Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mountainous dress code. Bliss?

Chilime hot spring by RP

Low walls
On the road to Tibet (northeast of Kathmandu) lies Kodari which is the last village before crossing the bridge to China. Note that the persons on the other side of the river are nearly 3 hours ahead of the Nepali, forcing them to get up and get to work in the pitch dark.

Anyway, Kodari is basically a 2 km long village with houses and buildings along the road and squeezed between the road and the river. 

The hot springs themselves are far from a delite. More like a hot shower in a damp and dark room. Then again, they are easily accessible and during the winter, Nepali flock here to take the waters, so who am I to complain?
Rough Guide's has an extensive guide on this hot spring:
'The signposted hot springs are at the northern end of the village, down steps towards the river. A hot tub it's not: the water splashes out of pipes into a concrete pool and is used strictly for washing'.
Yusuf Abdol Hamid has an extensive write up on the Tatopani, published by ECS Nepal. One observation:
'Separated by a low concrete partition are the male and female showers, where sprightly colored lion heads spout the spring water between their fanged teeth. A word of caution: despite Nepal’s conservative trappings, it’s not uncommon to witness gratuitous displays of female nudity, mostly amongst the older women who occasionally stray inadvertantly into the male showers'.
Below is a picture to the article, welcoming?

Closeby to Kodari is the Last Resort, an action laden resort for the not so faint-hearted. But a great place to stay.
Directly north of Kathmandu up and along the Trisuli river lies the district of Rasuwa and towns such as Dhunche and Syabrubesi, gateways to the Langtang National Park and Gosaikunda, a holy mountain lake.

Lately treks (Tamang Heritage Trail) are also heading westwards and are incorporating a hot spring Chilime, though it's also referred to as Tatopani (hot water). Possibly the largest in Nepal?

I visited Chilime back in 2001, it's a full days walk up the mountain side. From current pictures I deduce that at least the springs themselves have not changed.
'In Tatopani hot springs await you. The thermal baths are known for their health-giving properties for a variety of illnesses. Local people stay here for one week and longer. Please wear Nepali style bathing suits (ankle-length skirts for women, shorts for me'
is what Franziskadoswald adds. Do note that Nepali style bathing suits are pretty much non-existent, so much for the advice.

Local bathing customs? Photo published by Travel to Care

A Carpetbagger's Tale has her own experience:
'Changing into boxers and t-shirts, we gathered our towels and flip flops and walked to the hot spring. The three square-shaped pools were each filled with murky, brownish water, and a thin sheen of what looked like oil coated the water like skin. We got in. For an hour, we sat in the hot water, enjoying the warmth and steam. In the pool next to ours, a dozen women were lounging, wearing red sarongs that bared their shoulders but covered them to their knees. On their heads, they'd wrapped up their hair in plastic bags. Some of the women were Buddhist nuns, and their closely shaved hair and red bathing robes seemed out of place in the steam. The men in our pool and the pool to the other side had hairstyles that we've seen on some of the saddhus - a close crop with a tuft of hair at the crown in the back. They have a piece of string tied under their armpit like a shoulder bag with no bag and another tied around their waist. After a while, two very old Tamang women approached the pools. Dressed in their traditional long wrap dress, woolen tunic, top hat, and fabric belts, they took their time de-layering. Although our guide book had warned us to dress modestly at the pools, it seemed like maybe it wasn't as big of a deal as they had thought. These two very old, very wrinkled women were completely topless, and they wrapped their impossibly long braids around their heads like a crown before they walked into the water and stood under the fountains'.
Back in the nineties, there were no guesthouses, just a couple of huts to overnight in and hardly any other facilities. That seems to have changed, luckily. It was (and probably still is) quite out of the way and attracts mostly Nepali soakers. Do note this late 2012 newssnippet (Nepalireporter):
'Tourists have also started staying longer at the Tatopani which has further boosted tourism in the area. There are more than 10 hotels and lodges in Tatopani area'.

'Early morning, at the height of 2500 meters, in december, it is cool but hot springs are very hot. The next trekking trip at Tatopani, with yoga and hot bath will be in March 2009'.

Eric Lon and Chilime hot spring. Note the (un)dress code.

Another recent experience by Niraj Karki and published by ECS Nepal (website down) sings the charms of Chilime Tatopani:

'When we went there that fine rainy day in August, it was absolutely empty – we had a whole lodge to ourselves for which we (group of four) paid 300 rupees. The local alcohol made from fermented millet was 30 rupees for a bottle and we had the hot spring all to ourselves. I am in no way exaggerating when I say that Tatopani has been till now one of the best experiences of my life. In fact, I cannot do it justice, which is why I will not describe the sensation. It is a personal experience for everyone. I will describe the setting, and leave your mind to imagine and for yourself to discover. Imagine if you can the feeling of finding an oasis in the desert after a hard day in the sun. It’s like that reaching this place after a hike in the cold rain - the feeling of being in hot spring in a light drizzle of rain - your body placed in the melt of two extremes - the coolness of the falling rain meeting the warmth of the burning hot water, amidst a quiet, calm, tranquil surrounding bathed in a sea of mist'.
Not all hallelujah. Rameshwar Khadka reports (oh blog post gone ..., originally from 2011; oh no, originally it is from 2010 and not from wordpress but on blogger!) on a visit by the Eco Himal team to Chilime. He notes:
'The Hot spring Management Committee is responsible for managing the hot spring in Tatopani. The committee charges rupees 10 for each Nepali and rupees 50 for each foreigners to take bath in the hot spring. TRPAP constructed two pools and taps to manage the hot water. The tap for natural spring water and public toilet were also constructed. However, they are not functioning well. The team made enquiry about the natural spring water tap. The local people replied that there is a dispute in using the water in the locality. Similarly the public toilet was very dirty and it was not functioning well as there was no water supply'.
Another picture from MTB Kathmandu


At the foot of the trek to Chilime lies a lesser known hot springs. Syabrubesi (Wikipedia contends it's Syafru-besi), one of the main towns in the area, has it's own hot spring, nearby the river. More scientific info has been published on this hot spring.

'Bathing in the hot springs - Syabrubesi'

The Syabrubesi tourist information adds awesome surroundings as a component of this hot spring as well as listing that the bi-carbonate sulfate spring waters are hotter than 40 degree centigrade.

Then in Langtang valley, near Landslide Lodge (slash hotel) is another hot spring, relatively unknown.
It's not so far from Syabrubesi, though the spring itself is apparently located on the other side of the Langtang river and as such unreachable to tourists. Sources describe this as
'... a small hot spring on the opposite river bank at 1810 meter'.
Into thin air does manage to find this hot spring and posts his photo (with low resolution):
'On the way down we discovered these Hot Springs -- Bliss !!!!! '
Then there is most probably a hot spring half a days walk north of Syabrubesi into the restricted area of Rasuwagadi. Unfortunately my only proof of this is a map with a Tatopani due north. Possibly it could well be the hot spring of Syabrubesi itself. 

[update June 2013]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Resourcing Nepal and Eastern Nepal

Nepal possess many, many hot springs. So many, that most are still unknown, let alone out there on the internet.

Some of the best sources as of November 2011 are:

  • 'Getting into Hot Water' on It mentions roughly a dozen hot springs, mostly the more well known.
  • mentions
    'more than 50 hot springs exist in Nepal'
    and lists about a dozen hot springs. the list is most probably a copy of the list included in 'Geology for Technical Students'
    by Rajan Kumar Dahal, a course publication for nepali students. Unfortunately only two pages are dedicated to hot springs and not much real information is provided.
  • ECS Nepal has a feature on hot springs in Nepal. Entitled 'Tectonic Gifts Hot Springs of the Himalaya', authored by P. Kauba, it's of March earlier this year and gives an enthusiastic call for all readers to soak.
  • Ranjit (2000) is one of the few true scientific overviews. It mentions 28 hot springs with more characteristics on nearly 20 of these.
  • With quite a bit of info on hot spring, the e-book 'Water and Culture' by Shaphalya (2003) provides some great points on hot spring culture in Nepal.
There is other printed material available, I know. Before the so-called Maoist revolt there were a number of tourist magazines and I know that there were various articles focusing on lesser well-known hot springs, but Nepal is not really wired and especially back then.

From the Himalayan Times 3 April 2011 a photo by Krishnamani Baral:
'Local women taking a dip in the hot springs at Tatopani Kunda in SardiKhola‚ Kaski on Sunday‚ April 3‚ 2011. The hot springs are believed to have a healing effect on ailments including constipation‚ joint pains and skin diseases'.

Eastern Nepal
Not many hot springs are known in eastern Nepal. Safe to say there are none near the Everest. However both references above mention Hotiyana (or Hatiya?), Sankhuwasaba district, but nothing more is known.

Then there is the mention of a hot spring at the start of the Nepal/India border river the Mechi:
'"Mechi is said to come from Min Chu Ung Kyong, meaning either "big river," or "hot spring." The name hot spring might sound unlikely, but in Antu, where Mechi starts, it is said that a long time ago people would indeed come to enjoy the hotspring, not only for pleasure but also for curing. The river forms border between Nepal and India and has played an important role in the history of Ilam." '
But that's about all for eastern Nepal. Look at the sidebar for more info on Nepal's hot springs.

Ranjit, M. (2000) Geothermal energy update of Nepal. Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2000. pp. 387-395. International Geothermal Association, Bochum, Germany.
Shiphalya, A (2003) Water & Culture. Jalasrot Vikas Sanrot, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Soaks in the desert [updated]

Active volcano
Having blogged on most of the Himal hot soaks one can take a look at the wider area beyond the Himal area. As stated before deeper into China there are little hot springs still in natural state. Nor are the sites non-commercial. North of the Himal lies another huge administrative area, the autonomous region of Xinjiang Uyghur.
Zhang Wei Zhou (2002) puts the number of hot springs in Xinjiang at nearly 80. He also notes
'the utilization of geothermal resources in Xinjiang remains in a pretty low level at this moment. Only a little of them has been developed for medical treating and bathing use'.
He ends by stating the problems needed to solve for geothermal development, the last of which states:
'there is no any active volcano in Xinjiang'.
A nice problem to solve.

Capital of the province is the city of
Ürümqi. Shimougou is one of the city's districts:
'There is famous hot spring there with a temperature of 28-30 centigrade, containing kalium, natrium, magnesium, nitre, radon, zinc, etc. it is effective to arthritis and skin disease. It is also can be drunk as mineral water. In 1982, a hot-spring hospital was built here and some Japanese medical treatment equipment was introduced into here. Some tourists come here for recuperation'. (source)
Otherwise known as Guanghui it features an
'standard international indoor swimming pool'.
And is sometimes known as Water mill Gully.

Another major attraction of Ürümqi is the Swan Lake. Near the Swan Lake of Bayinburuke (Mongolia for rich springs) is the hot spring of
Aerxia (Arxian). It is reputed to have healing powers. Angela Yeo has just the one photo of presumably the hot spring of Swan Lake, as well as others from the same area.

wiwei has been to Arxian.

1, 2, 3, ...
To the west of Ürümqi lies Tacheng prefecture. There are 4 hot springs in Tacheng, most notably that of Shawan. One of the grade 2a tourist areas of the region there is this description of Shawan:
'There are dozens of hot springs, which are dominated by three hot springs at the foot of Laojun Temple, namely No.1 Spring, No.2 Spring and No.3 Spring, also one “Eyes Spring” with flux of 0.5 liter per second, which can cure eye disease'.
Other than that there are two hot springs in Wusu (Wuzu). A link provides photo's entitled Wusu hot spring as well as extensive other info on Wusu.

In Ingouhe hot spring is mentioned in a World Bank document:
'Located in Shawan county cures sikness slowerilv among the local people'.
Fuhai county has a hot spring 'gully' named Alashan; more cryptical info can be found here.

Further away

In Kashgar prefecture on the western border of China lies the Tashkurgan Tajik autonomous county.
Shufu is a hot spring that receives at least 1 favourable mention:
'... despite its modest exterior, the main building housed a large clean pool and several bath tubs that were continously fed by hot water from the spring nearby'.
Near Tagarma is another hot spring (or possibly the same?) which receives extensive photo coverage on Flickr by Daniela Cameroni in a set of photo's entitled 'Tashkorgan hot spring'. Or Tashkurgan ...

The Bortala Mongolian autonomous prefecture contains the hot spring of Bozhou Bogeda in Wenquan county. Tot hier This is a national class 2a scenic area. Others describe the hot spring as magical.

Southern Xinjiang consists mostly of Bayingolin autonomous prefecture. Here plans are of exploiting / upgrading the local hot spring of Usu. Or were (link disappeared Nov. 2011).

Unfortunately mostly the hot soaks of Xinjiang remain quite unknown. No doubt there are many more with little or no info on the web. That said many on the web fail to go beyond some small scale descriptions with little photographic and / or actual experience.

Song Huang (2010) has a recent publication which briefly touches on hot springs in Xinjiang. He lists a number of hot springs requiring protection. Not included above are Tianshan Shenmu (?), Fish-eye, Beullaclacris, Wushi, Jinhegou, Yining Huolongdong and Huocheng Huolongdong.

Together not quite 80 ...

Swedish connection
Finally a word on Wucaiwan hot spring.

'五彩灣溫泉 (hot spring)


Wucaiwan is located in Jimsar county, Changji Hui autonomous prefecture. It's main claim to fame is the naming of a geological formation. A MSc thesis by Weijun Li (2010) draws comparisons between a Swedish bathing town and possible development of Wucaiwan. An interesting read.

The picture above is part of a $400 million investment drive, only 10 years ago. Apparently it still attracts only 100 soakers a day which means someone is losing money or the amounts thrown at the spa facilities were slightly overstated. Included in the report are equally bleak pictures with virtually no-one existent.

Overall the report lacks depth (easy MSc?) and recommends linking the resort more to the overall tourist infrastructure.

Song Huang (2010) Geological heritages in Xinjiang,China: Its featues and protection. Journal of Geographical Sciences, vol.20, no. 3, 357 - 374.
Journal of Geographical Sciences, Springer.
Weijun Li (2010) The planning of hot spring travel region. MSc thesis, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden.
Zhang Wei Zhou (2002) The basic characteristics of geothermal resources in Xinjiang, China. Geological Survey Institute of Xinjiang.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As locals do

While discussing hot springs in Kyrgyzstan it's easy to confuse this with political affairs, especially those of the "hot spring" of 2010. Unfortunately the scope of this blog looks at the natural state, hopefully independent of political affiliation. Well, not really, Burma and North Korea are excluded.

Bigger picture
But I still would like to concentrate on hot springs as in geothermality. 

In this blog most of my postings have been highlighting the naturalness of the hot springs or the naturality of the soaking experience itself. 
However in Kyrgyzstan the opposite is also well-known. Soviet times saw grander schemes to develop naturally occurring thermal water into workers paradises, the sanatoriums. Since the collapse of the workers pie-in-the-sky these places have been neglected and in some cases are turning into ruins.

What to think of this (geographic unclear) sanatorium experience?
'I am sitting in the outdoor hot spring pool of the Sanatorium At The End Of The Universe. The tiles are chipped and the water is murky. But, I’ve been assured by my local friend, “don’t worry, the water is changed at least once a week. Anyway, the U.S. military guys came down and did tests. They said the water was fine, but men shouldn’t soak for more than 15 minutes.” What about women, I ask. She shrugs. So I soak a little longer'.
Despite the chipped tiles, this internet reference clearly establishes that the Kyrgyz like soaking. From once what used to be a blog named things the Kyrgyz love:
'Hot Spring Baths – This seems to be a universally healthy thing around the world. What you use it to treat depends on the chemical make-up of each individual spring. The hot springs we went to, Bar Bulak (lit. trans. Fire Spring), had a high sulfur and iron content and according to the sign posted on the wall of the spa it can be used to treat, “Problems of the Skin and the Digestion, Also Useful for Treating Women’s Problems”.
It actually was quite stimulating and our skin was very healthy for the following month. But you have to be careful about which spring you bathe in. Near Kara Kol, one of the more popular springs has Radon in the water'.
Chipping in, a great blog entry by Cult of Hotness has some interesting experiences. Near the Issyk Kul lake:
'My most memorable treatment was HOT MUD. Enter the mud room – tiled from floor to ceiling and slightly dilapidated. Two concrete beds, one elderly shower and a man in Wellington boots holding a hose. My friend was there to translate. A woman was already cocooned on the other bed. As I was the only English speaker for miles around, this also seemed to draw a crowd, so while I stripped, a couple of onlookers gathered. Naked, I lie on a plastic covered ‘bed’ while the man in the boots points what looks like a gas hose at my feet and hot mud spurts out. I forgot about my sunburned feet. I screamed. The mud stopped, the man looked perplexed. I mentally kick myself as now he and the ‘crowd’ think all English speakers are divas. My friend reminds me of my sunburn and admonished me to ‘just bear it’. I do, through gritted teeth. That mud is HOT. I was wrapped cocoon style and left for an eternity before being unwrapped by the man in the boots. I am ordered into the shower, which is tepid as hot water is only available twice a day. I was then hosed from behind by the man in the boots using the hose he used to wash down the beds and the floor. My friend suggested I was receiving special treatment for being ‘foreign’ and ‘a novelty.’ Reading this back to myself, I realize it might sound strange to the reader, but there was truly nothing untoward going on here. Nudity is no big deal in the health spa. The man in boots was really trying to be helpful – and just as well, that mud really sticks to your back!! I have to say, after my round of treatments, my skin felt wonderfully soft and supple. So all in all, a big thumbs up for the hot mud'.
Indeed, according to this document (pdf link) Kyrgyzstan is home to more than 50 thermal springs as well as the environs of the Issyk Kul being a source of
'curative mud'.
So what more specific information is available on the net? 

'sanatorium in kyrgyzstan'
(source: flickr member elisa locci).

For the insane?
Sanatoria are located in
  • Jalalabad, also known as Kochkor-Ata:
    'While in Osh I made a daytrip to Jalalabad where they had a thermal hot spring with sanatorium. I say had as most of the buildings where in ruins and the only hot spring water I saw came from a tap where you had to pay for drinking it'.
    'Djalal-Abad is famous for its spas. There is a legend that the water from the Hozret-Ayub-Paigambar spa cured lepers. According to the legend there was a grave, a mosque and the khan's palace near the spa. The Djalal Abad sanatoria, “Kurort”, is based on one of the spas on one of the hills overlooking the town – the waters are salty, but people from a wide area to collect bottles of it. Near the entrance to the Kurort (the health resort) is a cafe with a fine view over the town – the "Ikram-Ajy" Panorama, at a height of 1000 meters , with a complex that consists of a “national crafts hall”, souvenir shop and an entertainment hall –from here you can appreciate how green the city is, as the trees rise above the low-rise building. The spas are also the source for several different brands of mineral water'. (source, link)
  • Ak Suu. There are some photo's of the slowly deteriorating sanatorium as well as other photo's here. Then there is this:
    'For those with too little time to visit Altyn Arashan this is an opportunity to bathe in natural hot springs. The waters are said to have healing properties curing everything from insomnia to rheumatism. Al-Suu's sanatorium 7 km from Karakol is set in a pretty gorge and has numerous relaxing bathhouses. Local people come here at weekends to wallow in the waters, chat and ramble through the gorge. The village of Ak Suu close has plenty of attractive wooden cottages, a Orthodox church and shops where you can stock up on traditional post-bath bread, fish, vodka and beer.It is located on the north slope of Terskey Ala-Too chain in a narrow gorge in Ak-Suu river valley at an altitude of 1950m above sea level in a distance of 16 km from Karakol town. It works all year. The curative spring water wells have been known since the ancient times. A bath and 2 rooms were built in 1896. Since 1957 the sanatorium works as children hospital. The climate of resort is highland. A non-polluted air, ultraviolet rays create appropriate conditions for climate therapy. In the winter the temperature extends to -17C, in the summer the temperature is 20-25C. The general curative factor is mineral water, nitrogen thermal water (till 60C) sulfate-chloride-sodium water with weak mineralization, consists of silicon, acidy fluorine, free sulfur-hydrogen and small quantity of radon.The sanatorium takes in some patients with child cerebal paralysis, consequences og meningitis, myletis, polymyletis, neuritis, cranium-brain traumas, skin ailments supporting-motion system and etc. In the summer time there are 3 pavilions, in the winter -1. The capacity is 250 positions. The term of treatment for mothers with children from 1 to 3 years old is 45 days, children from 4 to 14 years old – 60 days. In the 3 story building there are massage and procedure room sport hall, physiotherapy room, bath department, swimming pool, playing rooms, chambers, kitchen, library, school. The bathes curative exercises mechanic therapy massage and etc. are applied for treatment'.
  • Issyk Ata, also known as Dzuuku or as its translation of warm father (source, link not working)! This combines a sanatorium with the existence of public baths. Immediately the web entries are a lot more positive.
    'Don't know if it is because of the altitude (nearly1800 meters) but I was feeling little strange there in Issyk Ata. This hot spring [another broken link] water spot situated at less than 2 hours from Bishkek was not only smelling the sulfur of its bathes but also something like a soviet perfume. Ok maybe I was sad because not so many chaikhanas up there!'.
    Further experience:
    'It seemed like there was no possibility to get a treatment if you didn’t stay at the SA-NA-TO-RIUM’s own hotel, but just a little bribe later we had both skipped the line and were lying naked on a table covered with black hot mud and wrapped in sheets. Quite a pleasant feeling, as long as you didn’t look up. The moisture in the room had no way of escaping, and a vibrant community of fungi ranging from the familiar green to hairy shades of brown had taken over the ceiling and walls. Left alone by the attendants in my little room, with no escape out of the tightly wrapped sheets and surrounded by a total absence of sound, I got strangely excited'.
    An other visitor says that though what's on offer are somewhat rudimentary facilities, it does have good views. There's a big waterfall nearby.
The pool, photo by Photo from Bishkek. An entry on Issyk Ata.
  • 'Not far up the valley is the Djety Orguz sanatoria built in and the sight of the first meeting between Presidents Akayev and Yelsin in 1991 after the abortive coup in Moscow'. (source)
    This reference also claims that there are more than 50 hot springs in Kyrgyzstan though only lists 4 ...
  • Bar Bulak:
    'Really its not that bad. Its only the iron in the water. The springs are said to be very useful to the health. We can actually see some improvement in the quality of our skin'.
    Possibly this is a reference to the same sanatorium as others under names such as Issyk Kul. The lake of Issyk Kul is quite unique as ice never forms.
    'It is fed by springs including many hot springs and snow melt-off'.
    This according to wikipedia
  • There's a mention of Kadji Sai (Kaji Sai) where pipes bring in mineral water from hot springs. But Cat Lady in Kyrgyzstan comes to the rescue:
    'Having had a hot springs experience in Kyrgyzstan five years ago, I essentially knew what to expect: hot water from a mysterious thermal source, piped into a dank, moldering, concrete pit. This did not disappoint. The “hot springs” consisted of a dank pool into which the thermally heated waters flowed from an ancient blue pipe. The pool was lined with cracked, broke, and in some places missing tile. The concrete walls were covered in black mold and bright green algae. About six or so feet above the water, thick, rusted pipes were suspended horizontally across the pool for no explicable reason. The water itself, however, despite being a rather frighteningly dark color, was warm and pleasant. It also was a tad salty, which made us all quite buoyant. We spent at least an hour, if not more, swimming'.
     Cat Lady:
    'The Kaji-Sai hot springs pool'.
  • There's Manjaly-Ata (source, link not working).
  • This link brings one to a photo of Dzhilysu hot spring, Terskey Alatau, Kyrgyzstan, though no other mention.
  • A Russian site link to a hot spring possibly called Chundzha. 
As nature intends
But then there is the soakers paradise of Altyn Arashan, also known as Teplokluenchka, Golden Spa, Ak Suu and/or Karakol. Teplokluenchka is actually Russian for hot springs; since, the village name has been referred to Ak Suu. However in reality there is no village and Ak Suu is used as reference to the sanatorium referred to above.

Altyn Arashan is by far the most photographed (photo of 'heaven') and experiences-shared hot spring in Kyrgyzstan.
'The Altyn Arashan ("Golden Spa") valley leads up from the Ak Suu valley, just South of the village of Teplokluenchka, to a Spartan "hot spring" complex. The road is not an easy one, very steep in places. (source)
More info can be found here. Though experiences elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan seem more attuned to the suited, both the following experience and the photo show that there's more than the eye meets when soaking in Altyn. It's also referred to as old style the kind of style I just might like ...
'Luckily, our worn out and beat selves were welcomed by terrific scenery and a hot spring! It is a sort of old-style natural hot spring with a bathing pool reminiscent of older Japanese spas'.
'We didn't do as the locals did however and run nude from the cabins to the chilly mountain stream about 10 meters away for an icy dip followed by a return to the hot spring. We don't have any pictures of that!'
Photo entitled: 'Natural hot spring bath'. On virtualtourist (by Tipper) with report:
'But healthy people get even healther'.
Nearby is a structure which most say resembles a space pod, others a cave. Hot water is piped in and two persons fit in the pod (source). A photo of such can be seen on the blog Gone to Asia:

Not far away is also a half cave like structure for soaking purposes (see below).

'Hot spring in Altyn Arashan 001'.
By Amyortega05.
[updated October 2013]

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Northern boundary?

The leftovers
With blogs listing details on the hot springs of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it's only natural to expect their neighbours, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, to also be highlighted. Because there aren't that many hot springs this single blog post will cover all three countries.

Soaking in Uzbekistan - no way!
Starting off with Uzbekistan is the most simplest as I have yet to find out whether or not there are hot springs in this country.

Big country, little soaks
To the north of Uzbekistan lies the immense country of Kazakhstan. Here a few hot springs can be found in the mountains bordering Kyrgyzstan and China. However knowing that there are hot springs does not mean that they can be highlighted. Take for instance the hot spring located near Chimkent (Shymkent). Just the one mention:
'hot spring health spas'.
Elsewhere, there is more info on two close to each other located hot springs, Alma Arasan and Zharkent-Arasan.
'There are 51 groundwater springs, many of which are used for spa therapy purposes. The Alma- Arasan hot spring water is similar in its chemical composition to French mineral waters of the Pyre-nean type (Aix les Bains, etc.)
The temperature of major springs constitutes 35-37 degrees centigrade. With regard to water content, temperature and radioactivity the water is similar to Tshaltubo Springs [famous hot spring in Georgia, the country]. The springs have a good influence on people who suffer from rheumatism, metabolic disease, diseases of peripheral system and blood vessels, as well as on the diseases of women and on the people who were poisoned with copper, lead and other metals. Every year Arasan-Kapal Resort accepts around 2000 patients'.
Other info on Alma concern it's establishment in 1886.

On Zharkent which, by the way, was established in 1967:
'The main medicinal factors are: nitric, chloride-sulphate, sodium water (36C) which contains fluorine, organic substances used for bath and shower'.(source)
Kapal (not (?) to be confused with Kapal-Arasan) possesses a mineral spring with a temperature of 25-28C, not quite soakable?

Aktau, lying on the Caspian sea on youtube with this description:
'A small warm bubbling hot spring, a little ways off-the-path from the road between Karagiye Depression (-132 meters below sea level, 3rd lowest spot on Earth) and Aktau city in Mangystau Province, Republic of Kazakhstan'.
Wikitravel mentions the existence of Radon hot springs ("facilities are very primitive") in the Aktau travel guide with nearby mud baths, possibly the same as above?.

An odd experience is revealed by Jennie Vader on a visit to a banya slash hot spring near Turkestan:
'... and I went to a banya in the middle of the steppe about 30 minutes from Turkestan. The banya is a dome-like structure (called the egg) built over a natural, underground hot spring. We all went into this huge egg and then into our own room which consisted of 2 shower heads and an old bathtub. Basically, you seal up your room and the hot water runs constantly, steaming everything up. You shower like usual and sit in the bathtub of really hot water'.

There are also mentions made of the following hot springs in Kazakhstan: Tamshaly, Ayak-Kalkan (hot spring 180 km from Almaty, in the village of Baseit), a so-called Mountain Thermal Water Resort.

A flickr photo reference to a hot spring in their Kazakhstan set. Have my doubts though.

More recently mentions Dobyn:
'Experts say the hot springs at Dobyn village are enriched with minerals and contain small amounts of nitrogen. The waters contain silica and trace elements of radon, providing the thermal springs with unique medical and healing qualities'.
It goes on to mention how the wellness industry in Kazakhstan is shaping up. Twenty three health centres have been established since 2000, with 13 under construction, among them a
Premium Spa Resort (though the website of the company has no info on this possibility). Two-hundred thousand visits were reported in 2011.

Going underground
Turkmenistan features an extra ordinary hot spring. Referred to as Kow Ata (Kov Ata, Kovata, Kowata or Bakharden) this a subterranean hot spring. One needs to climb down sets of stairs to get to the thermal waters 60m below ground level.
'The underground lake is formed by a hot spring in a cave 60 m below the ground and stretches over several kilometres. Only the first 70 metres are accessible and sufficiently lit and provide the occasion for a dip in the 36°C water'.
A great photo can be found on flickr (but not posted). An experience:
'Kowata is an underground hot spring where they took all the trainees swimming a week ago. It is about 45 minutes from the capital and about 5 kilometers from the border with Iran. You descend down about seven flights of slippery steps with wobbly hand rails, wishing you were wearing metal cleats. As you descend the dimly lit corridor, the air grows hotter and more humid, and eventually carries the smell of eggs from the sulfurous waters of the lake. The water is lovely to swim in; about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, it is like being in a bath. The depth of the water wasn’t clear, but nobody’s feet touched the bottom. However, there were many jutting rocks and ledges where you could rest. We spent about two hours swimming before learning that a half-hour was advised, probably for the same reason that excessive time in a hot tub should be avoided. Still, the water is supposed to be medicinal for your skin, and I have not seen any ill effects. When I told my family in Herrick-Gala that I swam, however, they were extremely apologetic because they don’t know how to swim'.
Not always are experiences in such a positive light.
'We drove for a couple of hours out into the middle of nowhere. The engineer led us to a cave and we went inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark we saw a large pool of water. There was a single electric lamp on one side of the cave which didn't do much to cut through the gloomy darkness. Bats hung from the ceiling above and the air was thick with steam and the heavy smell of sulphur.
My colleague and I stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in. The water was bathtub temperature and very murky. I held my breath and let myself sink down as far as I dared but I couldn't touch the bottom.
Strangely the engineer refused to join us but preferred instead to hang out at the cave's entrance and smoke.
The water temperature was pleasant but the sulphurous smell became overbearing after a while and the atmosphere was just plain creepy. My colleague and I climbed out, dried off and put our clothes back on in silence.
We exited the cave and were climbing back into the car when a rickety, rusted-out old bus pulled up and a dozen locals piled out. They were dressed in colorful, ratty garments and were a pretty ragtag bunch.
"Who are they?" I asked our guide.
"Oh them."
And then he told me that this particular hot spring is famous throughout the country. That its warm sulphur waters supposedly have healing properties and that people with otherwise incurable skin diseases were bussed in to bathe here in as a last resort for a cure...
It took weeks before I was convinced that I hadn't contracted leprosy...'.

Kow Ata Underground Lake / Turkmenistan, Bakharden
Photo by flydime:
'The Bakharden Underground lake Kow Ata is an unusual natural site in the biggest cave of the Kopetdag mountains, located about 107 km south-west of Ashgabat. The Turkmen name Kov-Ata means "father of caves". At a first glance, this underground area looks like a magnificent auditorium : the overall length of the cave is 230 m, its height goes up to 20 m, and its width is at some points 57 m ('.
Wrapping up, in Turkmenistan there is just one mention of another hot spring, Koytendag:
'the, unique hydrogen sulphate hot spring, "Gainar Baba"'.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Soaking with the Mosuo

The Mosuo and bathing
Lijiang is probably one of China's biggest tourist Mecca's but if not for the Ninglang Yi automonous county it would hardly be worth a mention in this blog. However that's not the case.

Located at a distance of no less than 8 hours, Ninglang county, surrounding the Lugu (Luguhu) lake, is a bit isolated and as such has become home to the Mosuo people
(an officially not recognized minority) who might just well be this region's biggest drawcard. The backdrop not being sufficient enough, tourists from all over China come to witness the culture where to be woman is king:
'In an effort to promote Lugu Lake as an interesting tourist spot, the Chinese government advertised the area as "the Woman's Kingdom", a fully matriarchal society, and implied that the women are sexually loose, taking male partners often, and at will. Books with promiscuous covers and amateur paintings with naked and scantily clad women are sold in every shop. Locals are forced to wear "traditional costumes" with the threat of ¥20 per day fines for non-compliance'.
While intrigued by this kind of different culture, one might ask why come all the way here to bear witness to this? Surely a book such as that of by Yang Namche Namu and Christine Mathieu (2) is enough to understand the culture, though it also describes the beauty of the countryside.

But no. Answers to this inexplicable reason to visit Lugu Lake and the surrounding Mosuo heartland are more complex.

At the heart of the argument are distinctions about superiority apparently. Matriarchal is backward, patrimonial is modern. That's how Dru C. Gladney (1) sums up the mainstream view in the book 'Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities and other Subaltern Subjects', while giving examples of the exoticizing and eroticizing of minorities in modern China (see other entries on Yunnan), which are additional motives for seeking out Mosuo culture.

These motives, I have to admit, are not exclusive to China. See portrayal of Nat. Geo. which have no problems with near naked Ni-Vanuatu for instance, but all white-skinned unclothed persons are neatly blurred. See also my own posting on this subject in Soaking in Southeast Asia: Cliffhanger.

Though much is made of the difference between Mosuo and Chinese culture in Namu and Mathieu's book, notable is the mention of Mosuo enjoying hot springs au-naturel and how this is being prevented by the (Chinese?) authorities (2). More on this development in historical context:
'During the Cultural Revolution, local officials thought this practice [bathing naked] was uncivilized and they added walls to separate men and women. Over time, however, the Mosuo began taking down the walls until the point that they hardly existed. When the area was open for tourism in the 90s, the government forcibly separated male and female bathers. Eventually, the area was reopened for communal bathing after the government realized its value to the local Mosuo people'.
Possibly to exemplify the contrast between the culture's, more has been made of the naked soaking than in reality existed; i.e. a supposed superiority of the Mosuo over Han Chinese due to the former's inability to distinguish between the clothed and unclothed human form without erotizication.

That said, the cultural differences still add to the Lugu lake area attractions:
'In addition the Mosuo of all ages engage in naked bathing at the Waru hot spring, seeing the body as simply a part of the normal pattern of things. For many Chinese, such visits permit a view of fascinating customs found in a beautiful part of the country ...'(3)
Or as in this publication:
'In early 1988, I saw a young man from Sichuan anguishing in the courtyard of the local government; his expensive camera with a telephoto zoom lens had been forfeited when, from behind a towering rock, he photograped the naked bathers in a roofless hot spring in northern Yongning' (4).
Mosuo's soaks
After extensive web search, I still have to proceed beyond the one hot spring, which the above mentioned authors (2) situate near Yongning village. It is often referred to as Wenquan, however Wenquan is just Chinese for hot spring. More commonly it is named after the nearby village of Yongning or Waru (3), I'll stick to the latter. Besides positioning the soak 10 km north of Yongning Tourchina adds:
'Now this place is equipped with proper facilities for people wanting to soak and relax in this comfortable hot spring'.
As opposed to before when ...?

This cached reference describes the (perceived?) past:
'So at any time of the night or day, up to hundreds of naked men and women can be seen bathing together. They play together and have fun. Mosuo people have a very relaxed attitude towards the naked human body and they do not regard nudity as a taboo'.
'A group of Mosuo women and tourists bathing in the famous hot springs of Yongning, Yunnan province, China. August 2007'.

A current firsthand experience by a long-distance rider:
'Had the place all to myself, and soaked for over an hour. The water felt warm, but not hot, smelled heavily of minerals, and actually fizzed like soda pop. ... After the soak I kept riding to see if there was anything up ahead. There was another hot springs – Lao (old) Hot Springs – a few kilometers up the road. Later someone back at Lige said that was the “better” hot springs because the water was hotter, but it sounded pretty crowded'.
So maybe two hot spring sites?

Dane-en-chine has a blog entry in which he describes as much the way there and mentions two hot springs locations near to each other:
'In the hot spring village (Mosuo name is Agua and Chinese name is Wen Chuan) there are 2 bathes. We had a look at both. We don’t like the oldest too much ruined.
The new one where we went has a collective basin share in two parts one for women one for men, just separated by an enormous wooden beam,. It's open air so it is very pleasant.
When we ask to go to the collective bath the owner is surprised and refuses by saying to us "lao bai xin" what wants to say "common people" what in his eyes we are not!
The local people come here to take your bath; they use a lot of soap so the water is too soapy. There are private rooms with bath smaller and cleaner.
We began by the common and finish by the private. No massage just hot bath this water is good for the skin'.
Oddly they include a picture of bathing naked locals with a clothed westerner!

In the Footsteps of Dr. Rock from 2005 adds:
'There is now a "resort" here where pools have been built for tourists. There will probably be other pools built by the time you read this'.
And now for the bad news from 2009:
'Construction of an airport near China's last matriarchal society in the southwestern Yunnan Province has started, authorities said yesterday'.
Innocence ends?

Well, probably one of the very few pictures of men soaking naked in China! Again Yongning hot spring. Look at this link to a photo (sfw) when the soakers still had a view. So decorum meant dividing the pool and put a wall up.

(1) Gladney, D.C. (2004) Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities and other Subattern Subjects. Published by Hirst and Co, London, United Kingdom
(2) Namu, Y.E. & Mathieu, C. (2003) Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World. U.S.A.
(3) Arlt, W. G. & X. Honggang Tourism Development and Cultural Interpretation in Ghanzi, China. In: Ryan C, & G. Humin (Eds.) (2009) Tourism in China: Destination, Cultures and Communities. Routledge, New York, U.S.A.
(4) Shih, C-k (2010) Quest for Harmony: the Moso Traditions of Sexual Union and Family Life. Stanford University Press, Stanford, U.S.A.