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.