In 1977, Sir Edmund Hillary, to help recover from the death of his wife and youngest daughter, undertook Ganga tirtha, a pilgrimage along the entire length of the River Ganga. Starting at  Ganga Sagar, his jetboat journey took in Varanasi, Hardwar, Devprayag, then by foot to Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath and higher, where he almost died. 

For the people of India, it was a pilgrimage led by a hero of almost god-like status and millions lined the river to watch. “We roared in our jet boats into the great city of Kolkata, under the Howrah Bridge. And the crowds were absolutely mind-boggling. Three or four million people lining the banks, all of them waving, all there to get a glimpse of the amazing jet boats and my father, Ed Hillary.” recalls Ed’s son Peter. The warmth of our reception was incredible.”

Hillary’s teammates also included Indian mountaineers such as Capt Mohan Kohli, leader of the successful 1965 Indian Everest Expedition.

Ocean to Sky, lauded by the film critics, was inspired by an Indian family that filmmaker Michael Dillon came across at midnight the night before Sir Edmund Hillary’s funeral, as they waited a kilometre down the queue to file by Sir Edmund’s coffin. Amongst them was a boy of eight holding a white flower on a long stem that he planned to place on the coffin. Michael had filmed the original expedition and he realised with modern technology he could reincarnate the expedition colour footage to look as though it was shot yesterday, and he could gather all those who were on it to tell the story of that expedition, that pilgrimage, to bring it vividly to life for that boy, and for all the Indian community.

Hillary Ocean to Sky is in cinemas now.