The horse dies running toward the mountain—the hippo dies running toward the Himalayas. (1)
The area in front of the dead people frozen to the cliff looked particularly clear. Although it was only a few dozen meters away from them, under such circumstances, it would be four or five hours before they would really get there.
When Poker-face looked back, he realized that there actually wasn’t a road at all. There was range upon range of mountains and numerous ravines here, so they would have to climb the cliff if they wanted to keep walking. It wasn’t impossible, but it was still very dangerous. He remembered that when he left, Deren Lama told him that it wasn’t dangerous to climb a mountain when you felt sure you would fall to your death. The real danger was looking at a mountain and thinking you had a chance to climb over it. Those were the mountains that devoured more lives.
Even so, he had no intention of retreating.
Since Laba was old, he had to rest on the cliff for a long time before he was finally able to see the frozen bodies.
There were so many, but Laba only needed one look at the positions of the bodies to know how they had died—all of the bodies were leaning against the cliff, just as he had done not too long ago. They must have been trapped here by the previous strong wind, and like him, they also wanted to rest before leaving. As a result, the temperature suddenly dropped and many people froze to death as they were resting from their exhaustion.
In cold places, death and sleep were sometimes the same. After all, it only took a few seconds to freeze to death most of the time.
“Boss, these people must’ve come out from the mountain, rested here, and froze to death when the temperature suddenly dropped and the winds picked up. It seems pretty clear. There were so many people that many of them may have fallen over the cliff after freezing to death and the bodies were buried in the snow, never to be found.”
“Came out?” Poker-face was a little curious. “Are people active in the snowy mountain?”
“It’s not what you think, Boss. Foreigners often go in, but we don’t count them. They just want to know the route to cross these mountain passes in order to get through the no-man’s land ahead. They don’t want to explore anything,” Laba said, his tone implying that the place was really a no-man’s land.
After hearing this, Poker-face just nodded, his eyes naturally turning in the direction of the bodies. Laba sighed.
At this time, the other porter resting nearby shouted a few words in Tibetan. Poker-face didn’t understand, but Laba did, so he translated, “They’re all strangers.”
Laba turned to look at the frozen bodies. He couldn’t see them clearly in the snow, but he could get a look at their blue faces after sweeping some of the snow off. They really weren’t familiar.
This was unlikely. Even if the porters of Motuo didn’t know everybody, they at least knew about ninety percent of them. And with such an accident, there was a chance that they would probably know half of them. But these faces obviously belonged to strangers.
“It’s not anyone from Motuo,” Laba said as he looked at Poker-face. It seemed like he wanted to ask something. He hadn’t heard of such a team of strangers entering or leaving Motuo, so where did these people come from? Did they enter no-man’s land from some other place and come out somewhere nearby?
Laba was full of doubts, because as far as he knew, there were only a few paths that passed through this unpopulated area since ancient times. The porters here were the only ones who knew these paths and passed them down through the generations from old to young. Since it was useless to use words to describe them, these paths had to be traveled more than a dozen times before they could be remembered. As a result, it was completely impossible for them to be leaked.
The other porter continued to speak in Tibetan and told Laba that there was something to be gained—meeting a corpse in a snowy mountain sometimes wasn’t a bad thing. First, the corpse might be carrying a lot of things they could exchange for money; second, if they knew the body’s identity, they could also get information fees from the family members.
At this time, he pointed to a cluster of corpses in the distance and Laba immediately noticed that they were three foreigners. Their clothes were completely different from those of the others, and the dead Tibetans near them had clearly helped them carry many packages.
Few people didn’t know that foreigners’ packages had many valuable things. Generally speaking, Laba wouldn’t attack foreigners. First, the lamas had good relations with them so if any foreigners were killed, things wouldn’t end easily and the culprits would be severely punished. Second, foreigners always paid half of their money when they came back. Moreover, the things they carried were very precious and strange, so if the culprits sold them, it may be discovered by the temples or the government.
But this time was somewhat different. Since these foreigners obviously didn’t start from Motuo, there would be nothing wrong if their belongings appeared there.
It took them a great deal of effort to get the backpacks off before they moved on. It’s pointless to mention the whole process here because there was no description in the notes, but in short, it wasn’t easy.
It was around sunrise the next day when Laba led everyone to a snowy slope. They dug a hole in the snow to keep out the wind while they rested, and only then did they have a chance to see what was in the backpacks.
The bags were basically filled with instruments and rock specimens. Laba only knew that they were specimens because foreigners always took some stones with them, but he didn’t know what the specimens were for.
While flipping through the things in the bags and guessing how much the instruments cost, they found two gold balls.
The balls were placed in an iron box, along with another item tightly packed in cloth.
Of these three things, the two gold balls weren’t covered while that thing was wrapped so well. Was it worth more than the gold balls?
But when they unwrapped it, they found that it was a very ugly black stone-like metal.
Throughout the whole process, Poker-face was looking at the only thing in the backpacks that was considered absolutely worthless: a notebook densely packed with foreigners’ words.
Laba looked at Poker-face intently and decided not to disturb him for the time being. Since he and his companion had two gold balls, he figured they didn’t have to go any further. Maybe they were already richer than Poker-face. Laba was immersed in ecstasy and felt that this was the most important day of his life.
But just as he was feeling happy and wondering how to explain to Poker-face his reasons for retreating, Poker-face handed him the foreigner’s notebook and asked him what a line meant.
It turned out that on a certain page of the notebook, something had been drawn. On the border, the foreigner wrote a note in crooked Tibetan.
Laba didn’t know many words, but he understood this Tibetan sentence because a lama once said these things when he was worshiping Buddha. This sentence in Tibetan meant: “the world’s limit”.
Laba didn’t understand. He looked at the picture beside the Tibetan words and then gave Poker-face an I-only-know-so-much expression.
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(1) You can thank Tiffany for this thorough analysis lol: When a horse looks at the mountain, it thinks it’s close, but when it starts running towards it, the distance is so far that the horse might as well die while running. Basically, it’s used to say something you think is close, but actually far away. When a hippo looks at the Himalayas, the hippo dies while running. First, it’s a play on words, “马” means “horse”; “河马” means “hippo”, but if we take part the words, they could be seen as “river horse”. It was a stupid joke the author came up with. Second, “河马” is pronounced as “hé mǎ”, there is an author named “何马（hé mǎ）”, and he wrote a book called The Tibet Code, so it may also be a dig at that author. Overall, he meant that since it is the Himalayas, it presents a greater challenge.