The descent from the Lipu pass to the valley was a steep downhill route of 5-6 Km. At the bottom of the descent, coaches were waiting for us and we made the 19 Km to Taklakote in good time. The roads were excellent as it was in all the parts we travelled. We were taken to the Immigration center, where all the hand bagage was screened and each person was made to stand on a spot on the ground and screened for what I was told body temperature. If it was high you were put into quarantine – something I did not understand!! And there was no one you could talk to – we were assigned 2 guides who spoke both English and Hindi – there was no way to communicate with anyone else. At Taklakote we were accomodated at the local “5 star” hotel, which was pretty pathetic – smelly, wet carpets, food at fixed times…. However, after over a week the married couples got double rooms and the rest of us 2 and 3 seaters. And we had the the luxury of running hot water – so the first proper bath and hair wash after a week. The food was very so-so, with a strange fried ‘bread’ like item along with oily roasted peanuts for breakfast. The chai smelt funny – of yak milk??
We had a days stay in Taklakote – primarily meant for the local arrangements. The finance committee went about collecting the $801 (Why the 1??) that each of us was to pay for the Chinese leg fo 11 days. There was a condition that each and every note should be of 1990s or 2000 vintage – they would not accept older notes. So after checking every note, they made the trek to the local China Bank the next day , to get the dollars converted to Yuan. The rest of us wandered around the very small town – looking at the shops, stocking up on stuff, and of course buying the cans for carrying the ‘jal’. This was the topic of great discussion – what kind of cans, how big, how o seal it etc…. For a smallish town, rather a largish village, it had wide excellent roads. The supermarkets were as well as the ones we have in Gurgaon. There were pool tables at every corner – evidently a common form of entertainment!
The food committee spent the day arranging cooks who would travel with us and shopping for vegetables and fruits. For the next 10 days, there were no hotels and so we would need to get our own food organized in the camps. Also no one would have trusted Chinese food to be totally vegetarian!! The oil, cereals, potatoes, Maggi noodles and soup packets had been travelling with us (the common luggage) from Dharchula. We acquired a set of cooking vessels, plates and spoons etc from batch 9, which was left at the hotel. Two sets of these items are bought by the first and second batch each year and passed onto the batches that come thereafter. The later batches, like ours, suffer the consequences of the losses over time and so we were short of plates and spoons!
On the 3rd day (Day 12), we drove the 140 Km from Taklakote (4112 m) to Darchen (5182 m) – en route passing the Rakshas Taal, Mansarovar and catching our first glimpse of Kailash.
The landscape is dramatic – not a tree in sight, smooth undulating hills, over the the average plateau elevation of 4000 and 5000 m, with green vibrant patches in some valleys.
The Rakshas Taal named afre Ravana is supposed to be the sight where he did tapasya and had Shiva darshan. The lake is beautiful and it is said that not a single fish or bird is seen in it. We certainly did not see any birds.
We drove on past the western edge of Mansarovar towards our destination, Darchen. And all along the way we had darshan of Kailash – sometimes partially clouded over, sometimes fully visible.
The hotel at Darchen was supposed to be new – but had smelly attached baths. THe cooks got down to production a late lunch and we sat around admiring Kailash which is literally in the backyard!! Since the daylight extends to well past 9 pm (6.30 IST) we had the opportunity to watch the rays of the sunset on Kailash and perform aarti with Kailash in the backdrop.
We had the second drop out at Darchen – Aruna from Andhra was exhausted and did not feel up to doing the Parikrama. She decided to stay on alone at the hotel and wait for our return – brave, since not a soul spoke anything but Chinese!!
A large number of women haunt the corridors carrying the local jewellery – what we call Tibetan stuff! It is damn cheap and people went into a buying spree. There was plenty of bargaining – but everyone was happy. We slept soundly, in the knowledge that for the next 3 days would be the hardships of the parikrama. The weather was cold – so all our wollens came out and we prepared ourselves with 3 layers of uppers and 3 layers of lowers – in which we would live till our return.