Following in footsteps
With heading back into Germany out of the question, Zeus and Richard decided to try their luck in Tibet. Zeus was worried they might be tracking their jet, so they took a commercial flight direct to Katmandu. Zeus paid cash for everything to further cover their tracks.
From Katmandu, Zeus booked a pilot and helicopter to take them to the Sikkim region of India. The Mil Mi-24 was a beastly looking aircraft. A relic of the Soviet-Afghan War, it was a heavily armored, high speed craft with just enough range to get them to Sikkim.
A couple hours after takeoff the helicopter touched down at the Civil Aerodrome Bagdogra, a surprising modern airport. To try and discover what the Nazi’s were so intrigued with they would follow in the footsteps of the Ernst Schaffer expedition using his and Max Kueble’s notes and journals as guides.
Zeus had arranged their ground travel, two Titus X Carbon mountain bikes. The frames were carbon fiber meaning the entire bike only weighed five pounds. Zeus also procured two small electric motors and two compact batteries. They added an extra fifteen pounds to the bikes but they would be well worth it.
The battery provided 200 hours of power to the small electric motor that cranked out enough torque to move the bike’s along with a passenger. There is also has an innovative energy recovery system. A series of small magnets mounted on the spokes just around the hub. As the wheel spins the magnets revolve around the hub where a small generator is positioned. Each rotation produced a fraction of a volt but over time after thousands of rotations it accumulated enough to lengthen the batteries life.
Through the level valleys of the Sikkim region the electric motor did the work, eating up the miles. They struggled to make progress though with the constant stops along the expedition route to investigate villages, trading posts and ruins. After three hours and only making fifty miles they decided each village warranted a five minute ride through. There were many but most were no more than one extended family comprised of a few houses.
It took them two days to reach the Chinese controlled Tibetan border. They made camp a mile from it and waited for night fall to cross through the mountains. Zeus wanted to remain off the grid as much as possible and he didn’t want their passports getting them flagged. The risk of being caught and branded a spy by China seemed infinitely better than being murdered.
The little electric motor lacked power to pull any kind of incline forcing them to peddle by the moonlight into Tibet. Richard struggled to keep pace as the elevation soared over 15,000 feet. Even with twenty years on Richard, Zeus probably could have competed in the Tour de France.
They continued slogging up the mountains until a few hours before dawn. The terrain was covered in gravel and loose stone that the bikes easily traversed. Most of the large boulders had fallen away from the narrow Tahr path. The Tahr was a hairy relative of the goat that had adaptive to life on the rugged slopes. With their size almost double to their domestic cousins and the small herds that they traveled in, their hooves trampled down excellent bike trails.
They reached the summit of the Tahr path and the glorious downhill began. They teetered on the edge of speed and safety making it down the mountain. Pressing put distance between them and the border, Zeus stopped using his brakes all together, to keep up Richard actually had to peddle. It scared Richard out of his wits, especially as the sun began to light the mountain revealing a drop of thousands of feet.
Richard found himself leaning into the mountain causing him to fall over several times. Zeus never looked back; he pushed forward, relentlessly, to keep driving Richard. Zeus didn’t much like the idea of getting caught and being used as an international political bargaining chip.
Once down the mountain its shadow kept them hidden from any prying eyes. It took the sun another three hours to bathe the west side of the mountain they traveled down. The path ended onto a high rocky plateau and the electric engines were able to take back over.
They spent the rest of the day traveling far from any marked roads. Zeus used his GPS unit to verify their headings making sure they were on his pre-charted course. They made it to Shigatse and decided to rest for the night. It was a sprawling little town mixed between modern and old. It was nestled in between the peaks and along the Nyang Chu River.
The German expedition only went to three modern cities, Shigatse being one of them. Tashilhunpo Monastery sat on a hill overlooking the city with a backdrop of the majestic mountains. They spent the day searching with no leads.
From Shigatse they back tracked the expedition route to Gyantse. Tibetan cities looked like they were cloned across the landscape. Their extreme heights were dominated by towering mountains taller than any in the continental U.S. There was a central monastery positioned on high ground looking down upon the city. The valleys were lush and green along their rivers and the mountains were barren and rocky.
The cities themselves looked torn between the ancient peaceful Buddhist beliefs and modern commercial world that increasingly encroached into the roof of the world. Gyantse had a smaller population making the city much easier to search. Split up Zeus and Richard covered all the streets in just a few hours revealing nothing toward they search.
They stayed the night in a hotel with the city name. The accommodations were simple. They brought the bikes into the room so they could do maintenance on them; lubricating the chains, checking the brakes and struts and pressurized the tires. It took them a couple of hours to finish, but they were still in bed early for a good night’s sleep.
They needed the rest for the 160 remaining miles to Lhasa. The route took them through the valleys, then clung to Yumco Lake one of the many large bodies of water in the region, then a fifteen mile trek through the mountains to the Lhasa River Valley.
Zeus gave them plenty of incentive to make it by nightfall. They were booked at the Lhasa Grand Hotel. It was in the middle of Lhasa, walking distance to the Potala Palace the former residence of the Dalai Lama. After sleeping on the ground at the border and between their sore legs and bottoms, they were both dreaming of spa’s and massages.
The road network built and maintained by the Chinese government made the trip quite easy and pleasant. Lhasa looked much like Shigatse and Gyantse. The Lhasa Valley was bathed in afternoon sunshine. There was an aura to the city like other holy places of the world. Travel restrictions were limited by the Chinese state which may have been a good thing to control excessive tourism.
The streets were filled but passable. There was an assortment of vehicles that were mostly focused around tourism: small busses, taxis, rickshaws. They checked into the Lhasa Grand Hotel. Richard had a ground floor Villa room overlooking the lake, Zeus was one floor above.
They met for a large breakfast before heading into the city. They began at the University of Tibet a few blocks from the hotel. They found some maps and sketches of the city pre WWII. It narrowed their search to the area directly around the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and a few outlying areas.
They spent two days combing over every inch of Lhasa schools, libraries, monasteries, and grave yards. They discreetly asked about the German expeditions but no one had any information. It looked like they trip was a dead end. They were heading back to the hotel about to concede defeat when a street peddler whistled at them.
He was leaning back in a wooden chair. As they came over he looked down the street in both directions making sure no one else took notice. “You looking for that something special to remember your Tibet trip?” Zeus just nodded slowly. “Follow Goba.”
He led them down an alley to a black sheet hanging in front of a makeshift tent. Goba held it back for them, then followed in. The tent was filled with relics both real and fake. It was a mixture of Tibetan, Chinese and Indian all thrown together. The hodge-podge had weapons, pottery, and figurines some aged to look old and some cleaned to look good.
They browsed about with nothing of interest to them. Zeus lifted a corner of a rug draped over a table. Their host quickly ran over to stop him from investigating further. “Why do you have a freezer as a table?”
“Freezer, no freezer just table.” Goba patted lightly with his hand.
Richard came over to see what Zeus was looking at. Richard could hear the drone of the fan on the freezer unit. He bumped his shoe into it, “Solid table.”
After frustrating results so far Zeus got short with the Goba. “I wanna see it.” He pulled two 100 donation Chinese bills from his pocket, waving them in the air.
The man snatched them quickly, cleared the top and yanked the rug off the freezer. He lifted the lid, Zeus and Richard leaned in. Lying on the bottom is a hunk of ice and it looked like there was a face in it. Zeus went back to his pocket for another bill, “We need to examine it more closely.” The man grabbed the bill again, “If you break, you buy.”
Carefully Zeus and Richard lifted the ice block and placed it on the carpet that once shrouded the freezer. The ice was solid, covered in a layer of frosty condensation from the freezer. They wiped it away revealing a human form beneath the ice. The peddler made a push for a sale, “Frozen for a long time, a few hundred years I think he a monk.”
Zeus pulled a pocket LED light and went over the iceman. He was contorted with one leg bent completely behind him at the pelvis, the other from the knee. His shoulder had broken and one arm frozen behind the body the other folded across the waist. The iceman wore light green clothes and had some military decorations.
Zeus leaned closer to Richard, “This is a British Army Uniform.” Zeus handed Richard the light and he went over the body. Around the soldiers neck Richard caught a glimpse of something. He aimed the light and strained his eyes trying to see through the ice.
Color came to Richard first it was gold but the pendent had black and red in it. He shifted his angle and caught it straight on. It was a swastika. Richard forced his enthusiasm deep down inside himself. He feigned moving around the body to examine other parts. Richard made eye contact with Zeus and touched his hand to his clavicle.
Zeus leaned in and saw it. He got to his feet and asked the man, “How much for it.”
Goba snapped right back, “20000 Yuan.” It was roughly 3200 U.S. dollars, pitons compared to what it could be worth historically. Richard could see gears turning in Zeus’ head but it had nothing to do with the price.
Zeus pulled a stack of bills from his pocket. He counted them out totaling 1000 yuan. “I need to get more money and a truck. I will throw in another five thousand if you show us where you found it.”
The black market dealer’s eyes were gleaming, “My brother found, he at the bar.”
They returned the iceman to his freezer, and departed the tent. Zeus walked them in several loops making sure they weren’t being followed, before going to the front of the hotel. He began pulling stacks of money from under his shirt. “Go get a truck, I don’t care if you have to rent it or buy it, and call your professor friend and see if she has connections at Tibet University.” He handed Richard the satellite phone packed discreetly into a backpack.
Richard immediately dialed Dr. Al. It was 5 a.m. on the American East Coast and Dr. Al answered first ring, “Hello.”
“It’s me, I need something.” Richard waited the six long seconds for his words to reach her and her response to come back. “You always do, what do you need?”
“I found an artifact; do you know anyone affiliated with the Tibet University that can keep secrets from the Chinese?”
Dr. Al. responded quickly “Dr. Thimphu Dorji he is an anthropologist. He is from Bhutan but his family are Tibet refugees, fleeing Chinese persecution and the Sino-Indian War of the 1960’s. Richard will call him now.”
“Excellent, ask him to meet me in front of the Lhasa Grand Hotel in an hour, tell him to look for a pickup truck.”
The variety of rental vehicles was geared to the rough mountainous terrain. There was a plethora of jeeps, land cruisers, sport utility vehicles and pickups. The pickups were all Isuzu’s. Richard opted for the crew cab four door version. He was forced to put a credit card down to cover incidentals something Zeus had anticipated. Zeus carried credit cards with fake names that linked back to subsidiary companies the family owned. They were legit but would be impossible to try and find through the network of companies. Richard paid cash for the final transaction.
Richard was back to Zeus within the hour, he was already preparing for his arrival. The black market peddler and Zeus had filled the freezer with ice. With the mirrors folded in the truck just fit down the alley. The loaded freezer weighed over 1,000 pounds. They unplugged it and pushed it to the back of the truck.
Zeus and Richard positioned opposite each other on the long side of the freezer with their new acquaintance at the end. The little Tibetan man was surprisingly strong. He hoisted his end with ease and just as they inched it onto the truck bed he put his shoulder into the freezer shoving it the last few feet.
They strapped the freezer down and covered it with the rug. Zeus paid the antiquities dealer, then counted out another 1000 yuan reminding him they wanted to know where it was found. The peddler led Zeus to the end of the alley and pointed to a bar a few blocks away. “There, meet them there.”
They climbed into the pickup and drove back to the hotel. Dr. Dorji was waiting, looking for two westerners in a truck. “Good evening gentleman, I am Dr. Dorji. I understand you have something special to show me that you don’t want anyone else to see.”
Zeus leaned out of the window of the truck and looked into the Dr.’s eyes. “Time is most prudent. Can they discuss this in the privacy of the University?” The doctor nodded and climbed into the back seat.
When the doctor was seated Zeus turned in his seat to face him. “We have come across a large historical object and need to get it to the University to examine and out of sight of prying eyes.”
Dorji nodded and began giving Richard directions from the back seat to the university. He directed them to a loading dock that was level with the truck bed. They rounded up a pair of dollies and put the freezer on the wheels. Dorji informed them there were no cameras and just a single security guard who would be sleeping near the front door.
He quietly unlocked doors in front of them as they pushed the freezer through a storage room, then the cafeteria and down a hallway. Dorji led them to his office and a small laboratory connected to it. They had to wait a moment as the Dr. cleared space for the freezer. In the dark he shuttled books, masks, spears, shields around the room until there was a space. They maneuvered the freezer into the room and Zeus plugged it into the wall. The unit came back to life and Zeus and Richard breathed a sigh of relief.
Zeus pulled out his pocked light and pulled off the rug. Dr. Dorji looking on said, “It’s most amazing, I have not seen a freezer of this size in some time.” Richard gave a small smirk that no one could see, the Dr. seemed to amuse himself the most. Without seeing Zeus’ face, Richard knew he was stone cold. Zeus could tell jokes with the best of them but he preferred to be the comic relief. He was focused on the business at hand. Zeus opened the lid and began clearing the ice to one side.
Dr. Dorji came over and ducked his head in. He could just make out the outline of the body. He stepped back for a moment. “How solid is the ice?”
Richard replied, “It made the trip over here and it is at least three inches thick all around.”
Dorji was rubbing a small tuft of hair on his chin. “Draw all the shades, Richard need to have a closer look.” Richard did as told and Dorji retrieved a desk lamp from his office. Zeus and Richard carefully pulled the iceman out and laid him on the carpet as they did before.
Dorji flipped on the lamp and began going over the body. “Male, aged 20-30.” He stopped by the folded hand his nose nearly touching the ice, as he spoke his breath condensed in the air above the ice. “Caucasian, suffered massive trauma probably from a fall.” He moved to the head, “Blonde hair. His clothing looks military, my guess British colonial uniform. Could be anywhere from 60-80 years old.”
Dorji looked up at them, “Where did you find this poor soul?”
Zeus responded, “A black market dealer but we are trying to pinpoint exactly where it was found.” Zeus kneeled down next to the body and shined his light at the neck. Dorji leaned in and then sat back again.
Zeus waited a moment as the color came back to his face. “We need to know as much as we can about iceman here. Can you get him out of the ice in one piece?” Dorji nodded. Zeus stood up and positioned himself on one side of the body. He waved for Richard to go to the other side. “Enough playtime for iceman for one day.” Zeus gently pulled Dorji away and then they hoisted him back into his pseudo coffin.
“Go home Doc, get some rest, think of a plan of attack on this. When you are ready, contact us at the Lhasa Grand. If you need anything; money, manpower, a shot of brandy, you let us know. Just leave a message for Zeus at the front desk. I know there are probably people in your life you trust very dearly; I need to ask you a favor about the iceman. Tell no one, trust no one. We would like you to give them your complete, unbiased opinion.”
“We know the historical value and seek no monetary gains. All we seek is the secrets the iceman might hold, once they get that he will belong to the University.” Dorji picked himself off the floor and was leaning on both hands on a table. He then refocused himself placed the rug back over the freezer and then decorated the top with various objects.
“To do this in secret will take me weeks, maybe months.”
Zeus nodded, “No rush Doc, do you want a ride home?”
“No, I live less than a mile from here. The walk will help me formulate a plan. Let me walk you out.”
Dorji led them back to the pickup. He looked a little bewildered and was muttering after he said his goodbyes. They drove back to the bar the dealer pointed out. They parked on the street outside and strolled in. The bar had a few patrons that were all congregated around one man. The black market dealer was celebrating his new found fortune.
Goba waved when he saw them and dismounted his bar stool. In his excitement to make more money he dragged them both by the hand across the bar to a dark corner. A semi-conscious man was hopelessly searching a table full of empty beer bottles for one with liquid.
When they came over he gave a groggy smile and then promptly placed his head down on the table. Goba proudly announced, “This is my brother Cetan. He is very excited to work with you.”
Zeus grabbed Cetan by his hair and lifted his head, he smiled again before Zeus let his head drop back down. “Sure looks that way.” Zeus raised his voice a few decibels and leaned into Cetan’s ear, “CETAN, CAN YOU TAKE US WHERE WE WANT TO GO?”
Cetan lifted his head he started to nod just as he vomited on the floor. Goba ushered them away. “Come back tomorrow, Cetan be ready.”
Zeus was disgusted, “Where shall we meet?”
Goba responded, “Here.” Zeus begrudgingly agreed.