Sir Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa from his 1953 Mount Everest expedition led a colorful procession of hundreds of climbers and their fans through the Nepalese capital Tuesday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the conquest of the world's tallest mountain.
Gyalzen Sherpa, 85, one of three surviving Sherpa from the first Everest expedition, climbed into a horse-drawn carriage with Hillary, 83, and his wife, June, and placed yellow scarves around their necks.
They set off at the head of a parade of carriages bearing other famous Everest mountaineers, while a Gurkha army band played bagpipes and drums, and children waved flags and signs saying the mountaineers were symbols of courage.
"It's an honor bestowed on my father and Hillary," said Jamlin Norgay, son of the late Tenzing Norgay, who with Hillary was the first to reach the 8,850m summit on May 29, 1953.
"It's a historic moment for Nepal. And I feel it's being done in the right way," said Norgay, who reached the summit in 1996. He rode in the second carriage, with Junko Tabei from Japan, the first woman to climb Everest.
"More women have got to climb Everest now," Tabei said, adding that only 5 percent of the 1,200 Everest summitters have been women. "Many young people should climb," she said.
The procession paused in Katmandu's central Durbar Square, where the Nepal Mountaineering Association and city officials handed scarves, books, wooden carvings and photographs to the famous climbers, also including Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb Everest without bottled oxygen.
"Today has been a fantastic celebration of the warmth of the people of Nepal," Hillary told a cheering crowd that filled the square and the steps of several surrounding temples.
Hillary said he spoke on behalf of all the mountaineers "who have climbed the great Everest."
The climbers also were scheduled to be honored by Nepal's King Gyanendra and Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand on Thursday's 50th anniversary. Dinners, seminars, exhibitions and street festivals were also scheduled.
Two-thirds of those who have climbed Everest in the last 50 years are believed to be still alive, but only about 100 have come to Nepal's weeklong celebration.
Some were on the mountain, meeting old friends, or trying to make new climbs. A Sherpa named Appa, 42, made a record 13th climb on Monday, and more than 110 climbers and their Sherpas have reached the summit during the anniversary climbing season, which ends May 31.
"In the 1950s, it was very hard to get to the summit. These days everybody climbs. I thought the mountain may have become lower than it was before," Gyalzen Sherpa said.
He wore a cowboy hat and a medal issued by Queen Elizabeth II for those who participated in the first successful expedition. He said he had received the medal from Tenzing Norgay at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute where he taught mountain climbing, before his death in 1986.
Other mountaineers have set new records this season.
A 70-year-old Japanese ski instructor, Yuichiro Miura, became the oldest climber to reach the summit, while a 15-year-old Sherpa girl became the youngest.