Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting high. Introducing Tibet

Tibet's soaks
The area known as Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is a vast area covering the huge mountainous plains north of the Himalaya divide. As one would expect both the immenseness as well as the mountainous terrain give a huge potential for thermal activity.
Daniel Winkler mentions more than 1000 possible hot springs! The Travel Guide to Tibet of China (see note 1) mentions
'geologists have found over 630 geothermal spots'.

That noted, pinpointing the exact soaks is not an easy task. Tourism is limited, the local population mostly dispersed. That means that finding those thousand springs on the internet is most probably not going to be achieved.

Sites containing Tibet soak sites lists are near non-existent. Only the hot spring in China listing of the Beijing 2008 site as well as Tibetan Hot Springs by contain some links, though in the former these are mostly references to soaks in the Ganzi Tibet prefecture of Sichuan province, not Tibet proper. The latter counts no more than 3 listings. So massive steps can be expected.

Elsewhere, the significance of Tibetan hot springs is highlighted as there are two mentions in China's Top 10 Hot Spring Resorts, the same list as others refer to as China's Most Romantic hot springs, even though one of the two listed permits gender separate only bathing!

What is clear is that the aforementioned dearth of accessible info seems to contrast both with local penchant for soaking as well as increased popularity of soaking in China.
My impression from accessing hundreds of websites on the subject of Tibetan soaks, is that the Chinese favour an organized hot spring whereas the local population simply savour the opportunity and benefits a local, if somewhat rustic soak may provide.

Somewhere in Tibet. By Songpinghan:
'Buddha monks taking a bath in hot spring water'.
Bathing experiences are on a whole quite diverse. Fox on the Run sums up his quest for a soak as follows:
'I have to admit I got a bit confused by the whole hot spring issue in Tibet. For me, the term hot spring conjures up images of bubbling pools, either natural or of the "cement pond" type, where you can lie back and let the hot water work on your aching muscles, preferably while you sip on a cocktail. We encountered several hot springs during this trip, none of which even came close to my mental image. For the most part they were like little streams coming out of the ground, sometimes creating puddles and usually just building interesting mineral formations. They were definitely not big enough to comfortably climb into. In some locations, industrious locals would build bath houses where the hot water was piped into stalls either through shower heads or directly into tubs. In these places you could at least get clean, but there was no lounging around with friends in your bathing suits enjoying a drink and a soak'.
That typified Tibetan soak however is not as typical.
These intrepid travellers savour the soak reluctantly, but though they may not be so positive, the experience is so much purer. Or so it seems:
'Finally we found what looked like a women’s pool. A bunch of ladies were just leaving, including one girl who spoke Hindi and had just returned from Bylekuppe, a massive Tibetan settlement near my home town in India! Conscious of offending local women but tempted by the water, I nervously stripped down to my undergarments and waded in. This water was just right (am beginning to sound like Goldilocks now!) Soon two nuns arrived on the scene. They told me that they had walked for two hours over the hills just to soak. They started to strip. I had never realized how many layers of clothing nuns wore…it went on and on…and then suddenly they were naked. I was traumatized…it was like seeing the Shankaracharya or Mother Teresa nude!
Then a bunch of ladies arrived with their pink cheeked snotty nosed offspring. The women wore some elaborate braids with turquoise and ribbons. Some had thick woolen capes and had obviously not bathed for quite a while. They all stripped down to basics too. Now Cat and I were overdressed! The mothers dunked their squalling kids in the water and scrubbed them mercilessly. It was increasingly merry. The nuns taught me the names of different polite body parts in Tibetan (I got over my blushes pretty quickly) and all the ladies were giggling and pointing at us. Occasionally some mother would blow her baby’s nose and a wad of snot would float by. The boys from the men’s section were really curious about the naked ladies and were trying to peek over the wall. I was worried about how the nuns would react to this, but they were blissfully unconcerned! We sat there in happy harmony until our skins started to wrinkle'.
This experience by Banjara concerns the hot springs of Tridum / Tidum, Shigatse (or Xigatse) prefecture which elsewhere I discovered to be considered as:
'one of the cleanest natural hot spring in Tibet'!
Noteworthy, many hot springs existing at high altitude have resulted in there being distinct micro-climates with plant and wildlife not seen elsewhere (1).

Lhasa Prefecture: at a high

To make the soak listings more accessible I've kept to listings of hot springs by prefecture. What follows are those located in and around Lhasa, Tibet's capital.

Superlatives are what are used to describe the hot spring of Yangbajing (or alternatively Yangpachen) located in Doilungdeqn county, 87 km north of Lhasa. Access is great, even the new railroad to Lhasa passes here and there is a station. Even Micheal Pailin made it here, so why not join in?

The Yangbajing springs are massive and are stated to be the highest altitude springs in the world. Included as one of the World's Most Amazing Hot Springs, this site is less direct:
'The Yangbajing hot springs field is at an altitude of 4290–4500 m which makes it the highest altitude set of hot springs in China, and possibly the world'.
Others have included Yangbajing as one of the 10 Coolest Places to Swim, which seems a bit odd; though the temperature may be cold, the water is hot.

'Hot spring bath at 4600m'.
By Zuzi Griffiths. Though electricity was won since 1970's these pools were only filled in 1998 (1).

The Yangbajing hot springs field is extensive. It apparently covers a large area (40 km2, no less) and besides including the bathing complex (see photo) and geysers, it is also a source for geothermal energy, enough to sustain half of Lhasa so continues the Beijing 2008 site.

The uniqueness is further demonstrated with this tale of it's existence (from Magic (!) Tibet:
'It was said that long time ago, before the sky and the earth was separated, the whole world was in total darkness. People living at the foot of Mt. Nyainqntanglha were suffering. One day, a golden phoenix flied to the area, determined to create brightness by sacrificing itself. It threw one of its bright eyes onto the ground. A fairy caught the eye, and then a bright lamp arose in the air. Snow capped peaks of Mt. Nyainqntanglha appeared; grassland like huge carpet emerged; happiness came into Tibetan people. However, a greedy man near Yangbajing coveted the lamp. He took a witch man’s idea to sharpen his hatred into an arrow to shoot the lamp. The lamp was broken then, the pieces of the lamp dropped onto the ground, turning into hot springs and burned the man to his end. People said that the hot springs were the fairy’s tears'.
Rabbit writes on clickandrender an expansive piece on Yangbajing including many photo's.
You dog?
The Dezong hot spring (Maizhokunggar county) contrasts greatly with the prior featured hot spring. Devoid of development, the setting is rustic and accompanying this is the fact that it's mostly frequented by locals whose disregard for formal attire provides outsiders (surprise, surprise mostly males) with a carte blanche to highlight their possible ultimate dreams. states the following:
'The hot spring pool is divided into two zones-male pool and female pool. Though a flaw on the wall separating the pool, nobody would peep for lust-people there are quite pure.
Man and women bathing together with just a low stone wall between Bubbe bath and medical-worth are another TWO characters of Dezong Hot Spring. Somestimes, local pet dogs are lying by the pool 'appreciating' the naked tourists.'
What a load of info. Tibetan's have no lust. Local dogs do. Or do they really appreciate naked tourists?'s dogs appreciating?

While discussing Dezong, China Service Mall asks the following question:
'Is there anywhere else you can bathe in curative, calcite and tussilago-infused waters while gazing upon the most rugged, photogenic landscapes on the planet?'
That seems a weird question, when there are more than 1000 other similar hot springs and the first randomly chosen hot spring featured on this site acclaims to the same!
They continue with the description of the hot spring:
'The Dezong Hot Springs are arranged in simple, rustic fashion, divided into a men's pool, above, and a women's pool, below. 40° C, jade-colored spring waters cascade 20 meters into the resort's pools'.
The Beijing 2008 site mentions that bathing in Dezong has been taking place for over 1400 years, which must be something of a record.

Dezhong alt?
One of the more difficult factors when researching hot springs in Tibet is the lack of info foremost and the general confusement concerning the name. Often referred to as Tidrum (or Tirdum, Tridum, Tridom) hot spring I believe may well be the same. Pictures though are not conclusive. Experience though in both seems great.

'This is a view from the outside of the hot springs at Tidrum Nunnery'.
By Dire Wolf

'Tidrum Nunnery was home to a hot spring. ...And not just any hot spring. These pools were world class. Gently carbonated, just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, open to the stars—they don’t get much better than that. Joining eight or ten naked, intoning pilgrims, my attitude about the guest house quickly shifted. What at first seemed like a hardship post was in fact heaven.
My springmates stopped chanting long enough to warn me away from the patch of nettles growing along one edge of the pool. One part of me knew I shouldn’t stay too long, but another part was loving it enough to consider settling in until I simply moved on to my next life and could let my body be taken down the road for a proper sky burial.
After about fifteen minutes I looked up at the lone decoration, a framed photograph of a monk. Someone tried explaining the significance of the picture. Or perhaps he was telling me that my formerly white skin was looking lobster-like. I chose to see the one-way conversation as a sign that it was time to go. My sleep wasn’t half bad'.
Elsewhere Tibetwildyakadventures states:
'Concrete free, these hot springs are truly curative and relaxing. Men and women have separate bathrooms for changing. The best part is the fee. If things haven't changed when you go, it's only 5RMB per person to enjoy the hot springs and the nunnery is free. Some nunneries will offer free accommodations in certain circumstances. Whatever you do, don't get rushed by your driver or guide. This is a place to relax, forget about your watch and soak up the healing waters'.
Hillbilly hollar even introduces us to the aspect of 'professional soakers':
'Many professional soakers from all over Tibet come and stay for days. A room will cost you $5, and if you can't speak the language than it will be an instant noodle night for you. There is plenty of hot water'.
Where does one apply?

The men's pool at Tidrum by Jill and John. Most probably taken by John.
'To me it was just a lovely hot soak on a cool afternoon'.

Less info on more springs
Other hot springs in Maizhokunggar county are Paoshang and Riduo. Riduo seems to have certain unknown qualities:
'is famous for its magic water functions which can improve people's health, beautify skin and adjust blood pressure'
as Chinatibetnews claims.

In Rutog village, Maizhokunggar county, one can find the
Rutog hot spring!
'[Rutog] is famous for its magic water functions which can improve people's health, beautify skin and adjust blood pressure. Endless visitors and believers come to the hotspring every day for bathing and pilgrim'.
Xungbara Qu is mentioned as a mini-hot spring in Doilungdeqen county(1). The mini part lies in the lower temperature possibly. However drinking this water cures stomach aches and skin diseases, bathing stops itches. The same single source mentions that the curative qualities of the water has lead to the establishment of a pharmaceutical plant nearby
'which are making good profits'.
Finally, extensive search resulted in another find, Qusang hot spring of Doilungdeqen county. Or is it Quisang? This recent (April 2010) web text elaborates:
'Women were all wrapped in thick padded gowns and waiting outside. They just cared about when they could have a bath and paid little heed to us. When it's the time for women to take the baths, and no male are allowed to come into the hot spring. Males and females bathe in 6-hour turns and a bell notifies them when it's time to switch'.
Just one of the three photo's of Quisang hot spring. No subtitle.

Purku hot spring is another hot spring most probably located in Lhasa, the reference at least refers to Nyemo, a county in Lhasa prefecture. The article on tibetmagazine sums up the hot spring as follows:
'The hot spring is in valley with lofty mountains rising to the sky on both sides. The Yarlung Zangbo River is compressed into a narrow curve at this point. There are many hot springs. On the opposite bank of the river is Tare Village, and there are several hot springs on the cliffs to the west of the village, where villagers have hollowed out several stone pits for people to bathe in winter. Purku Hot Spring is on northern bank of the river with the water temperature of 70 degrees Centigrade, too hot to bathe directly'.
Complete with pictures.
In the above one must note that the sources used may not always be correct; be it concerning the name of the hot spring or the location.

(1) refers to the anonymous publication entitled Travel Guide to Tibet of China, published in 2003 by China International Press.

Healing hot springs dezhong

Friday, January 22, 2010

Into the wide open?

Located in the northwestern tip of India, the state of Arunachal Pradesh, covers a tremendous amount of terrain, not much smaller than the whole of Nepal. The former contained more than 40 hot springs so it's not surprising to see that Arunachal Pradesh has quite some thermal activity, though possibly less developed and / or visited. It's therefore understandable that there's less info on the internet available.

Reknown for the many different ethnicities, Arunachal Pradesh is distinctly remote, little roads offer any kind of access. Tawang district bordering both Tibet and Bhutan is accessible and contains largely Tibetean Bhudist ethnicities. As one of the most accessible mountain areas it's not surprising to find that (as is the case with Bhutan to it's east) there are a number of hot springs not far away from Tawang itself.

Tsachu Hot Spring is a bit of a language anomaly; Tsachu already being the Bhutanese name for a hot spring. It seems to be the most well-known, though not so easy to visit:
'Tsachu hot spring which can be reached by traveling by a light motor vehicle for two hours from Tawang up to Sarong Gonpa and trekking from there for another three hours'.
Do note that Tawang is 10 hours drive from the nearest airport ....

The hot spring of Thingbu is located 68 km away from Tawang town. Apparently a pony is the most used form of transport for the final stretch from the roadhead.

Other hot springs located in Tawang district are Kitpi (source) or Greng-khar (source), the former being the name of the village rather than the name of the hot spring (source PDF).

hot spring is located nearer Jang:
'where the water is so hot that “yak meat is cooked in 20 minutes”'.
Despite the above being the most well-known(?) in Arunachal Pradesh, there are no first hand experiences shared. This contrasts with Dirang (West Kameng district, south of Tawang), famous for it's apples, kiwi's and yaks to which Roy Biswas has paid a visit:
'The other famed tourist spot is the Hot Water Spring, which is also the main attraction for locals, who supposedly take bath in the Hot Springs as its water is said to possess curative properties. However, I was most dejected after having undertaken a long trek down from the main road, as an Ecological Camp has come up at the site, with a Cafeteria right in front of the Hot Spring, which is not only blocks the view of the Hot Spring, but also creates more ecological hazards, rather than preserving the ecology there for which it is meant & sounds. The local environment department needs to take a look at this, before it gets too late to redeem the hot spring'.
Lower Dirang valley contains a hot spring near the village of Jia.

Located just inside of the Arunachal Pradesh - Assam border, the western town of Bhalukpong has it's own hot spring:
'Bhalukpong, which lies about 85 kilometers away from Bomdila on the foothills of Aka ranges, is an ideal picnic spot. The picturesque site is also a home to the Jia-Bharali river and a hot spring, which is believed to have a medicinal value (source)'.
More to the east, Anjaw district contains two hot springs, one named Walong circle the other Kibithoo circle.

As always when there is little reference material, some caution is required as often different names as used for the soak!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Go west?

Heading further west in Nepal, one comes to what one would consider the less travelled part of the country. This automatically translates in less info on hot springs, though no doubt they do exist. Let's have a look.

The high mountains of Dolpa district
apparently contain 2 hot springs, one called Sahartara (the more well-known, sometimes known as Shahartara), the other Rupghad:
'The waters are believed to have healing properties and that a bath in these waters cures arthritis'.
Continuing further west there's the district of Jumla, though again little info on hot springs. There is though a village called Tatopani. The Kathmandu Post (01 October 2003) has an article on Jumla's Tatopani mentioning that it was in need of repairs. It also highlights a not so-often occurrence:
'"Mostly the visitors flock here during the dry and winter seasons. Sometimes the daily turn out is around 500. People at times even fight for their turn to take a bath," said Rawal [a local villager]'.
Others mention Tila Nadi and Dhanachauri (Luma), though I suspect these are possible alts for the aforementioned Tatopani. There is also Unnapani (source).

Elsewhere in Jumla the publication Water and Culture (Shaphlaya, 2003) mentions Sanar village:
'Hot water is collected in three ponds. The bottom of two ponds is of clay while the main pond has paved stones. Women can use the hot water in Wednesday and Thursday'.

More fighting
Further west is Humla. Many treks originating from remote Humla head for the Tibetan holy peak of Kailash. This makes it pretty unclear whether or not Humla has a hot spring as is the case with a town near Kailash itself, Tirthapura. But it does:
'we had a welcome surprise above town: an amazing sulfur hot spring. Now, I have seen lots of hot springs in the Southwest, the Himalaya, and elsewhere, but nothing ever like this. Spring in this case is a misnomer: The Kermi Hot Springs are more of a river than anything else. Steaming water courses down the mountainside, slowing slightly in small pools built by the locals, and leaving a vivid coloring on all rock it touches. But, easy to get to? No. We had to fight through the most evil stinging nettle bushes in the hot, humid, post-monsoon afternoon. But, it was well worth it. The springs were just the right temperature, soothing our feet and offering spectacular views of the Humla region'.
Another source mentions Kermi as well, including a picture of the shallow soak.

Flickr there is a photo of Limi valley with a hot spring. From Notes from the Emerald Valley it is mentioned that there is a hot spring named Jang (or Jhang), high (4000m +) up in the valley, near the village of Limi.
Stumpy's Blog mentions:
'We are now in a wider valley area where the river has taken the opportunity to spread into several channels. Fortuitously we are also close to a hot spring, not sulphurous at all, so after a beer chilled in one of the river channels, a good wash was enjoyed at the spring outlet itself, and a shower tent erected for everyone to give themselves the first good clean in days'.

Shaphalya (2003) mentions Agnikunda, Dudhkunda and Raktakunda.

At a lower altitude
South of these districts, are amongst others Surkhet district where another administrative unit is mentioned as being
Tatopani, according to Wikipedia. ECS Nepal also mention this hot spring.

If read well, Bajhang district contains a hot spring (Tapoban) at an elevation of 4000m according to this dutch language site. It's only 3 days walk from the district capital, Chainpur, though this website used to mention a Tatopani, just a 3 hours walk:
'a pilgrimage site with an environment conducive to meditation. There are hot springs located on both banks of the river'.
Ask before setting off ... Maybe there are two separate soaks ...

Darchula, the most western of Nepal's districts finally has at least three hot springs: Srikaar (Shrivar, Sribagar), Chamlaiya and Sina (Seena). Or Barpata (Warpata) which is just 5 days walk from Darchula! And / or Tapoban.

I hardly know what to make of the suggestions of the possible (but unverifiable) hot springs of Riar, Saghu Khola and Sarai Khola which though are cited as such, but could be anywhere in the 'Middle Development Region of Nepal'...Finally, Shaphalya (2003) once more mentions that the district of Mugu has
hot water sources. Again, verifiable?
[updated May 2013]

Shaphalya, A (2003) Water and Culture. Jalasrot Vikas Sanstha, Kathmandu, Nepal