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From Ali to Darshan and Mount Kailash

Of all my travels, this was probably the most difficult of all. Or should I say, one of the craziest? I had been in Shiquanhe (Ali) for days trying to find whatever transport to get out of town. But there seemed nothing going either using the north or south highway to Lhasa.

Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash, still about 25 km from Darshan

Then I met some soldiers who told me there would be a military caravan that afternoon using the south highway passing Mount Kailash. I could join, being dropped at Drachen and do the 52 km, 3 days pilgrimage trekking around Mount Kailash. I remember the guys was laughing, expecting me not to come.

Instead, I told him I would be happy to come. He charged me Y100 for the ride. What I didn't know was that the ride would in the back of a military truck, sitting on potatoes and cabbage.

The plains of Mount Kailash
The plains 3 km out of Darshan town... have fun

Although the ride to Darshan can be easily done in one day, I had to stay overnight in the military camp, somewhere half way because the caravan only left at 3PM. Thus we drove about 4 hours.

Drachen village gateway to Mount Kailash

Military camps in China are strictly forbidden for foreigners (even for Chinese civilians) but in this part of the world the rules are different. The military camp was the only place in many kilometers around, so I got a room and joined the men for food and beer (although I skipped the beer).

Monk in Darshan Darshan, fateway to Mount Kailash
Left: The monk I stayed with in Darshan
Right: Village life

The next day I arrived at the Tibetan plains. On my right the Himalaya range, which would ultimately lead me to Lhasa, 1500 km further. But somewhere in the middle of the plain the truck stopped and the soldiers told me I had to get off. They pointed south to a village, they called Darshan. Here I could get supplies and start the Mount Kailash trekking.

Darshan, fateway to Mount KailashIt was about 3 km to the village they said. Thus I got my backpack, paid and said goodbye. There was no other kind of transport anywhere to be seen so I started walking.

The village was small, had a few shops and a guesthouse, which to my horror was closed. "It's off season now, you can't stay here, come back in May", was the reply. What to do? I asked around. Some people directed me to the monastery where I found a monk who took me home.

The monk was a nice guy. His "house" was no more then a 4 by 5 meter hut with a mattress and a cooking facility. I could sleep at the other side of the cooking facility. He gave me a "mattress".

The mattress was the kind I would not even dare to throw away at the roadside in Holland for garbage collecting. But I was happy to have shelter.

The monk made some noodles with fat, charged me Y10 (US $!) for it but I was happy. He also told me I could leave some of my stuff with him, things I wouldn't need on the trekking. That seemed a good idea.

In Ali I had bought a long Tibetan coat, very warm, but also very heavy. It had helped me in town to stay warm in the freezing morning when I had tried to get a hitch out. Now it would help me to stay warm on the 52 km trekking.

Mount Kailash from the plains
Mount Kailash, from where I was dropped by the military truck,
if you look carefully, you can see on the lower right side a small white stripe: Darshan

I talked to some people. They explained me how to walk. I had to walk out of town on the west side, follow the mountains and the path until the path went north. From there it would be several kilometers to a monastery called Drirapuk at 4920 meter. This was about 400 meter higher then Darshan. 

Ali - Shiquanhe West Tibet
This was were I got the lift to Mount Kailash, in Ali (Shiquanhe), just outside town

I could stay there, then go the next day to the Dolma La pass at 5630 meter. After the pass I could walk further to Dzultripuk, stay there a night and walk the resuming 11 km back to Darshan. It sounded easy, it sounded very doable.

So I went to get some supplies, which turned out to be a bit of a problem. Apart of bad tasting Chinese chocolate there was not much further. Even instant noodles were sparse. But as I expected to stay in the monasteries, I didn't care much. As long as I had water and chocolate, I would make to the monastery. There I would be able to get a decent meal.

Did I underestimate the trekking? I don't think so although I had never hiked alone at this altitude. Still, I was sure I could make it.

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