Everest conquest 50 years on

It was 50 years ago this week that Sir Edmund Hillary, on his way down from Mount Everest, uttered the immortal words: “Well George, we knocked the bastard off.”

Yesterday Hillary was celebrating his conquest of Mount Everest once again, though this time he confined himself to the more diplomatic: “It’s been a wonderful morning.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of his epic ascent, Hillary yesterday led a procession of veteran climbers through the streets of medieval Kathmandu.

Gyalzen Sherpa (85) one of three surviving sherpas from the 1953 British Everest expedition, clambered into a horse-drawn carriage with Hillary (83) and his wife, June.

Before setting off, the sherpa placed yellow scarves around their necks. They were followed by carriages bearing other famous Everest mountaineers, as well as by a Gurkha army band playing the bagpipes, and hundreds of Nepalese schoolchildren waving flags and signs.

“It is an honour bestowed on my father and Hillary,” said Jamling Norgay, the son of the late Tenzing Norgay, who with Hillary was the first to reach Everest’s 8 850-metre summit on May 29 1953. “It is a historic moment for Nepal.
And I feel it is being done in the right way,” he added.

Norgay’s family had earlier complained that the Queen had treated the sherpa unfairly and should have given him the same knighthood she awarded Hillary. Instead the British gave him a medal. Yesterday, however, Jamling Norgay, who climbed Everest in 1996, said: “I wish it was my father sitting here rather than me.”

Sir Edmund flew into Nepal last week, looking exhausted after two days of official engagements in Delhi. Yesterday he appeared to have recovered, telling a crowd that filled Kathmandu’s Durbar square: “Today has been a fantastic celebration of the warmth of the people of Nepal. We say our thanks to you and Nepal for your warmth and generosity.” He said he spoke on behalf of all mountaineers who had slogged up “great Everest”.

Other climbers who attended yesterday’s event included Junko Tabei from Japan, the first woman to climb Everest, and Reinhold Messner, the first person to reach the summit without oxygen in 1978. Messner, widely regarded as the world’s greatest climber, yesterday said Nepal was still a poor country that needed to be developed. “I was very sad when I went up [to the Everest base camp] this year to see sherpas, exhausted, sleeping beside their very heavy loads, up to 50kg, and they have to do this work because they have to feed their families,” he said.

The Nepalese government is hopeful that this year’s golden jubilee celebrations will attract tourists back to Nepal who have been scared away by the kingdom’s bloody Maoist insurgency. Nepal’s King Gyanendra is throwing a gala dinner in Hillary’s honour tomorrow, and will also make him an honorary citizen. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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