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 kazworld.info 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 (http://www.odyssei.com/travel-tips/4627.html)'.
Wrapping up, in Turkmenistan there is just one mention of another hot spring, Koytendag:
'the, unique hydrogen sulphate hot spring, "Gainar Baba"'.