Darchen city in Western Tibet

ABOUT DARCHEN

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

On the road in Tibet

There are many ways to reach Darchen. Here are the main roads to Darchen:

  • Drive from Lhasa: about 1,200 km. One of the most popular ways to travel, you can join one of the regular group tours. Tours usually cover the distance in 4-5 days with sightseeing stops along the way.
  • Drive from Nepal through Simikot town in Nepal to the border and Purang town in Tibet. The distance is about 160 km, but requires acclimatizing to high altitude on the way.
  • Drive from Ali, Western Tibet. There is a new airport in Ali with regular flights connecting Western Tibet with Lhasa. Distance from the airport is about 330 km and can be covered in 1 day.
  • Drive from Indian border: for Indian pilgrims only holding an Indian passports.
  • Drive from Guge Kingdom. The ancient Guge Kingdom is about 270 km from Darchen. Although most travelers visit Darchen first and then drive to Guge Kingdom.
  • Drive from Xinjiang, the capital city of Uyghur Autonomous Region.

DARCHEN TO MOUNT KAILASH

Four faces of Mount Kailash
Four faces of 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

Setting up the new pole during Saga Dawa celebration
Setting up the new pole during Saga Dawa celebration

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.

Tibetan pilgrim on Saga Dawa Festival at Mount Kailash

2021 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

Mt Kailash and stupas at the Dira Puk monastery
Mt Kailash and stupas at the 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

ZUTUL PUK

East Face of the sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet

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

Darchen to the South of Kailash in Tibet
Main street 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

One of the teahouses in Darchen
One of the teahouses 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.

MORE PLACES TO VISIT NEARBY

RECOMMENDED TOURS TO MOUNT KAILASH

TOUR INQUIRY

PREPARE FOR TIBET TOUR

RECENT BLOG POSTS

Darchen city in Western Tibet