Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting high. Introducing Tibet

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.
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'.

That 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. Only the hot spring in China listing of the Beijing 2008 site as well as Tibetan Hot Springs by contain some links, though in the former these are mostly references to soaks in the Ganzi Tibet prefecture of Sichuan province, not Tibet proper. The latter counts no more than 3 listings. So massive steps can be expected.

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

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'.
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, Shigatse (or Xigatse) prefecture which elsewhere I discovered to be considered as:
'one of the cleanest natural hot spring in Tibet'!
Noteworthy, many hot springs existing at high altitude have resulted in there being distinct micro-climates with plant and wildlife not seen elsewhere (1).

Lhasa Prefecture: at a high

To make the soak listings more accessible I've kept to listings of hot springs by prefecture. What follows are those located in and around Lhasa, Tibet's capital.

Superlatives are what are used to describe the hot spring of Yangbajing (or alternatively Yangpachen) located in Doilungdeqn county, 87 km north of Lhasa. Access is great, even the new railroad to Lhasa passes here and there is a station. Even Micheal Pailin made it here, so why not join in?

The Yangbajing springs are massive and are stated to be the highest altitude springs in the world. Included as one of the World's Most Amazing Hot Springs, this site is less direct:
'The Yangbajing hot springs field is at an altitude of 4290–4500 m which makes it the highest altitude set of hot springs in China, and possibly the world'.
Others have included Yangbajing as one of the 10 Coolest Places to Swim, which seems a bit odd; though the temperature may be cold, the water is hot.

'Hot spring bath at 4600m'.
By Zuzi Griffiths. Though electricity was won since 1970's these pools were only filled in 1998 (1).

The Yangbajing hot springs field is extensive. It apparently covers a large area (40 km2, no less) and besides including the bathing complex (see photo) and geysers, it is also a source for geothermal energy, enough to sustain half of Lhasa so continues the Beijing 2008 site.

The uniqueness is further demonstrated with this tale of it's existence (from Magic (!) Tibet:
'It was said that long time ago, before the sky and the earth was separated, the whole world was in total darkness. People living at the foot of Mt. Nyainqntanglha were suffering. One day, a golden phoenix flied to the area, determined to create brightness by sacrificing itself. It threw one of its bright eyes onto the ground. A fairy caught the eye, and then a bright lamp arose in the air. Snow capped peaks of Mt. Nyainqntanglha appeared; grassland like huge carpet emerged; happiness came into Tibetan people. However, a greedy man near Yangbajing coveted the lamp. He took a witch man’s idea to sharpen his hatred into an arrow to shoot the lamp. The lamp was broken then, the pieces of the lamp dropped onto the ground, turning into hot springs and burned the man to his end. People said that the hot springs were the fairy’s tears'.
Rabbit writes on clickandrender an expansive piece on Yangbajing including many photo's.
You dog?
The Dezong hot spring (Maizhokunggar county) contrasts greatly with the prior featured hot spring. Devoid of development, the setting is rustic and accompanying this is the fact that it's mostly frequented by locals whose disregard for formal attire provides outsiders (surprise, surprise mostly males) with a carte blanche to highlight their possible ultimate dreams. states the following:
'The hot spring pool is divided into two zones-male pool and female pool. Though a flaw on the wall separating the pool, nobody would peep for lust-people there are quite pure.
Man and women bathing together with just a low stone wall between Bubbe bath and medical-worth are another TWO characters of Dezong Hot Spring. Somestimes, local pet dogs are lying by the pool 'appreciating' the naked tourists.'
What a load of info. Tibetan's have no lust. Local dogs do. Or do they really appreciate naked tourists?'s dogs appreciating?

While discussing Dezong, China Service Mall asks the following question:
'Is there anywhere else you can bathe in curative, calcite and tussilago-infused waters while gazing upon the most rugged, photogenic landscapes on the planet?'
That seems a weird question, when there are more than 1000 other similar hot springs and the first randomly chosen hot spring featured on this site acclaims to the same!
They continue with the description of the hot spring:
'The Dezong Hot Springs are arranged in simple, rustic fashion, divided into a men's pool, above, and a women's pool, below. 40° C, jade-colored spring waters cascade 20 meters into the resort's pools'.
The Beijing 2008 site mentions that bathing in Dezong has been taking place for over 1400 years, which must be something of a record.

Dezhong alt?
One of the more difficult factors when researching hot springs in Tibet is the lack of info foremost and the general confusement concerning the name. Often referred to as Tidrum (or Tirdum, Tridum, Tridom) hot spring I believe may well be the same. Pictures though are not conclusive. Experience though in both seems great.

'This is a view from the outside of the hot springs at Tidrum Nunnery'.
By Dire Wolf

'Tidrum Nunnery was home to a hot spring. ...And not just any hot spring. These pools were world class. Gently carbonated, just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, open to the stars—they don’t get much better than that. Joining eight or ten naked, intoning pilgrims, my attitude about the guest house quickly shifted. What at first seemed like a hardship post was in fact heaven.
My springmates stopped chanting long enough to warn me away from the patch of nettles growing along one edge of the pool. One part of me knew I shouldn’t stay too long, but another part was loving it enough to consider settling in until I simply moved on to my next life and could let my body be taken down the road for a proper sky burial.
After about fifteen minutes I looked up at the lone decoration, a framed photograph of a monk. Someone tried explaining the significance of the picture. Or perhaps he was telling me that my formerly white skin was looking lobster-like. I chose to see the one-way conversation as a sign that it was time to go. My sleep wasn’t half bad'.
Elsewhere Tibetwildyakadventures states:
'Concrete free, these hot springs are truly curative and relaxing. Men and women have separate bathrooms for changing. The best part is the fee. If things haven't changed when you go, it's only 5RMB per person to enjoy the hot springs and the nunnery is free. Some nunneries will offer free accommodations in certain circumstances. Whatever you do, don't get rushed by your driver or guide. This is a place to relax, forget about your watch and soak up the healing waters'.
Hillbilly hollar even introduces us to the aspect of 'professional soakers':
'Many professional soakers from all over Tibet come and stay for days. A room will cost you $5, and if you can't speak the language than it will be an instant noodle night for you. There is plenty of hot water'.
Where does one apply?

The men's pool at Tidrum by Jill and John. Most probably taken by John.
'To me it was just a lovely hot soak on a cool afternoon'.

Less info on more springs
Other hot springs in Maizhokunggar county are Paoshang and Riduo. Riduo seems to have certain unknown qualities:
'is famous for its magic water functions which can improve people's health, beautify skin and adjust blood pressure'
as Chinatibetnews claims.

In Rutog village, Maizhokunggar county, one can find the
Rutog hot spring!
'[Rutog] is famous for its magic water functions which can improve people's health, beautify skin and adjust blood pressure. Endless visitors and believers come to the hotspring every day for bathing and pilgrim'.
Xungbara Qu is mentioned as a mini-hot spring in Doilungdeqen county(1). The mini part lies in the lower temperature possibly. However drinking this water cures stomach aches and skin diseases, bathing stops itches. The same single source mentions that the curative qualities of the water has lead to the establishment of a pharmaceutical plant nearby
'which are making good profits'.
Finally, extensive search resulted in another find, Qusang hot spring of Doilungdeqen county. Or is it Quisang? This recent (April 2010) web text elaborates:
'Women were all wrapped in thick padded gowns and waiting outside. They just cared about when they could have a bath and paid little heed to us. When it's the time for women to take the baths, and no male are allowed to come into the hot spring. Males and females bathe in 6-hour turns and a bell notifies them when it's time to switch'.
Just one of the three photo's of Quisang hot spring. No subtitle.

Purku hot spring is another hot spring most probably located in Lhasa, the reference at least refers to Nyemo, a county in Lhasa prefecture. The article on tibetmagazine sums up the hot spring as follows:
'The hot spring is in valley with lofty mountains rising to the sky on both sides. The Yarlung Zangbo River is compressed into a narrow curve at this point. There are many hot springs. On the opposite bank of the river is Tare Village, and there are several hot springs on the cliffs to the west of the village, where villagers have hollowed out several stone pits for people to bathe in winter. Purku Hot Spring is on northern bank of the river with the water temperature of 70 degrees Centigrade, too hot to bathe directly'.
Complete with pictures.
In the above one must note that the sources used may not always be correct; be it concerning the name of the hot spring or the location.

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

Healing hot springs dezhong

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