Sunday, November 3, 2013


The leftovers
With blogs listing details on the hot springs of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it's only natural to expect their neighbours (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) to also be dotted with nice soaks. 
But actually there aren't that many hot springs. Thus, this single blog post will cover both countries.

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.

That was quick.

Turkmenistan: Going underground
Turkmenistan does have the odd hot spring or two. And even a very special and 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'.
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"'.

Also noteworthy is the Darvaza gas crater, a gas drilling operation gone wrong more than 50 years ago, resulting in a seemingly never ending burning gas crater. Picturesque especially at night it is also located in the deserted hinteralnds of Turkmenistan.