January 12, 2008 (Reuters/ NZPA)
Sherpa friends of Sir Edmund Hillary lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries, calling him a great philanthropist and friend of Nepal.
Edmund Hilary spent much of his life after his big climb helping Sherpa communities. In 2003 the Government conferred honorary Nepali citizenship on him to recognise his services to the people and the Solukhumbhu region where Mount Everest is located.
"I lit butter lamps and offered prayers for his reincarnation as a human being," said Ang Rita Sherpa, 60, an old friend who worked for 23 years with Sir Edmund and his Himalayan Trust. The Trust''s projects include 26 schools, two hospitals, an airport, many trails and scholarships for Sherpa children. "He has done so much for us. If he is incarnated he can again continue to do good work for the human beings," said Ang Rita, a devout Buddhist and the first graduate of the first school opened by Sir Edmund in the Everest region in 1960s. A special service would be held in Kathmandu, he said.
New Zealand flags flew at half-mast at Antarctica''s Scott Base, mourning the death of Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the greatest adventurers of the 20th century.
"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived, but most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi," NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark said.
Edmund Hilary scaled Everest in 1953, at the age of 33, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was his climbing partner. Edmund and Tenzing set off on a cloudless morning on the south peak of the infamous South Col. They inched ahead until they reached a 13-metre rock now known as the Hillary Step. At 11.30am they made it to the peak. For years neither would say who set foot there first, but after Tenzing''s death in 1986, Sir Edmund described the moment. "I had moved on to a flattish exposed area of snow … Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder."
Hilary"s firm friendship with Tenzing Norgay and other Sherpa climbers in the Everest region led to a request that he help them build a school. This was the beginning of a 50-year relationship with the Sherpa people. The school that he funded and helped build at Khumjung in sight of Mount Everest became the first of many.
He founded the Himalayan Trust as a fund-raising body that could give him the ability to build dozens of schools, two hospitals, several airstrips and cable bridges high across valleys.
In the 1950s the Everest region was one of the poorest areas of Nepal. Through Edmund Hilary"s Himalayan Trust the people of Everest began to understand the meaning of health, education and environment.
Edmund Hilary used his fame for the greater good. His legacy continues through the Himalayan Trust, and also through other organisations founded to support his work.
by New Zealand Press Association