Friday, March 19, 2010

Where to soak in Lisu land?

Lisu Bathing
Located the most to the west in Yunnan province, close to the Burmese border, the Lisu minority live along the banks of the upper Nujiang (Salween) river, in the autonomous prefecture of Nujiang.

Lisu tradition dictates the local custom of holding a bathing festival co-inciding with the local new year celebrations. The tradition of holding a bathing festival is very much similar to the Tibetan custom. The tradition transcends the mountain themselves, Hindu have traditional bathing festivals as well. Unique to the Lisu is the involvement of hot springs, which seems sensible considering the time of the year the event is held.

This Lisu tradition called Kuoshi Festival (the New Year festival) determined to be from 20-22 December each year contrasting with Tibet's mid-summer bathing tradition. The practice though does have it's local roots:
'Legend says that the estuary of a huge pool below the cliffs at the foot of the east Gaoligong Mountain was guarded by a pair of little green sparrows. When local people gave parties, year after year, these green sparrows magically provided all the bowls, chopsticks, tables and chairs needed. Then a man failed to return the borrowed articles to the birds and enraged the Dragon King, who ordered that the pool be filled up. The birds turned into girls who bathed in the hot spring near the pool and departed. Consequently, early spring every year, local residents camp near the spring to offer sacrifices to the Dragon King and the magic sparrows, and bathe'.
Others simply see the custom of holding a bathing festival in more practical terms:
'By taking baths and washing off dirt with the sacred spring water, people hope for the forthcoming of auspiciousness'.
Then again the bathing is only a minor part of the festival apparently:
'The most interesting event of the Lisu people's traditional Kuoshi festival is the Hair-Combing Contest held on the first and seventh days of the first lunar month'.
The bathing festival seems to co-incide with the Lisu New Year, but might just follow the Kuoshi festival; the Bathing Festival is
'usually held in the first month of the lunar year'.
Which one could also describe as very early spring ....

'Every Spring Festival, the Lisu people gather at the Hot Springs by the Nujiang River
By taking baths and washing off dirt with sacred spring water,
people hope for forthcoming auspiciousness'.
Posted by Funansan.

How to Soak Lisu Style
Though soaking is part of the Lisu cultural tradition, this source puts the whole soaking process in more evocative terms:
'When the time comes, people from near counties and regions, wearing rich dresses and bringing food, luggage and even cooking stuff, keep pouring in. Tents cover the place, which is quiet in normal times. People all crowd together, singing and smiling happily, and the scene is full of bustle and excitement. The "Spring Bathing Festival", which used to be a day to take bath and cure diseases, now becomes a festival of revelry for people to spend holidays and dance and sing. Especially for youths at their life's full flowering, they gather together in dozens or even hundreds to compete songs, poems and look for lovers. It lasts all through the night and they never feel bored with it'.
No, soaking is not boring.

However, the web search on hot springs in the Nujiang Autonomous prefecture nearly all focus on the bathing during the festival as if no soaking takes place at other times. And unfortunately most of the reporting on the festival involves sensationalizing the methods of bathing. For instance eChinacities includes Nujiang valley hot springs in China's Top 5 Best Nude Bathing Areas despite the fact that the Lisu bathe only semi-naturally ....

It even means that simply the sight of seeing soakers soak can be the ultimate destination. From
'Every year, during the Spring Festival period, Lisu minority people will have bath together in hot springs along both sides of Nu River (the Salween). And held many activities such as poem contest, singing and dancing, etc, to celebrate the coming of spring season. This trip is specially good for photographing'.
The epitome of Lisu and Nujiang tourism according to
Photo posted with above quoted encouragement to sign up.

And how is the experience seeing soaking locals?
'I left the competition place at noon and walked to visit their "zaotanghui" (public baths) gathering. Some women were taking baths in the hot springs, laughing and playing. Even when tourists focused their cameras on them, they did not behave in an offended manner. What a simple and happy nationality'.
So much for the modern man ...

Anyway, modernity plays a major part in the future of some of these soaks. The Sydney Morning Herald no less, also takes a soak with the locals:
'Men and women alike stripped to their underpants, Wa Ba's family and friends sat soaking in hot pools fed by a geothermal spring gushing from a mossy crevice under the gnarled roots of a banyan tree on the bank of the Nu River.
As his wife tended a kettle over a wood fire and young women drank cups of hot water straight from the spring, Wa offered round a bottle of his homemade rice wine, a clear brew strong enough to give a noticeable buzz from just a capful.
"Usually we take a bath here on the eve of the new year, so we're a bit late this year," said Wa, who lives in Dapicha, a village half an hour's walk away. "If you bathe here when the year is new, it protects you from illness" '.
Reported in 2005, it then goes on to mention that:
'But the hot pool enjoyed by Wa's group, the land of Pi's community, and perhaps even the tenure of his Lisu people in the Nu Valley, are threatened.
Just downstream from the hot spring, about five kilometres up from the town of Liuku, marker pegs stenciled "Liuku Power Station" are rammed into the earth beside a tunnel into the hillside. When built later this decade, the dam's reservoir will submerge the hot spring and many small farms and villages lining the river'.
Though the loss of the soaks is certainly a disadvantage, the projects (once completed) will certainly massively impact the local inhabitants and change their ways of life with no way back.
The consequences will also be felt in countries downstream, for instance now (in 2010) the Mekong is drying up along Thailand and in Lao, consequences attributed (by the press) to dams on this river.
That said, dams have many environmental advantages over alternatives but being highly intrusive is not one of them.

The opposition, though not entirely successful, has been able to stall the construction according to the Times (21 May 2009). Opponents are organised in the Save the Nujiang as well as Salween Watch.

The soaks of Nujiang
Despite the considerable wealth of information on how the locals soak, hardly any information is available on where they soak and definitely no personal experiences are described on the net.

Some places that are mentioned as having soak sites are Chawalong, which is located in the north of Nujiang prefecture. The photo available on flickr doesn't endear itself to potential soakers though ....

Elsewhere mention is made of hot springs, 10 km north of Liuki city, the prefectures administrative center. These are Laomudeng (possibly), Bazhaodeng, Baihualing, Denggen and Mazhanghe (source).

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