Cheung turned to Drummond. ‘Have we time?’
‘I don’t see why not.’ Drummond offered the Tibetan a cigarette. ‘Any Reds in the area recently?’
.One patrol,’ Moro said. ‘Fifteen men. They turned tip a week ago.’
The Tibetan grinned. ‘You’ll see when we reach the village.’
They went over the escarpment and walked towards the houses, the Tibetan with the bridle of his horse looped over one arm.
‘Mr. Cheung has to make a special report to his government in Formosa about the state of things here,’ Drummond said. ‘He thought he’d like to see for himself.’
‘How strong are the Reds in this area?’ Cheung asked.
Their nearest real strength is at a town called Juhma about a hundred miles from here,’ Moro said. ‘Half a regiment of infantry. No more than four hundred men. At larger villages like Hurok which is thirty miles east across the plain, they keep a cavalry troop. Between the villages they are as nothing.’
There have been no large scale troop movements, no road building in this area of the border at all?’
‘Not here, but further east towards the Aksai Chin and the Ladakh where they fought the Indians in 1962, they have built many roads.’ The Tibetan looked surprised. ‘Why would they need roads here?’
‘They have claimed Balpur,’ Cheung said simply.
Moro laughed, showing strong white teeth. “They have claimed the whole world, is this not so?’
They came to the outskirts of the village, a small, mean place, single-storey houses of mud and wattle strung along either side of the single street
Several children ran forward excitedly and followed them, keeping a respectful distance from Moro who occasionally flicked out with the plaited leather whip that hung from his left wrist as someone moved too close.
They came to a house near the centre of the village that seemed larger than the others and he opened the heavy wooden door and led the way in.
There were no windows and in the half-darkness Drummond was aware of the mud walls, the sheepskins on the floor. On a stone hearth in the centre, a fire of yak dung burned brightly and an old Tibetan v/oman was crumbling brick tea into a cauldron of boiling water. She added butter and a pinch of salt and the men squatted on a sheepskin beside the fire.
They waited in silence for the tea as ritual demanded. The old woman filled three metal cups and gave them one each. Moro took a sip, nodded in approval and they drank.
It v/as, as always, curiously refreshing and Drummond held out his cup for more. ‘How are things going generally?’
Moro shrugged. They will not be beaten here, we cannot hope to accomplish so much, but we can keep them occupied, make life difficult’
.What about arms?’ Cheung said, ‘You need more?.
‘Always more. We can’t right them with broadsword and musket’
‘You were going to tell us about the patrol,’ Drum-mond reminded him.
Moro nodded and got to his feet ‘I was forgetting. If you have finished your tea, I will show you now.’
They moved into the street, blinking in ths bright, dear morning sunlight and the Tibetan led the way through the crumbling houses, the small tail of children Jceeping pace with them.
The great wooden gates in the outer wall of ths monastery swung crazily from their hinges, half-burnt away and blackened by fire.
They crossed the courtyard beyond, still followed by the children, and mounted the broad steps to the ruia of what had once been one of the most famous seats of learning in Western Tibet
The doors had disappeared, splintered into matchwood by high explosive shells, and inside bright sunlight streamed down through holes in the roof.
There was a library here,’ Drummond told Cheung. ‘It held more than fifteen thousand books and manuscripts, most of them over a thousand years old. The Chinese burned the lot quite deliberately.’
Beyond, hi the shadows, something stirred and a kite rose lazily into the air, great ragged black wings brushing the roof beams and Drammond was aware of Cheung’s breath hissing between his teeth sharply.
Disturbed by the bird’s passage, something was swinging to and fro, half-in, half-out of the bright shafts of sunlight cutting down through the darkness.