Did amateur mountaineer morph photo to prove her Everest summit?

Updated: Jun 30, 2019, 07:56 IST | Anusha Subramanian | Mumbai

Despite having reached the top of Mount Everest, amateur mountaineer Nahida Manzoor had no visual proof, so she allegedly morphed a photograph. That's when the snowstorm hit

The colours and positioning are remarkably similar between the original photo of Bhawna Dehariya (left) and the allegedly morphed photo of Nahida Manzoor
The colours and positioning are remarkably similar between the original photo of Bhawna Dehariya (left) and the allegedly morphed photo of Nahida Manzoor

It takes two months to cover the 20km journey from the base camp to Mount Everest. But as amateur mountaineer Nahida Manzoor discovered, the fall from grace takes no time at all. Perhaps, due to the lure of rewards, accolades or even the promise of a government job, which are increasingly forcing amateur mountaineers to lie or use unethical methods to prove their summit of Everest, Manzoor, 23, a resident of Zewan, Srinagar, used morphed photos to prove her claim. Despite having actually climbed the tallest mountain in the world, she allegedly did this because she could not take pictures of her own at the summit and nor was her sherpa with her at the time. This act has led to questions being raised on her claim of being the youngest girl from Kashmir to be on top of the world.

Also Read: Mumbai: City mountaineer revisits near-death experience in the Everest jam

It was later discovered that her pictures were morphed from the original pictures of another climber, Bhawna Dehariya, from Madhya Pradesh, who also climbed Everest on the same day, but a lot earlier than Manzoor. According to sources in Kashmir, Manzoor was under pressure from her sponsors, J&K Tourism, J&K State Sports Council, DC Srinagar, TCI Max, Saffron Drinking Water and DIG CRPF, who had raised approximately R25 lakh for her climb, and her family, to prove her summit of Everest. It is also understood that she was likely to be honoured by the state for the feat and was offered a job with the government.

An original photo of Manzoor at base camp
An original photo of Manzoor at base camp

However, speaking to mid-day from Srinagar, Manzoor said, "I was under no pressure from anyone. I have not morphed my pictures. I got the pictures from a stranger climber who claimed he was at the summit and happened to take my pictures. I had summited Everest at 9.30 am on May 22, 2019, but could not take a photo. My sherpa was also not with me. In order to get a certificate, I had to submit my photograph at the summit. However, on June 3, I was informed by Transcend Adventures, the operator who did my entire logistics for this expedition, that my file has been kept aside because of lack of photographic proof at the summit. They said, 'Wait for a few days and we will come back to you on the status of your certificate.'" Hyderabad-based Transcend Adventures has been instrumental in getting several youngsters from the tribal community to climb mountains.

Also Read: Nepali sherpa scales Everest for 23rd time, creates world record

Kishore Dhankude, the first Indian civilian to summit Everest from both the north and south sides, was Manzoor's team leader and base camp manager. He has confirmed her summit. He said, "I have personally checked from several sources who were at the summit at the same time as Nahida and also interviewed Nahida about it and her descriptions of the summit are accurate."

She poses with her certificate
She poses with her certificate

A statement released by Transcend Adventures on their official Facebook page also confirmed her summit of the mountain, but clarified that the company has no knowledge of how she got her certificate. It reads, "Nahida's summit [was confirmed] by her sherpa. Her presence on the summit was further supported by a few other Indian teams and individuals, such as the NSG team on Mt Everest, and certain climbers who have publicly stated that they saw 'a Kashmiri girl just below the summit'. However, she or her sherpa have not taken [any] photo on the summit due to the reasons best known to them. In addition to all the above, [fellow climber] Mr Sharad Kulkarni was only a few metres behind her and had seen her on the summit." When contacted, an office-bearer at Transcend said, "We stand by the statement made with regard to Nahida on our official FB page. We have nothing more to say."

Also Read: Mortal remains of Odisha's 1st Everester reach home

Kulkarni said, "All through our Everest journey, Nahida was with us. I was just 5 minutes behind her at the summit at around 9.30-9.35 am." Kulkarni confirmed that he and his sherpa could not take pictures at the summit as well. "I had a frostbite kind-of condition and did not risk getting my hands out of the gloves and remove my camera that was inside. My sherpa also had a frostbite. Also the traffic jam was huge, so we just started descending. My wife, Anjali Kulkarni, was sick and could not make it to the summit. So, I only wanted to get back to her." When asked if he got a certificate, he said, "I was told my file was also kept aside, as I could not submit any photos. Hence, I have not claimed the certificate."

Kuntal Joisher
Kuntal Joisher

Manzoor's expedition report was drafted by Transcend based on the facts gathered by them and then submitted to the Department of Tourism (DoT), Government of Nepal, by the company Snowy Horizon Treks & Expeditions, as the climbing permit was issued to her by them. DoT, however, had kept hers and Kulkarni's files aside for consideration, subject to the presentation of a valid proof of a summit photographs and/or videos.

Manzoor returned to India without a certificate on June 3. But on June 13, news was leaked about her getting a summit certificate. Investigations by mid-day revealed that she went back to Kathmandu on June 12. Of her return journey to Nepal, she said, "[It was] to enquire whether my climbing permit and climb were legal." It is during this visit that Manzoor claims to having received her summit photo from a stranger. On June 13, she submitted it without validating or checking if the photo was original, along with a recommendation letter from Snowy Horizons to DoT, Nepal, and got a certificate issued in her name. "In sheer excitement, without validating if the photo was original and if it was actually mine, I blindly submitted the photo and got my certificate issued."

Bodha Raj Bhandari, chairman of Snowy Horizons, said, "We can only apply for the certificate. The report was already submitted. She came with the picture and we gave a letter recommendation to DoT. She herself went to DoT to receive the certificate." An official from Transcend said, "We are not aware of the means with which Nahida obtained her summit certificate. She did not consult us on the photo received by her.

We have been kept in a blind spot, and we got to know of this via social media." Meera Acharya, director at DoT, Nepal, said from Kathmandu, "We issued the certificate based on the evidence. But, then we came to know that she filed a photo morphed from another Indian climber, Bhawna Dehariya. We are now investigating and talking to people in the know of this incident to find out the truth." Acharya did not confirm if Manzoor's certificate will be cancelled. Manzoor categorically denies tampering with the photo. "I got the photo from a stranger and my mistake was that I did not validate the authenticity of the photo and did not inform anyone of having received the photo. I made a big mistake I admit."

Just a few weeks ago it was reported that four Indians from Haryana faked their summit to Everest this year. In 2016, mid-day had broke the story on Maharashtra constable couple, Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod's, fake Everest summit. All these incidents have raised a question on the Indian mountaineering scene. Kuntal Joisher, the first vegan in the world to have successfully summited Everest this year from the north side, said, "India has now become the largest country with climbers on Everest. Exactly 100 permits were issued this year. [However,] the end of season report is: 4 dead, 4 fake summit claims and over 15 climbers with frostbite injuries. Due to few inexperienced and untrained climbers, who only care about name and glory, the hard work and effort put in by many strong climbers is getting wasted. It's a sad state of affairs."

The no. of permits issued to Indians for Mount Everest this year

The no. of fake summit claims

What the rules say

As per DoT, Nepal, a picture of the summit is the only proof that one has been on the top. Earlier, it used to be one picture of summit with the face mask removed and face clearly visible, plus a picture and a video with a 360-degree view. Today, they accept pictures of the summit with face mask on, and video is not compulsory.

With inputs from Omar Bazaz in Srinagar

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