Nepal bids farewell to Edmund Hillary

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Edmund Hillary’s beloved Sherpas, admirers and government officials gathered at the office of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) Tuesday to bid a final farewell to the Everest hero who was laid to rest in a state funeral in Auckland, New Zealand.

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After growing complaints that the multi-party government had failed to pay a fitting last tribute to the man who put Nepal, Mt. Everest and the Sherpa community on the world map and devoted himself to bringing education and healthcare to the remote villages in the mountainous north, Nepal made a conscious effort to rise to the occasion.

The Hillary admirers braved demonstrations on streets by mobs, which were protesting a hike in fuel prices and the consequent absence of transport from cities, to pay tribute to their hero.

Ailing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala sent a condolence message to Lady June Hillary, the Everest conqueror’s widow and a frequent visitor to Nepal. The New Zealander hero’s life was synonymous with the highest mountain peak in the world, the uplift of the Sherpas and the socio-economic progress of the Everest region.

“The government and people of Nepal shall always cherish fond memories of his selfless devotion to the cause of development of the Everest region, his humane qualities and courageous spirit, ” the message said.

“In his demise, we have not only lost an honorary citizen of Nepal but also one of the greatest well wishers and promoters of Nepal.”

Koirala also sent a condolence message to Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying Hillary had promoted the bonds of friendship between Nepal and New Zealand.

People garlanded Hillary’s giant photograph placed in the courtyard of NTB’s office, draped it with khatas — the white silken scarves used by the Sherpas to honour someone – and offered flowers and traditional marigold garlands.

“His towering personality and contribution shall remain imprinted in our hearts for ever,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, chief of Nepal Mountaineering Association, who was also the first batch of students in the school founded by Hillary in Khumjung village in 1961.

“Sir Ed built the airport at Lukla (the gateway to Mt Everest) in 1964,” Ang Tshering said. “If he hadn’t, the Everest region would not have been half as popular as it is today.”