Whilst searching a windswept mountainside for the fabled ghost moth fungus, a young Tibetan boy unearths a mysterious relic. Moments later the People's Liberation Army of China marches into his isolated village in the valley below and begins to dismantle an ancient way of life. As the brutal oppression grows, the boy's precious find becomes first a symbol of hope for the villagers then a tool of survival for a people and a religion. It must be preserved at all costs.
Sixty years later, mountain guide Neil Quinn is wrapping up his last climb of the season on the highest mountain in Tibet when a transport shortage leaves him stuck in an empty base camp. An earthquake sets off a chain of mysterious events that directly connect the English climber to the ongoing tragedies of a troubled land where the Chinese authorities strive still for complete control.
Unsure of precisely what he witnessed yet determined to protect its truth, Quinn returns to Kathmandu and enlists the help of a famous historian of the Himalayas, an erstwhile American journalist, and a cast of locals as enigmatic as that ancient city—each with their own reasons for joining his quest. Manipulation and murder dog their every step as they strive to piece together a complex puzzle from Tibet's tortured past while navigating the treacherous present.