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India Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Mt. Everest Conquest - 2003-05-21

Sir Edmund Hillary and his late climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, have been honored by Indian mountaineers and officials for their conquest of Mount Everest 50 years ago. The ceremony starts a series of activities in India and Nepal commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the first ascent of Everest.

India Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee says he will never forget when he heard that Mount Everest had been conquered. At a New Delhi ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the ascent, he called it an achievement for all people.

"Together both of you achieved what seemed like a dream then ... it seemed as if it were not merely the accomplishment of two courageous mountaineers," he said. "Rather, we felt as if through your feat, the whole of mankind had scaled the highest peak on this planet."

At the ceremony, Sir Edmund Hillary remembered how his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, saved his life when he fell into a crevasse. He says the incident showed how close teamwork enabled them to be the first to conquer Everest.

"Now people have often asked me 'surely you must have felt a great sense of appreciation for Tenzing having saved your life like that.' Well, I do not know that I really did," he said. "The thing is that Tenzing and I were a team and I expected Tenzing to carry out the right procedure in an emergency, as I would have expected myself to do had our roles been reversed." The two men reached the top of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953.

Tenzing Norgay died in 1986, as one of India's most honored citizens. The Sherpa guide and climber was born in Nepal, but lived for most of his life in Darjeeling, India. Following his Everest triumph, he became the director of India's Mountaineering Institute.

Tenzing Norgay's son Jamling, who climbed Mount Everest in 1996, says there was a special bond between his father and Mr. Hillary.

"You can imagine in 1953 when both of them were climbing, Hillary did not speak Nepali or Sherpa and my father hardly spoke any English," he said. "Sleeping at 27,500 feet [8,300 meters] how were they able to communicate? I think that is what mountaineering and climbers are all about, working together as a team."

In his remarks, Mr. Hillary expressed concern about the tons of trash that climbers have left on Everest's slopes.

He also criticized what he described as the increasing commercialization of climbing, with guides leading inexperienced climbers up Everest for a fee of $65,000. Mr. Hillary says he and Tenzing Norgay were the lucky ones, because they could pick their own path and never had to walk in other people's footsteps.