Night had settled upon the roof of the world. With a jingling of harness and the clipclop of hooves, a small caravan wound slowly up the 17,000-ft. pass. Ahead lay the snowy summits of the Himalayas, an ocean of wind-whipped peaks and ranges that have served Tibet as a rampart since time began. Cavalrymen with slung rifles spurred forward; state officials in furs, wearing the dangling turquoise earrings of their rank, sat tiredly in the saddle; rangy muleteers in peaked caps with big earlaps goaded the baggage train up the steep path. As they passed a cairn of rocks topped by brightly colored flags printed with Buddhist prayers, each pious Tibetan added a stone to the mound, murmured the traditional litany: "So-ya-la-so."
They listened tensely for the sound of gunfire behind them, which would mean that the pursuing Red Chinese had clashed with the rearguard of Khamba tribesmen. Up front, scouts probed carefully to make sure Communist paratroops had not been dropped in the pass to bar their way. All of them—the 35 Khambas of the rearguard, the 75 officials, soldiers and muleteers—were charged with a solemn responsibility: to make good the escape from Tibet of the God-King in their midst—the 23-year-old 14th Dalai Lama.