Thrilling true story of prisoners' 1941 escape from Siberia to India on foot, unaided by mule or other animal. The Polish prisoner gets tortured for not confessing he is a spy (his crime? being Polish), shunted off to 300 miles from the Arctic circle, where he joins up with other strong, like-minded prisoners who make a break for it with the help of the Russian army commander's wife (who gives them an invaluable ax handle, bags filled with food, and advice). Trudging through the snow, they eventually head into Siberian spring, and cross over into Mongolia. Their first meeting with people gives them the magic word of "Lhasa" to let everyone know they are pilgrims headed to Tibet.
They cross the Gobi Desert with little food and no water, relying on a few oases and muddy cracks in the land. The woman who joined up with them dies first, flopping headfirst over from sunstroke. Another prisoner follows not too long after. They begin to eat snake. Finally the landscape changes again, they head through China and make their way into Tibet, relying on the hospitality of anyone they run into. The group speaks a hodgepodge of languages: Russian, German, Polish, French, English, but they're able to communicate with Tibetans by gestures and bowing. The group is self-sufficient, making their own shoes and jackets, uncoiling wire they find trashed in the desert which then helps them climb Himalayan mountain passes. When they reach India, they are safe, recuperating under British Army care.