswas, India’s first civilian and one of only two people to have climbed seven of the world’s nine peaks above 8,000 meters of height that are accessible to Indian climbers (Indians are not allowed to climb the five others in Pakistan), echoed Lakpa Sherpa.

“I was present there too, though on the Lhotse expedition. However, due to bad weather, I had to ditch my summit plan. I stayed in camp 4 and camp 2 for a few more days. I clearly remember how Singh Yadav came down with the help of other sherpas and was crying inconsolably for having failed to reach the summit,” Biswas said.

Several mountaineers have alleged that Singh Yadav’s photo (right) has been morphed from the image on the left. Photo: Social media

Rudra Prashad Haldar, who ascended the summit on May 21, 2016, along with three others, made similar claims. “After coming down from the summit and reaching camp 4 and camp 2, we all knew that he had to botch his mission due to lack of oxygen,” Haldar said.

Migma Sherpa of Seven Summits Treks Pvt Ltd, which supplied logistics for Singh Yadav’s climb, said they had nothing to do in this regard. “We merely provided the logistics. We were not there to verify if he climbed. The sherpas who accompanied him said he had climbed. He submitted photos and the government should have verified those,” he said.

Social media clamour

Well respected mountaineers have used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter since Tuesday to draw the attention of the Union sports minister Kirren Rijiju to the allegations.

@KirenRijiju Sir, Narendra Singh Yadav of Haryana, who is selected for Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award. The Nepalese Newspaper of 23/8 said his Everest summit claim is false. Please don’t bring shame to Indian mountaineering @IndiaSports @YASMinistry @IndianMtrgFdn,” veteran mountaineer Debabrata Mukherjee wrote on Twitter.

Despite The Wire‘s repeated attempts to reach Singh Yadav over phone, text message and emails, he could not be contacted.

Various documents available online reveal he has on occasion described himself alternately as Narender Yadav, Narender Singh and Narender Rao. His Twitter handle bears the name Dr. Narender Singh Yadav, while his Facebook account carries the name of Narender Krishan Yadav. The Press Information Bureau’s August 22 release listing the recipients of the awards named him as Narender Singh.

Following the announcement on August 22, he received many accolades, including from Haryana chief minister Manoharlal Khattar, Union minister Ramdas Athawale and several BJP leaders. Singh Yadav shared those from this Twitter handle. However, there has been no activity on his social media accounts since August 24.

Reacting to these developments, Dhamey Tenzing Norgay, the youngest son of the late Tenzing Norgay, wrote on Facebook, “Hitting new heights of lows on Everest. If indeed Mr. Yadav/Singh did fake his Everest summit, which seems to be the case, then no matter what his other outdoor adventure accomplishments, he should not be considered for the prestigious Tenzing Norgay Sherpa National Adventure Award on the grounds of ‘lack of integrity’ for starters.”

Other than Mt Everest, Singh Yadav has claimed to have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters, highest peak of Africa), Mt Elbrus (5,642 meters, highest peak of Europe), Mt Kosciuszko (2,228 meters, Oceania), and Mt Aconcagua (6,962 meters, South America).

In May 2016, Pune-based couple Dinesh Rathod and wife Tarakeshwari, both police constables, claimed to be the first Indian couple to climb the Everest together. In June, they landed in a major controversy when mountaineers highlighted how the photos they presented were morphed. The couple was first suspended and, in August 2017, dismissed from the service. In August 2016, Nepal banned them from mountaineering in the country for 10 years.

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based journalist and author.