Tibet 2014 - Tithapuri and Darchen

Tithapuri 14 September.

A very cold night with poor sleep and a wish for a thicker sleeping mat. At 2am I brought all the batteries into my sleeping bag to protect them from the cold. We wake up to the sight of the German group performing physical exercises before setting off down the valley to Gurugem, somehow they’ve managed to get permission. Chocolate pancakes and boiled eggs for breakfast, very dry and not a great start to the day. I’m all at sea this morning, we have to pack as we’re leaving for Darchen but I can’t seem to find anything - hats and bags are all in the wrong places - and I’m slightly on edge. Probably against my better judgement we follow the river for a short walk up the valley past empty houses and across stony ground and wet fields separated by barbed wire fences draped with the windblown remains of discarded clothes. Two horses are grazing by the river bed as we approach a smooth cascade of water flowing from a small hydroelectric dam. It’s quiet and peaceful until men on motorbikes near the dam wall shout angrily at us and I realise it’s probably not a wise strategy to take photographs of installations and infrastructure.

We walk back slowly on separate paths, a strange, disquiet mood comes over me that brings to mind the film “Paris, Texas”; perhaps it’s the feeling of emptiness under the high sun and huge sky. I try to walk slowly and simply accept my state of mind for what it is rather than be itrritated by my irritation; back in the tent the mood lifts and our lunch is served on a tablecloth, which adds to the curiosity for the remaining Tibetans.


Darchen

Mid afternoon and it's a short drive across a flat plain from Tithapuri to Darchen; from the road we get a clear view of Kailash and stop near a group of Tibetan women taking photos on their iPhones. Before we enter Darchen there is a vigourous security check, very thorough, police and army; bags are passed through a scanner. Darchen has a reputation of being a dirty old town, it still is, but there's also a new administrative buildings, Chinese hotels and solar powered street lights. We plan to stay the night here and start the trek in the morning but our hotel is a grim looking concrete place with couldn’t care less reception, hollow sounding and empty and we decide to check another place recommended by the German's tour guide, the Sun and Moon. It's supposed to be an annex to a state of the art Swiss hospital but is even worse than our first choice. Small dark rooms and inmates with deathly coughs. Chastened, we head back to option A with its large dingy and bleak rooms but at least with more space and light. Guy gets the short straw and a room with severely dysfunctional plumbing.


Then it's dusk and out onto Darchen High Street and into another world. I don’t know if it's always like this but the atmosphere is electric, you can almost feel the energy. It’s a grossly exaggerated version of other towns we’ve passed though, sharp eyed men with attitude in cowboy hats greeting each other on the square, women wearing layer on layer of thick coloured clothing, faces covered by patterned dust masks and wide brimmed hats. Sometimes you can’t make out the person under a mountain of clothes. Stalls selling prayer flags, strings of beads, walking sticks, metal teapots and posters of Mount Kailash. Police cars with flashing blue lights move slowly up and down the main street and the weirdest bass heavy music accompanying a science fiction film drones out from a small subterranean room, dark and menacing. I can’t believe I’ve never seen images of this, it feels like some acid sci-fi film set on the edge of a futurist Saharan dystopia, not quite scary but not far off, weird and frankly the strangest, most exotic place we've ever been. I want to take photos but it’s too edgy to bring the camera to my face. We stay as long as we can then almost lose our way in the dark getting back to the hotel and a late meal.


We discuss tomorrow with Mr Sarosh before settling on a plan of where to camp. In the morning we have another quick look round town then drive to Tarboche to meet our yaks.

PREVIOUS: TITHAPURI

NEXT: KAILASH - TARBOCHE to DRIRAPHUK


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