Thursday, November 8, 2012

Heads and Toes

The high altitude plateau of Tibet falls under a number of different administrative divisions, the major two being Tibet Autonomous Region on the one hand, the other Qinghai province.

The province of Qinghai is named after it's large saltwater lake and under the name of Amdo has been part of China since the mid-eighteenth century. However other than the area's on it's northwestern border, the main population and thus culture exists of Tibetan.

Consisting of mostly high plains and mountains Qinghai also has some hot springs, though in researching these, I believe many have remained unmentioned whereas others are known by a variety of names. This source mentions no less than 200 hot springs exist ..., so I might be missing quite a few.
Qinghai, having less restrictions on foreign travelers, one would believe that there is more information available concerning this provinces' hot springs. But that's not always the case.

Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, has some hot springs. This
blog entry mentions a hot spring below a building which resulted in a
'fun night'.
The Qihai Holiday Dynasty has a 'bath service', which according to this reference concerns the Neiyu hot spring.

Elsewhere is the mention (link not working) of the oddly named Syrup Beach (Yaoshuitan) hot spring, located in Huangzhong county. The whole description is gibberish:
'This is known in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Beach hot syrup, after the domestic advanced scientific means to analyze the water quality, beach hot syrup was informed that the body must contain a large number of lithium, magnesium, strontium, chromium, manganese, boron, silicate and other trace without Su - , a high medicinal value, internal to the stomach have a good health, outside the bath on ringworm, scabies, urticaria, arthritis has become a good curative effect, so people it called "Shinsen syrup." '
The often used standard syrupy soak slide (source).

This translation of this web page includes:
'According to legend, Goddess Marriage "Seven Fairies heavenly days will arrest heaven after normalization, where the body vulgar body can not tolerate because of heaven, the Jade Emperor to life Taibaijinxing lower bound enchant a Shinsen sent seven the fairy often go bathing, and later seven fairies really recovered immortal body. Since then, the look was spring in here day and night flowing ...'

A real royal soak
Note should be made of the massive tragedy which struck Qinghai in the beginning of April 2010 when an earthquake had it's epicenter in the county of Yushu, which lies in the Tibetan Autonomous prefecture with the same name.

In light of the geological movement it's unclear whether or not the Yushu Princess Wen Cheng hot spring is still flowing; quite often hot springs can simply disappear. This hot spring is reckoned by this site to be one of the 10 beautiful places in Qinghai province.

Closer to Yushu town is Batang hot spring; Batang translates as "hot water ditch" (source). It adds:

'In the village (more a slightly denser cluster of houses amidst the grasslands) was a place advertised as a “hot springs” and could be more accurately described as simply a “spring-fed swimming pool.” But the location was lovely, and I sat out in the open and admired the view and wrote in my journal'.
Though only an hour from Yushu, the hot springs are another 2-3 hour walk up the mountain (to 3900 m), or with a motorcycle (link now defunct!):
'How do all five of us get to the hot springs with one motorcycle? Well, you ride piggyback. One guide with two passengers on back drives the motorcycle ahead. The other two hike. The motorcycle is left on the trail for the two hikers behind while the first group continues to hike. Then the following two pick up the bike and drive it ahead and then leaves the bike'.
In the end it's a very rustic place where Tibetans come and camp out in the summer. Jonas describes it as follows:
'After bypassing yet another angry dog, you start to see strange water seepages along the trail, and suddenly a hot springs pool appears below a khata-draped boulder. Then another. But this is only the start; you walk down to the riverside meadows and cross the torrent on steppingstones, then climb a low hillside. And here you find not only more hot-springs pools, but a miniature geothermal wonderland, replete with mini-geysers, bubbling springs and pools and strange mosses and technicolor soil. You strip and enter the water; perfect temperature. It starts to snow. The pool is shallow; you tuck as much of your body underwater and sigh happily; you can feel yourself relaxing. Life is good'.
Here's another link with photo, but description in Chinese ...

And another referrring to Yushu prefecture hot spring, Qinghai.

In Hainan prefecture, Guide county lies the hot spring of Zhacang. Often referred to be it's county name, Zhacang is probably the most referred to hot spring of Qinghai or hot spring visited by Tibetans. The main reason for this is what mainstream China seems to find as scandalous behaviour, soaking half naked. There are quite a few photo's on internet (for instance here). Just photo google Guide + hot spring.

More info on west-saga including the legend attributed to Guide hot spring coming into existence:
'in the beginning at the creation of the world ten suns hung in the sky, which burn hot weather everywhere, people can not live. At that time a hero called Houyi shot down nine suns with his consummate archery, leaving one sun in the sky; in this way the disaster was settled down. But the nine suns didn't take that lying down; they got into the ground scattering on the ancient China and displaying their prowess. The one in Yongzhou stayed in the underground of Wende Hot Spring; it was scorching hot, which made ground water often boiling and spurting out of the ground to form a hot spring'.

An example of the less racier, from Guide hot spring entry on (Chinese). 

There is the proof in a scientific document, as well as an ever increasing amount of information added to the net. 

Practical info from this blog entry on Zhacang notes: 
'Zhacang spa is located 15 km from the Guide county, surface water temperatures average 40 degrees year-round, the highest water temperature of hot spring is up to 90 degrees;  Zhacang hot spring water quality is excellent, is said to have a significant effect, in particular, the men and women bathing customs handed down to us from our ancestors, let people feel very fresh and look forward to'. 
Includes a number of photo's for instance this: 

Wikitravel even has an entry: 
'Entry was free in August 2011。 The water is very very hot in the summer and locals indicate it's better in the winter. At the time of writing the village had suffered a flood and much of the associated infrastructure had been damaged however you could still have a wash in the water. Be prepared for naked old Tibetan men and women'.
Beware though, the following was in the make:
'Building a comprehensive health center in Zhacang hot spring of Guide County, which is mainly gymnastic and medicated bath, and which integrates food, accommodation, amusement into a whole'.
Luckily the link doesn't seem to be working, meaning that the plans have changed ...?

Elsewhere in the county are the hot springs of Qunaihai and Xinjie (1), though the sources mention the existence of 11 hot springs in Guide county alone ....

Zanabazar and soup
A hot spring is said to be 60 km southwest of Gonghe, also part of Hainan prefecture.
'near the town of Wenquan'
That seems to be an understatement as Wenquan translates directly from Chinese as hot springs. 
The same source (mentioned above) focuses on the life of Zanabazar, the first living Buddha of Mongolia. It describes a meeting between Zanabazar and the then Dalai Lama near Hoang-Ho Hot Springs, which the source speculates are the same hot springs. 
On internet there is even a short list of the hot springs visited by Zanabazar!

Possibly describing the same hot spring Lauren Marie has some very curious observations. Stating that at first the trip from Xining took 7 hours, then setting out the next day in searching for a soak:
'Asked him where the hot springs were. Should have been more suspect when he told us the springs were free.
We followed his directions 200 meters past the last house in town (the town is approximately 400 meters long) and came upon a giant steaming pile of trash. We though, "oh, maybe the springs are BEHIND this trash pile!" Yet, behind that is just more steaming trash. Not a Turkish bath in sight. Turns out the residents here dump their trash in the hot springs, creating a primordial soup of interesting plastic bits. The water was warm, probably 80 degrees, but a bit stagnant with algae and trash. So, we decided to follow the stream a bit further down to where there was a rock structure that we were hoping might be some sort of outdoor bath.

It was, but for sheep. Of course you need to wash your sheep every day! We came upon a corral of sheep that a few men were desperately trying to herd into a hot spring bath to be bathed - I guess. We joined in the pushing and stick beating until all the sheep were through. Then we decided to wander down river a bit.
We hiked for a ways up into snowy mountains, and then Anna and I turned back while the boys continued their hike. On the way back we figured we'd check out the source of the hot spring and came upon a pool where a couple of little boys were having a bath. Their older brothers were sitting on cinderblocks with their feet dangling in. Anna and I followed suit and pulled up some cinderblocks and sat for a while. The water felt really nice at the time, although my feet haven't really warmed up since that hike'.

Possibly located in Hainan prefecture is the hot spring of Chiga. Legerton and Rawson (2) describe in no less than 15 pages a visit to these hot springs and the soaking culture.
'Chiga hot springs were nothing more than sweltering geothermal mineral water collected into a series of six natural pools at the opening of a steep clay canyon'.
The complete story (as well as other reports in the book) are fascinating. Locals, be they Tibetan, Chinese or Uighur bathe for months on end to relieve ailments.

From the Tibet Qinghai photo sharing forum. Could it be Chiga (might be Zhacang ..)? By Melvynyeo:
'This is the local hot spring. Man and woman naked together in the same spring. They don't seem to mind us taking photos'.

The Laughing Soak?

Madoi (Maduo) county, Golog prefecture possess just the one hot spring, which unfortunately goes unnamed. This site (now broken link?) also provides a photo overview of the county with a surprising photo of the hot spring.

Then in Huangnan prefecture, Tongren (or Repkong/Rebkong) is described as a 'gem':
'We enter a sacred cave, candlelit and filled with medicinal water. It is packed with Tibetan women from a nearby campground, having an evening soak. The heat, moisture and company in the cave are incredibly soothing.
To our delight, the women serenade us with Tibetan folk songs. Peels of laughter erupt when one particularly bold woman stood up and—bare-chested—mimicked a dance to accompany the popular song, "Our Merit Increases" (Bsod nams yar 'gro lags). On departing, we are treated to a parody of the traditional departing gesture: presenting a white silk scarf, or khata'.
The copyrighted photo by Julia Calfee:
'Tibetan women bathing in hot spring grotto for medicinal purposes outside Tongren'
Elsewhere there is another photoblog (to approach chinese minority: men and women on together bathe) of the same hot spring (I think) with an exceedingly difficult to follow narrative (but decidedly positive). Can you make head or toes of the following?
'In these hot springs,one of them can not only cure many diseases, but also men and women with hot spring bath. Laughter is just that - a naked young woman is the Tibetan laughed at me and doing up her hair. She sat rock on the side, legs extended in the hot wind around the water vapor, wry-necked in doing her long hair. There are also two next to her and her age similar to the Tibetan woman, while Bath side laugh at me. the scene reminds me of a piece of classical Western art. Tug oil paintings so remarkable that many people praised, keep it in time, and I now it is the reality.The hotspring gives auspicious happiness, pure and kind-hearted people of the Spa, not only washed the dirt and disease. it is also a particular tibetan custom'.
Then in Tongren county there is the hot spring of Qukuhu:
'There are peculiar landforms here. It is Qukuhu Medical Hot Spring at the north of the park with the temperature between 45-65ºC. The spring water can cure skin disease and rheumatic arthritis. There is another medical spring that is compound natural mineral water and called holy water by people'.
Freezing winter

In Haixi prefecture is the hot spring of Nachitai (Nacitai) otherwise known as Kunlun. Listed as an attraction of Golmud there is significant info available on this hot spring. This description is more concise:

'We will see a holy spring called Kunlun Holy Spring that just stand by the way. The spring gushes all the year even in the freezing winter. It is said to have a marvelous curative effect on people'.
(1) Mianping, Z. (1997)
An Introduction to Saline Lakes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
(2) Legerton, C and J. Rawson (2009) Prayers on the plateau. From: Invisible China: A journey through ethnic borderlands. pp. 161-176. Chicago Press Review, Chicago, United States of America.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Soaking in Sikkim

Hot springs in Sikkim
Sikkim is a former independent country that has been part of the Republic of India since 1975. Besides the Indian state of West Bengal to the south, it borders Bhutan to the east, China to the north and Nepal to the west. Distinctly mountainous (it shares the world's third highest mountain peak with Nepal), situated on the south flank of the Himalaya, it's not surprising to find that it contains a number of hot springs.

Sikkim - A Travellers Guide by Arundhati Ray gives a short intro to hot springs in Sikkim (healthy) and has a couple of photo's which give us some insight into soaking couture (page 38/39).Two references list nine hot springs, though what follows are a few more. Possibly some duplication or some unlisted. Who knows?

Legship in South Sikkim could well be the name of the first of a number of hot springs in Sikkim. Alternatively it's known as Reshi hot spring or  Phur Tsachu, there's no consensus on the right name. Legship itself is becoming more well known as it hosts a Shiva temple and is the site of a hydropower station.
The hot spring itself is
located outside of the town itself:
'Situated on the bank of River Rangeet is the hot spring 'Phur Tsa Chu', half an hour drive from Legship and one hour drive from  Jorethang. Pilgrims from all walks of life come to dip in this hot spring during the month of January to March'.
Put differently:
'Ideal spot for bird watching and butterflies. At 8 kms from Legship and 34 km from Ravangla towards Naya Bazaar on the banks of river Rangit, lies the popular hot sulphur springs. It's great medicinal values as well as religious importance attract many tourists and local devotees. The place is also important for two sacred caves Khandosangphu and Sharchog Begphu, where the great Buddhist Saint Padmashambhava is believed to have meditated during His journey to Tibet in 7th century'.
More revelations:
'It flaunts of a hot spring nearby, believed to hold medicinal powers, and footprint inscribed rocks which are attributed to that of the fairies. Lho [cave] Khandro- Sang Phug is said to be associated with the ‘God of Increasing Knowledge’'.

'Hot Spring Legship West Sikkim'.
Siniolchu Travels

Not everyone is however charmed by the hot springs. Experience 1:
'From Kechopari we took a jeep to Legship where there were "hot springs". After a long hike we discovered that these hot springs were a tiny dribble of water by a monestary along the Rangit river. Our dreams of swimming in warm water were dashed. Plus, i had been feeling a bit under the weather already and the smell of sulfer did me in. I spent most of Legship asleep in bed. Sweet sweet hotsprings'.
Experience 2:
'In Legship however things were not so wonderful. There were no rooms at the one hotel that was open. No problem, I could walk to the hot springs where there were huts. I asked around. The consensus, the hot springs don't get hot until DECEMBER. Dear Lonely Planet editiors, this might be something you want to include in your next edition'.
Let's hope they are paying attention in Melbourne ...
Experience 3:
'From Tashiding we went to Legship, a nowhere transit town, but we had a picturesque walk along the river to find the local natural hot springs. Compared to NZ, the hot springs are lukewarm and very shallow. But it was a cultural experience to be pressed firmly between 30 partially-naked, old, local women, and pampered with a mud treatment and constant scoops of hot water over parts of my body freezingly exposed by the shallow water'.
Experience 4:
'The Scorpio again came to halt at the Reshi Hot Springs (also know as Taatopaani in the local lingo). Well but before we could get to see the springs, we had to walk down some real steep steps, cross a creaky suspension bridge & then walk through another narrow path all the way to the banks of the Legship lake. Well once we reached the springs, we saw this small encircled area separated from the lake; that my friends, was were the water was hot.
There were plenty a people who were relaxing in the hot waters of Reshi; more were just flowing in getting out of their clothes in a whim; taking a dip. My personal thoughts were that though the area was pretty, it could be a tad better maintained'.
So to cap it off, the springs are disappointing, poorly maintained and full of old half naked women (sexist?). Raju completes the laments with
'Firstly there is a near vertiginous climb down a narrow flight of steps. Then we had to cross a worn out suspension bridge over the crystal clear river water. Walk for about 200 metres to reach the spot of hot springs. It is a very small pool of water just above the main flow of the river. Hot water overflows from this pool into the river. It was so full of people that we lost the interest of dipping in it'.
The following is a more balanced article:
'It just takes a one hour ride to reach Legship form Jorethang , which is famous for its hot water spring [Tatopani]. On the way to Legship, one can see a board put up wherein it is written Tatopani Bhir. Just on the bank o the river Teesta, there is a 20 x 20 square foot hot water spring. The water is bounded with two steep hills [Bhir], Sanghanath and Miyong hills.
The Legship hot water spring is known for its medicinal proprieties for healing different ailments like chronic skin disease, bronchitis and hearing ailments. The hot water spring is also worshipped by the people and there is a mythical belief that if people with any desire for something here then that is definitely fulfilled, so people come here to fulfill their long pending wishes from far off places like Nepal, Bhutan and the neighbourings states like Assam, Nagaland, Bihar. The pilgrims generally come to the hot water spring in the month of April to November, every yea. More than six thousand people throng here which then turns into a mela. Most of the pilgrims stay at the hot water spring for about a week. The people are allowed to take a bath in tow batches of males and females at a time. Every group is allowed to have a bath for two hours. The Chowkidars [overseeers] that have been appointed by the Tourism Department see to that every thing goes according to order and in time. The department has also built one resting shed with attached bathroom for the pilgrims. The department is also building eco-huts, which is under construction. The eco-huts will provide makeshift lodges for the pilgrims, during their stay at the hot water spring. The six months during which the pilgrims come to the hot water spring gives the local villagers a chance to earn some money by doing various business, along with giving the village the feeling of holding a ‘village fair’'.
Source: The Mail, dated: 10th September 2007.

Furthermore there is one youtube vid.

The above is probably the most well-known of Sikkim's soak. Less well-known are what follows.
Situated close to both the Tibetan and Bhutanese borders it is often referred to by the Bhutanese name for hot springs, tsachu which is mentioned after the location: 
Yumthang Tsachu. Besides it being the location of a hot spring, Yumthang (and the valley in where it is located) is known as the 'enchanted valley of flowers', the flowers sprouting from the alpine meadows and extensive rhododendron forests. The fame of the former is such that the governments organized the International Rhododendron Festival 2010 here.
The hot spring:
'At an altitude of 12,000 ft, 135 km from Gangtok in North Sikkim, a few hundred metres off the road, after crossing river Lachung over a wooden bridge lies a small hut which houses a pool where sulphur water of hotspring is collected for taking a dip'. (source)
'For the convenience of bathers, there is a hut with two pools which contains hot spring water. Hot water rich in sulphuretted hydrogen gas from a spring just behind the hut and is diverted to the pools' (source).

P2061024 Hot water spring, aka "Taato Paani" in Yumthang.
First hand reports often are tepid in their appreciation, others seem more honest as you might agree with after a look at the picture above.
'we wind up at a much advertised and highly unappealing hot spring which is basically a tiny cement ditch containing hot spring water enclosed in a dark and dingy hut (luckily my lonely planet guide had prepared me for this). silla from iceland, the land of beautiful hot springs is very impressed! haha!'
Haha indeed. Welcome to Asia. Sikkim Times (9 October 2009) adds that the facilities will be improved.
Another first hand experience (2010):
'An hour further north and we got to Zero Point, the end of the road, with the hot springs renowned for their medical properties. There are some families that come to hot springs every year for about 2-4 weeks. They sit down in the hot water few times a day, cook and mostly sleep and relax in a hut. They believe that this is the best cure not only to have a beautiful skin but also for any physical problem. They were so hospitable. They made tea for us that warmed our cold body (some people from our group jumped into the hot pool but next day, all of them had a cold:)'.
Yumthang, wikipedia reports, is not year round reachable, during the winter the road there is often closed due to snow fall.

Yumesamdong (or Momay Samdong) is located just up the valley from Yumthang (25 km). There are reputed to be more than 10 hot springs closeby. As it's pretty remote and rugged (snow more or less year round), not much is known about the springs in this area. One can get a first hand report of a trip to Yume Samdong. Beware though, in 2009 tourists died when a rock smashed their car, the Sikkim Times reports.

The photo is from a short blog entry by helena and jakob while visiting Yumesandong.
They also have a reference to Rinjink hot spring, not substantiated anywhere else.

Murder has good information on the close to each hot springs of  Borong and Ralang in South Bhutan:
'Borong and Ralong hot water springs are located within a distance of 7 kms from each other. Popular with visitors from all over the region, these natural spas are said to have strong curative powers. Ralang Cha-chu [or Tsachu] can be reached after an hour long walk from Ralong monastery while Borang Cha-chu is reached after a 7 km drive to Ralong and then a 40 min walk downhill'.
Ralang hot spring is, you might have noticed, above often referred to as Ralong, but it seems Ralang is the most often used. Ralang, like Borong, is apparently very beautiful and Ralang is also home to a Buddhist monastery. The hot spring played an important part in Sikkim's history when in the 18th century the Sikkim ruler was murdered here.

Finding it, is not straight forward Adrian shares with us:
'then set off for a nearby hot spring, that I understood to be 1-2 km away. ... It wasn't... I'm not quite sure how I got this so wrong, but I'd estimate in the end I walked about 10 miles up and down a very steep hill, having neglected to take any water with me. ... The hot spring was a small pool containing water that was quite hot, however by this point hot; undrinkable water was not really the sort I was after. So after a brief rest we [Adrian and a dog] set off back up the hill, which really was very steep'.
More experiences:
'Eventually the jeep came to a stop and when we asked where the hot springs where they told us that they were closed because it was low season... it was incredible how not one person gave us this important piece of information... we would have really taken it into consideration'.
Tarum is a northern Sikkim hot spring which forms part of multi-day trek. Photo's and this description from Lachen's website, a website which has ceased to exist:
'A little beyond the hut [which is Tarum] after crossing the stream there are two hot springs where one can have a relaxing dip. The one on top is being the hotter of the two is considered as the male and the lower one as the female. As per tradition one must always enter the female pond on the top before entering the male one'.
Pirane adds this great blog entry:
'All of a sudden we reach into an opening from where we can see a small house, our residence for the night. It’s a small basic structure with two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, as one room is already occupied by two elderly Lepchas [local ethnicity] we make ourselves comfortable in the adjoining one. We take appreciative gulps of piping hot tea to warm our damp bodies. Very quickly we strip ourselves of our wet clothes to immerse our bodies in the female pond. Male and female, that’s the term the locals have given to the two sulphur ponds, the cooler one being the female and the hotter one the male. The locals believe that one should first enter into the female pond before going to the male pond, the reason for which I really did not know but logically it made sense as the male pond was so hot that it made me yelp as I dip my foot in. Nima and myself were thoroughly enjoying as we sit there chatting for more than an hour, coming out occasionally to escape the dizziness from the sulphur fumes'.
The following photo ('male pond') is also from this blog. Looks great.

That's what Carsten Nebel reports as well:
'The walk through overgrown trails in the hot morning makes it hard to enjoy the hot spring in Tsarum at first. But after a rinse in the cold creek, it feels wonderful to sit under the pipes with hot water. Unlike other hot springs, this one is kept very clean, is visited by few people and the water doesn't even smell bad. It's definitely one of the top-3 hot springs in the Himalayas'.
Possibly unknown but only to geological insiders [PDF] is Zee hot spring in northern Sikkim, though it was also listed in this list on
References also list Shagyong (source), again in northern Sikkim. 

Another mentioned is Gangyap in Western Sikkim. Sometimes referenced as (possibly?) Tashiding, there are a few links.

'Tashiding - Tattapani (Hot Spring)'
Then again here is another link to another possible claim.

The Himalayan Beacon (link lost to eternity), while expressing concerns about development in general and specifically hydro dams, mentions (Tholung) Kongsa hot spring:
'Dzongu contains a number of important sacred sites such as caves where Guru Rinpoche meditated, the Keshong Lake, the Kongsa hot springs, and the Tholung temple that is revered not merely by the Lepchas, but by all the Buddhists of Sikkim'.
Could it be just another name for Tarum? No (?), it is the same as Tholung Tsachu which is another hot spring along a trekking route, though less well known. Tholung is located in northern Sikkim and is home to a Tibetan monastery as well as the nearby hot springs.
Mayal Lyang homestay advises a trip here:
'Enjoy the serenity of the place and spend some time meditating. A traditional bamboo bridge from here takes you to a hot water spring. Spend some time soothing your tired limbs here'.
Another soak is Khandum as blogged by Ugen Chopel Dorji:
'After about 2 hours drive we reached the place called Khandum Tshachu, which literally means Hot spring water of Goddesses. We all dropped by the nearby hot spring and just took a little patched washed as we did not have time to halt for the whole day'.
Finally, there is the drilling for a hydro dam which resulted in the existence of a hot spring according to the Voice of Sikkim:

'In what could be a repeat of 1949, the Himagiri Power Project staff discovered hot-spring at the site where they were drilling rock, about 150 ft above Lingdem Road on September 10. .
Talking to media persons Zilla member of the area, Dubzor Lepcha and the local people informed that the same hot spring was discovered at the same place in the year 1949 but suddenly submerged after two years. “This year, this hot spring has suddenly emerged with drilling works being carried out at the same place,” they said'.
Just recently the Sikkim government has earmarked funds 
'for development of Allied facilities for Lingdem Hot Spring, Upper Dzongu, North Sikkim'.
Soaking in Sikkim 
While trying to enjoy Sikkim's hot springs please take in the following [PDF]:
'The increase in human activities in the hot spring areas has lead to various ecological stresses. The people demand on the surrounding forests for firewood due to lack of alternative fuel. There is a lack of proper solid waste disposal as huge quantities of solid wastes are generated during peak season. Waste materials lie scattered along the surrounding huts and the river banks. The sanitary facilities available are unhygienic and insufficient as temporary toilets are constructed on the river bank where the faecal matter is directly discharged into the river without any treatment. The demand for meat and meat products had further accelerated the rate of fishing in the rivers. The large number of patients with various communicable diseases frequenting this hot spring may further spread these diseases. It is feared that due to the unhygienic conditions prevailing around these hot springs, the people on their way back may be infected by new diseases. The hot springs of Sikkim are regarded as places of worship and hold a high religious esteem in the hearts of the local people. The people drink the hot water and bathe in it, considering these factors detailed microbiological and radio-activity study of these water is felt essential taking into account, the study of the geomorphologic aspect of these hot springs and their economic exploitation'.
Happy soaking Sikkim!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting high. Introducing Tibet

Tirdum hot spring, by Ying

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. Mushroom expert 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'.
All 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.
Probably the only website other than this site with notes on Tibetan hot springs is that by the aforementioned, though these are mostly references to soaks in the Ganzi Tibet, a prefecture of Sichuan province, not Tibet proper.

Elsewhere, the significance of Tibetan hot springs is highlighted as there are two mentions in China's Top 10 Most Popular 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. Very romantic!

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'. (not working)
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, which elsewhere I discovered to be considered as:
'... one of the cleanest natural hot spring in Tibet'!
On an entirely different note, many Tibetan hot springs existing at high altitude have resulted in there being distinct micro-climates with bacteria, plant and wildlife not seen elsewhere (1).

To make the soak listings more accessible I've kept to listings of hot springs by prefecture.

More or less.

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