Update: August 28, 2020: After multiple media reports and strong negative reaction from the mountaineering community, the committee that determines who get the award had pulled Singh’s name off the list and is starting an investigation as to the validity of his summit claim. source
Many in the Indian mountaineering community are outraged that an individual who allegedly faked his 2016 Everest summit is to be awarded the prestigious Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for Land Adventure from India’s President Ram Nath Kovind in a virtual ceremony on August 29, 2020.
Narender Singh calmed he summited, but teammates and other climbers are quoted saying he was rescued below the Balcony on the night he claimed he summited. Further, a deep investigation by Indian media suggested he photoshopped a picture to “prove” he summited. Singh has denied the accusations and offered no further summit proof. The politically well-connected individual has remained mostly silent on the controversy. He was climbing with Seven Summits Treks.
Indian journalist, Anusha Subramanian, covered the story extensively in 2016 but couldn’t find definitive proof of fraud. But today, she provided an update today in mid-day.com. She contacted Singh’s team leader, Naba Kumar Phukon who is quoted:
Speaking from Assam, Naba recounted the conversation between him and Singh. “On the evening of May 19, 2016, Narender and I were at South Col (Camp 4). Narender complained to me that he did not have sufficient oxygen, I advised him to descend as without oxygen one cannot summit Everest. I then left and summited Everest on May 20 at 7:45 am. On my return I met climbers from Bengal police at South Col and asked them about Narender. They mentioned that they met him mid-way between Camp 2 and 3. I met him again on May 21 at Camp 2, he had developed frostbite. When I left for base camp he was still at camp 2. I reached Kathmandu on May 23, received my certificate and came home.”
And another quote, this one from Lakhpa Sherpa, who was part of the rescue team on Everest in the May 2016 season said,
“In 2016, Narender Singh was not able to summit Mt Everest. I was in the rescue team that season and we rescued him from Everest Balcony (8,400 mts). He was not able to go ahead of the balcony. I was shocked to see the summit certificate in his hands. It is the mistake of Nepal’s operating company, so he should not be given such a prestigious award. There should be proper judgment during the distribution of such a paragon award, otherwise it will be disrespectful to many good Indian climbers.”
Subramanian offered this summit photo and the alleged altered version:
There have been multiple false claims of summits by Indian climbers over the past few years. In 2016, a police couple from Pune, Dinesh & Tarakeshwari Rathod was found guilty of faking their summit bid and fired from their jobs.
The Indian government often awards summiteers with cash and even land, thus the incentive to push all boundaries to claim a summit. However, these ambitions come at a considerable cost. In 2019, there were 21 deaths across six of the 8000-meter peaks climbed in the spring season. Indian climbers accounted for eight of the deaths. To put this in perspective, The Himalayan Database shows that from 2000 to 2018, nine Indians died on Nepal 8000-meter peaks. In 2019, Indian climber deaths were almost double the last 18 year’s Indian toll.
In my judgment, the primary causes for last year’s deaths were client inexperience, along with guides who lacked proper training, experience, and oversight for their naive clients.
I explored why so many Indian climbers die in the high mountains in my Everest 2019 Season Wrap-up, but this is the money quote:
I don’t claim to be a cultural expert, but I did find interesting this somewhat harsh opinion piece by Amit Chowdhury, who is a veteran of numerous Himalayan mountaineering expeditions and ex-Principal of a Mountaineering and Skiing Institute who was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2014 for his lifetime contribution to Adventure Sports. Published on May 24, 2019, in The Times India, it’s well with a read, but these were the highlights for me and potential reasons for the increase in Indian climbers’ deaths:
- Lacking self-sufficiency and climbing experience
- Seeking Fame
- Lack of Funds to afford a proper team
- Ignorant Enablers
I wanted an insider take on these fake summits and contacted well-respected Indian Kuntal Joisher. He has summited Everest from both sides, including a 100% pure vegan lifestyle in 2019 – all of his clothing and gear didn’t use animal products. Kuntal told me:
“… this has been a big problem in the Indian mountaineering scene.. especially around Everest with many many fake summits in the past few years. I think exposing fake summits is important as it sets a proper deterrent, but is not the solution. No rules and laws will ever be a good enough solution. There needs to be a culture shift, a mindset shift, an attitude shift for this problem to get addressed”.
The Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award is seen as one of India’s highest national awards for adventure sports and is viewed as promoting adventure to the youth. Each awardee receives statuettes, certificates, and a cash prize worth USD$6,700.
I strongly believe in helping the youth explore adventure; however, it must come with ethics.
Memories are Everything