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Nepali Sherpas pray for Hillary's reincarnation

world Updated: Jan 11, 2008 10:58 IST
Gopal Sharma

Nepali Sherpa friends of Sir Edmund Hillary, who died on Friday, lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for the mountaineer, calling him a great philanthropist and friend of Nepal.

Hillary, who scaled Mount Everest in 1953 along with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, spent much of his life afterwards helping Sherpa communities in Nepal, including projects to build hospitals and schools.

In 2003 the government conferred honorary Nepali citizenship on Hillary in recognition of 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 has worked for 23 years with Hillary and his Himalayan Trust that implements development projects in Nepal.

Hillary's projects built 26 schools, two hospitals, an airport, numerous trails and provided scholarships for Sherpa children in the Himalayan nation, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest.

"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 Hillary in the Everest region in 1960s.

"Many Sherpa people have offered private prayers while many others are holding special services in monasteries," he said, adding that Hillary's friends and Sherpas would organise a special service for him in Kathmandu.

Hillary, an avid environmentalist, was instrumental in opening the Sagarmatha National Park that has played a pivotal role in preserving mountain environments in the Everest region.

Sagarmatha, or the head of the ocean, is the Nepali name of the mountain. The 1953 feat of Hillary and Tenzing Norgay brought scenic Nepal into the limelight as a hotspot for adventure tourism in the world.

Tenzing Norgay died in 1986 in Darjeeling, India, at the age of 72.

"It is very important for the people on the mountain to treat the mountain with considerable respect ... do all you can to protect them, keep them clean," Hillary told Reuters in an interview during his last visit to Nepal in April last year.

Hillary's other close friends said his death, at the age of 88, was a great loss for the impoverished Himalayan nation.

"It (the death) was not unexpected unfortunately," said Elizabeth Hawley, a mountaineering historian and a long-time Hillary friend. "But still it is a terrible loss for all his family, friends and the Sherpa people."

"The death is a very great loss for Nepal, specially for the Sherpas," said Hawley, who also works for the Trust.

She said the Trust would continue its activities among the sherpas.