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Murder in the High Himalaya


The first gunshot to split the thin, mountain air went largely unnoticed by climbers. Most were still in their tents. The sun had risen, but it hadn't been up long enough to blunt the knifing cold, and no one expected to hear small arms fire on a mountaineering expedition 19,000 feet up in the Himalaya. One climber would later recall that the flock of ravens that hung around Advance Base Camp scavenging for food had suddenly lifted from the snow in a small squawking cloud of pitch-black wings.

The first clear day in a week of snowstorms saw sherpas conducting a ritual for the safety of the climbers—burning juniper branches, and invoking the protection of Buddhist deities to keep them from harm during their ascent of Cho Oyo, the world's sixth tallest mountain.

The day had started earlier behind razor wire some fifteen miles away at Tragmar military base. Before dawn, urgent orders had been issued to members of the People's Armed Police (the Wujin) stationed at Tragmar. Their job was to arrest or shoot anyone caught trying to cross the mountain passes from Chinese-occupied Tibet into Nepal. Refugees escaping from Tibet ruined the careful images China wanted to portray to the world: that of a pro-democratic superpower. They were to be stopped at all cost.

To the north, a long, snaking line of refugees had been spotted trying to evade Chinese checkpoints under the cover of darkness.

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