Altitude: 4575 meters
Location: Ngari Province, Western Tibet, Purang County
Darchen is a small town, but it is an important gateway to mount Kailash. Although you cannot see the majestic Kailash from Darchen (only a part of its peak), the town is a starting point of the pilgrimage around the mountain.
For a long time Darchen was a small settlement with mostly nomads passing by this area. Don’t be surprised to see many domestic animals walking the streets of Darchen.
However, in the 1980’s when pilgrims from other countries started visiting Tibet, Darchen grew into a small town.
Everyone traveling to Mount Kailash will at least pass by Darchen, many stay there for a night to prepare for a trek around the mountain, pack their backpacks, buy trekking supplies or hire porters or yaks to help on the trek.
There are small stores selling dried food good for trekking, as well as some instant noodles, juices, oxygen cans, etc.
HOW TO GET TO DARCHEN
There are many ways to reach Darchen. Here are the main roads to Darchen:
DARCHEN TO MOUNT KAILASH
Darchen is a starting point for travelers visiting Mount Kailash. Here, you can rest before starting the trek early in the morning, buy snacks for your adventure and hire porters, yaks or horses. Some travelers start adventure from nearby Manasarovar lake. However, in our experience starting from Darchen works better. We usually start trekking very early in the morning to walk most of the distance before it becomes hot. In that case, we also have more time to rest in the afternoon and visit Dira Puk monastery. It is essential to get more time for rest before the second day of trekking. In addition, some travelers might want to continue hiking to the North face of Kailash to touch it before returning to Dira Puk. When starting early in the morning from Darchen, it is possible to complete it in one day.
At the end of the trekking adventure, we return to Darchen. Most travelers just stay in the town for the rest of the day, resting and repacking to continue their journey on the following day.
If your tour also visits Guge Kingdom, you can drive directly to Tada at the end of the trekking day.
SAGA DAWA FESTIVAL
The busiest time of the year in Darchen and Mount Kailash region is Saga Dawa festival. The 15th day of the 4th Tibetan Lunar calendar celebrates the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinirvana. Hence, thousands of tourists gather at Mount Kailash. The main activity of the day is replacing the huge flagpole representing the pole of the universe. It is a great time to see pilgrims in bright costumes. It is best to book a tour for Saga Dawa festival in advance to secure your spot and hotel room.
2022 SAGA DAWA FESTIVAL TOUR
This special tour takes you to the sacred Mount Kailash during the biggest festival of the year. Saga Dawa Festival celebrated the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from all around Tibet, India, and the world. You will see the greatest diversity of Tibetan national dress as people wear their best clothes for the festival.
DIRA PUK MONASTERY
Some visitors cannot complete the strenuous 52 km long trek around Mount Kailash. Many of those trek only for one day until the Dira Puk monastery, and then return to Darchen to wait for the rest of the group to complete the trek. You can reach Dira Puk monastery from Darchen. It is within a pleasant 20 km hike with a mostly flat path along the way. Walking in a clockwise direction, you will first reach Tarboche, the flagpole area with thousands of prayer flags. From there, enjoy a wonderful view on Mount Kailash South-West side. Walking further towards the monastery, you will see the West side of Mount Kailash. Once you reach Dira Puk, enjoy the grand view of the North face of Kailash.
The monastery’s history is connected with Gotsangpa who first discovered the way around Kailash. His meditation cave is at the center of the monastery.
The area with snow-white stupas in front of the monastery is one of the best places for photography. Don’t miss the sunrise with a view on holy Kailash!
Read More: Dira Puk Monastery
The Zutul Puk monastery is located on the East side of Kailash. Most travelers reach it on the second day of trekking. It is located about 14 km from Darchen. At the center of the monastery is the meditation cave of Milarepa. Inside you will also see wonderful thangkas depicting Drigung lineage, and footprints of Padma Sambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal.
Surrounding grounds are great for camping. There are also guesthouses and Tibetan tea houses serving simple meals.
Read More: Zutul Puk Monastery
HOTELS AND GUESTHOUSES IN DARCHEN
There are thousands of pilgrims from Tibet, Nepal, India visiting Mount Kailash every year. Most of the pilgrims travel on budget. That’s why although there are many guesthouses in Darchen, most of them are very basic. Typical guesthouses have shared dorm rooms and public toilets.
Most of our group tours stay in a simple Tibetan-owned hotel in Darchen. It offers double rooms with twin beds and a public restroom. You can also take a hot shower for an additional fee. Hotel has a spacious dining area. The hotel is simple, but sufficient to prepare for Kailash trek.
There is only one Western-style hotel – Himalaya hotel. It is a lot more expensive than similar hotels in larger cities, such as Lhasa. You should still expect a little less comfort in this rural area.
HIMALAYA HOTEL IN DARCHEN
This Tibetan owned hotel is the best accommodation option in Darchen. Rooms have private toilets and showers with hot water. If you are planning to visit during the Saga Dawa festival, we recommend booking a hotel in advance to secure the room.
Although it is the most expensive hotel in Darchen, don’t expect the same level of comfort as in comparable hotels in Lhasa or Shigatse. All supplies are limited in rural areas, sometimes there are shortages with water and electricity. The further you travel to the West from Lhasa, it is best to have moderate expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.
RESTAURANTS IN DARCHEN
There are many restaurants in Darchen of various sizes, from traditional small tea houses to larger restaurants serving international cuisine. In addition to tibetan dishes, most restaurants offer Nepalese and Indian cuisine. Many pilgrims prefer to eat vegetarian meals near the holy Kailash Mountain. If it is also your choice, you will find many vegetarian options in any of the restaurants.
MEDICAL HELP IN DARCHEN
There is a Tibetan traditional medicine hospital in Darchen. It also serves as an academy training future doctors of Tibetan medicine. It provides help with basic healthcare needs such as altitude sickness, cold/flu, etc.
COMPLETE GUIDE: PREPARE FOR MOUNT KAILASH TOUR
All you need to know to get ready for an adventure of a lifetime. Information about required documents, ways to travel, the best season, what to wear and pack, how to prepare physically and what to expect on your journey.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS TO VISIT DARCHEN
Since Darchen is located in Western part of Tibet, the rules of visiting Darchen you need to comply with the requirements of visiting Tibet.
Most of the foreign visitors living outside of China need a valid Chinese visa. You need to apply for it in advance, ideally at least one month before your travel dates.
After you receive your visa, you need to send it to your travel agency and we will apply for all necessary Tibet travel permits for you.
Once your travel permit is ready, we will mail it to you to the place where you make a stop in China on the way to Tibet.
If you travel through Nepal
For travelers crossing the Tibet border from Nepal, rules are slightly different. You will need to apply for a Chinese group visa in Kathmandu.
First, you need to contact us in advance and we will start working on your Tibetan travel permit and invitation letter.
Once you arrive in Kathmandu, you will meet with our Nepalese agent to hand him documents required for your visa application. Please, note, the Chinese Embassy in Nepal only accepts applications from local agencies.
After your visa is ready in 3-5 business days depending on selected service, the Nepalese agent will deliver it to your hotel in Kathmandu.
Indian Citizens visiting Darchen and Mount Kailash
For Indian citizens rules to visit Western Part of Tibet, including Darchen, Manasarovar and Kailash, are different.
You need to contact one of the local Indian agencies or the Indian government agency. They will arrange all necessary documents and your trip to Darchen.
Currently, Tibetan local agencies cannot arrange necessary documents for Indian citizens traveling to Western Tibet.
If you travel to other areas, such as Lhasa or Mount Everest, you can arrange your tour with a local Tibetan agency.
MORE PLACES TO VISIT NEARBY
Gorgeous deep-blue colored freshwater lake is one of the highest in the world. Snow-capped mountain ranges surround the lake, including the Gurla Mandata peak. All pilgrims traveling to Mount Kailash make at least a short stop by the lake. However, if you have time to spend by the lake, you will enjoy the serenity of this sacred place.
When you are visiting Manasarovar lake, don’t miss the Chiu monastery on its North-West corner. The monastery overlooking the lake is a great place to take great photos of Manasarovar and Mount Kailash in a distance. In the monastery you can visit meditation cave of Padma Sambhava.
Western Tibet became a birthplace of ancient Guge Kingdom. The culture influenced the entire Tibet. This remote region sees very few tourists and a great off-the beaten path destination. You will see incredible landscapes, including stone forest. You will also visit Tholing and Tsaparang monasteries.
RECOMMENDED TOURS TO MOUNT KAILASH
15 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH GROUP TOUR
One of our most popular group tours, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and going to Mount Kailash for three-days trekking around this sacred mountain. During this tour, we visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum stupa, Mount Everest, Lake Manasarovar, Chiu Monastery, Mount Kailash, and much more.
17 DAYS WESTERN TIBET: KAILASH AND GUGE KINGDOM
A private tour taking you from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet to the most Western part of the country. The tour includes three days trekking around Mount Kailash and visiting the ruins of the Guge Kingdom on the West, in addition to Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and Everest Base Camp.
KATHMANDU TO KAILASH BY FLIGHTS AND HELICOPTER
Scenic and unusual tour for those who want to see see Himalayas from both sides and fly next to the majestic mountain range. This private tour will take you from Kathmandu, impressive capital of Nepal, to Tibet-Nepal border at the Himalayas by two flights and an unforgettable helicopter ride. Once you arrive in Tibet, you will first travel to Manasarovar lake. After that, your pilgrimage continues to Mount Kailash.