Monday, May 24, 2010

On the divide

Where does it end?
The other prefectures in the mountainous section of Sichuan hugging the Tibetan plateau which I feel compelled in more detail to cover are
Ngawa autonomous prefecture (sometimes referred to as Aba) and Panzihua prefecture level city.

That said there can be a case be made to extend the listing of hot springs.
Sichuan is certainly an example of a province which significantly lies on the edge of what in geological terms can be called the Tibetan plateau as well as socially on the edge between those cultures associated with the Tibet plateau and those not so.

Sichuan province is one of China's most densely populated so beyond the prefectures described in a previous posting, it's no surprise to observe that most hot springs have been privatized and (re-)developed. Shockingly not all in good taste.

All together
But let's start of with one of those lesser developed areas. Northeastern Sichuan's Ngawa is still part of the rugged mountainous part of Sichuan. It was the epicenter of the 2008 devastating Sichuan earthquake.

Zoigê (Ruo'ergai) district (north Ngawa)
holds the hot spring of Jiangzha (Jiangza):
'Every spring and autumn, thousands of people from Tibetan area in Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai province will gather together to have a bath in the hot-spring. It is a custom that men and women bath together in the hot spring'.
That said this blogger on Myspace once mentioned:
'Dirty hot spring pool under the pavilion'.
From the youduo site: Jiangzha hot spring. The website notes the following translated sentence:
'After hundreds of years of practice has proved Jiangzha spa for skin diseases, arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, stomach problems, such as a significant effect'.
How hot is a hot spring?
Furthermore in Ngawa is another much visited hot spring, the hot spring of Erdaohai (Munigou), north of Wenchuan (county?). It is most probably in Songpan county. 

Though much visited, many wanna be soakers have been put off due to the low temperatures. The hot spring is to be found after a two hour trek along Munigou lake. This visitor was seriously let down (as I am by the now defunct link!):
'... that is if it can be called a hotspring. The water here would have been too cold to drink'.
Others describe them as:
  • 'not very hot (source:error 404!)',
  • 'the coldest one I ever saw (source: link not found!)',
  • Where it gets off being called a hot spring is beyond me since it is actually darn cold at only 21 degrees (source)',
  • 'The water isn't warm at all!! (source)' and
  • 'frigid (source)'.
However there may be more compelling reasons (link removed)to visit here:
'hot spring with the legend that fairies from the heaven once bathed there. The temperature of its water is about 25ºC with a strong smell of sulfur. People like to bath here to cure or prevent skin disease'.

Elsewhere in Ngawa (Lixian county), one can find the hot spring of Gurgou (Gu'ergou). Gurgou is famous for it's hot spring, the
best in Tibet (?). This site provides more info:
'The Gurgou Holy Peak Hot Spring, assessed as a famous spring of quality water in Sichuan Province, is 230 km from Chengdu. The water temperature of the hot spring is 60 and its daily flow is 3000 tons.The spring contains 17 trace elements such as lihtium, strontium fluorine, zine, selenium and germanium which are good for human health,being the only one natural hot mineral spring integrating the bathing, curing and drink functions so far found in Sichuan at the present'.
This website provides a short overview to the 5 most popular hot springs around Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital. In reality it's an overview of the better accommodation boasting their own soaks.

, Dayi county which is part of Sichuan's capital Chengdu prefecture (and only 85 km from the city center) has a hot spring area which seems quite popular in combination with the nearby skiing area of Xiling. More info on this hot spring can be found here. As an investment project. As winner of the UN Habitat award (link gone). As having 21 hot spring pools, I was lead to believe. 
Tripadvisor in it's Huashuiwan hotel overview mentions 6 hotels with hot spring in their name.

'#hotspring  #huashuiwan  #relax  #hometown  #dayi'
Nearby, Tianfu Hot Spring Hotel in the 'development zone' of Zhougong (near Ya'an) is known as the no. 1 Sichuan hot spring. The hotel is also known as Dream Hot Spring Hotel according to Tripadvisor. However when looking into the overview of hotels in Xingzi county, one counts 6 hotels with hot spring facilities.


Closer to Chengdu is the hot spring of Wenjiang (or the Yufu Hot Spring Hotel). It apparently incorporates
'50 types of indoor and outdoor hot spring pools'.
This hotel should not be confused with Wen Jinjiang Hot Spring Hotel which is located in Chongzhou district.
Leaving Chengdu
Further away from Chengdu in northeast direction is the hot spring of
Mianzhou in Mianyang city. It comprises of pools and a hotel, both of which claim to be the biggest indoor hot spring facility in China's southwest. Tripadvisor's rankings are quite good, though little info on the soaks them selves.

Thirty km's from Mianzhou is another hot spring hotel named

Near the so-called West Grand Canyon, south Sichuan, a number of hot springs can be found. Two to three kms away from Yibin is Guandou hot spring. The hot spring is said to be able to accommodate 800 visitors. For a pre-war photo go to verfainverfain's Flickr site.
Further away from Yibin (30 km) is the hot spring of Shifu or alternatively known as the hot spring hotel of
West Grand Canyon (or Xibu Daxiagu) (see Tripadvisor). It's discharge is 8000 sq. cum. which ranks top in China. No less than 3000 people can soak here.

Finally, due south of Chengdu is arguably what is regarded as one of China's best hot springs, E'mei. That said there are actually three hot springs near E'mei. These are Lingxiu, Hongzhu and Yoga hot springs. Yoga hot spring is a resort which offers ... yoga! Probably this doubles up under the name of E'mei Hot Spring Hotel. Lingxiu though is more well known (see here f.i.). Australia's Sydney Morning Herald notes the Dr. Fish treatment in Hongzhu. As well as offering soaks it also is a 5 star hotel, Tripadvisor reviews.Down Sichuan's south
Then near Panzhihua
city close to the border with Yunnan one can visit the hot spring of Hongge. Despite the town having a tradition of industrialization and mining without borders, the nearby Hongge hot spring has been swept up in a development called Holiday Inn Panzhihua, aimed at promoting tourism. The development covers an area of more than four km2 and is
'designed planned according to high standards by the Japanese hot spring experts'.
Not many people are attracted to Panzhihua, though this couple express their satisfaction (in Dutch) concerning the hot spring.
Caution? By Wubbo Womb.

Goodbye Sichuan

Then there is the Happy Valley hot spring which though mentioned here and there, it is probably just a gimmick for another hot spring with a less inspiring name ...

Again in all quite a few soaks, but none which you would denominate as a great soak. Then again it does seem that the more price-ier options provide the better facilities.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Clear Sighted Soak?

Sichuan contains China's border between the lower lying areas of China proper and the mountainous entrants to the Tibetan plateau. A quick look at the map shows high mountains cut by deep valleys as the Indian sub-continent pushes further north.

In looking into the Himal hot springs of Sichuan, the autonomous prefectures of Garzê (or Ganzi) is covered in this pretty extensive section. By far the biggest prefecture of Sichuan province, Garzê was until early 20th century part of Tibetan Kham. Firmly in the mountainous terrain, the local majority Tibetans are spread over 18 counties.

First and foremost amongst these, is Kangding which serves as the administrative center of Garzê autonomous prefecture.

Situated 5 km from 'downtown' Kangding is the hot spring of Erdaoqiao (Erdao for short):
'The grounds are quite expansive and encompass many different bathing areas—a great place to soak away the aches and pains of a day's hiking or horse trekking.
Baths vary in temperature, from 38°C, 40°C, 42°C, up to 50°C (100 ~ 122°F) and if that's still not hot enough, there's also a sauna'.
A first hand experience:
'The first sniff of the spring had sarah imagining a bacon and egg sandwich but unfortunately the rotten egg smell of popping sulfuric gases was emitted from a pool like enclosure where our hot spring lay. All the surfaces were particularly grimy and the roof was encrusted with ice, the pool was covered by a thick layer of mist and the colour emitted was akin to the lights of a midnight dip in a swimming pool. Despite the -6 degree temperatures we smartly lowered ourselves into the hot spring and held our heads above the water. Before long Sarah noticed that my silver necklace had turned to a copper colour and rapidly changing to black. We weren't sure of the concentration of acid but sarah uses it in the workshop to blacken metal and if it touches her skin she is supposed to hop under the chemical shower'.
Tripadvisor has a page on Erdao, doesn't look too appealing. But the following picture could also assist (let's hope the source correctly identified this as Erdao ....).

Other sources for info on Erdao hot springs but then in Chinese can be obtained here.

Laoyulin is also mentioned to be 5 km from Kangding and the excellent Dr Rock blog by Micheal Sydney mentions the existence of a hot spring and possibly Micheal revisits the same hot spring 4 years later:
'Just a few brick cubicles covered with cheap corrugated green plastic'.
The area is becoming more of a destination for trekkers wanting to visit Sichuan's highest mountains known as Gongga (see below). An article by the China Daily gives more insight in local development combined with tourism espousing on the benefits. The 2008 article suggests a local will improve the soaking site.

Further away (21 km) from Kangding is the national park of Mugecuo. Wikitravel mention
'Dip your feet in the medicine pool (actually a hot spring) for a small fee, or have an egg boiled'.
Chinatravel notes the existence of more than 20 springs and
'Boiling springs here can be categorized into many kinds, such as Buddha Spring, Clear-sighted Spring, Stomach-improving Spring, and Feet Bath Spring, etc. The water of Buddha Spring has no peculiar smell; it is good for heart and eyes if infused with tea. Clear-sighted Spring, Stomach-improving Spring, and Feet Bath Spring are respectively helpful for the treatment of eye disease, tummy bugs and rheumatism, as well as for health keeping. From ancient times till now, the spring water here is reputed as "divine Water"'.
Even more hot springs are supposed to be apparent according to the blog entry by Memories on a shoestring
'We had a light meal at a hotspring area. Apparently Mugecuo Scenic Area has nearly 100 hot springs which have different curative effects. I did not try the hotspring. It cost RMB20 to enter inside. Each of us bought an egg to eat. It is half-boiled egg for RMB3'.
The blog entry comes with many photo's of the scenic area. From the photo's of the lunch break one can see that quite an effort has been made to upgrade these to afford visitors a soak if only of the podo variety ...

In Garzê county one can find the hot spring of Dargye which has alts in the name of Rongpatsa, Rongpaca, Rongpatsang and Yartsa. Located 25 km from the county headquarters, it is near the gompa with the same name and the village of Rongbatsa.
Daniel Winkler describes the place as follows:
'Odorless hot water wells up with bubbles from the white granite sand ground. Dig in your feet and you will enjoy a bubble bath. Alas, the temperature of the pool is slightly below body temperature (35°C / 95°F). However, the clear water and the magnificent view of glaciated mountains make this spring a special treat. May be I should mention that this is the men's pool. There is also a woman section down below near sinter outcroppings'.
He adds a nice picture which though the same place as below, it clearly gives a different feeling to the soak.

'Shedding their robes, monks from the Dargye monastery
in Sichuan wash in a hot spring'.

Lithang (Litang) county, to the west of Kangding contains two less well-known hot springs.

Sori hot spring is included in Daniel Winkler's hot spring
overview. Then there is most probably this experience:
'That was when I noticed local Tibetans in a hot spring across the river. I wandered over to check it out and found the water temperature to be just right. The extremely hot spring water had been mixed with the icy river water. There were several pools—the ones farther up the trail were strictly for womenfolk, so I stayed with the men. Tibetans don't bother with bathing suits—and neither did I—much to the amusement of my companions'.
Possibly not even Sori hot spring, but nonetheless a nice description of a good soak!

A little more clarified is the hot spring of Batang, 5 km west of Lithang.

'There are a number of places to bathe there, but don't expect to be a wash in nature - the hot water is piped into white - tiled tubs'.
Elsewhere this web site makes mention of many hot springs.

Daniel Winkler's
hot spring list leads to another two soaks, Dzogchen (Zogqen) in Dêgê county and Rubu Chaka (Rubuchaka and variations in spelling of this) in Daocheng county. The former is heavily mentioned on other websites as well. The Daocheng Things to See section of Chinabackpacker mentions
'It was reported [in 2003] that many cockroaches were found in the bathroom. Avoid going there during the night when cockroaches are extremely active, and can be found everywhere, even in your clothes and shoes. Believing in Buddhism, local Tibetans do not bother to eliminate them'.
It's unclear whether this is advice to stay clear or the opposite.  
Elsewhere a more recent photo shows a different more developed picture of what Daniel might have experienced.
And this hotel booking site shows that apparently the good times of cockroaches at night have passed ...

The website of the New Long March described a trip from Zhongdian into Yunnan. As they cross into Xiangcheng county, Sichuan they come to the village of Ranwu, which has a hot spring which was
'developed at great expense but in very poor taste. ... The spring is only a few meters away from the pools, the smaller of which is the hottest hot spring I have ever used in China. The water was formerly monopolised by a local Living Buddha; after he had washed, the water flowed into a lower pool which the locals used'.
'Ru Buchaca named because place names spa, Ru cloth Tibetan word for "friend", "Chaka" Tibetan is the spa, alias Charles co Wenquan Ru. Ganzi is a well-known high-temperature steam springs, hot springs at the outlet water temperature is 68 ℃, up to 80 ℃, flow rate up to 7000 m3 day and night, hot springs water is clear, colorless and odorless, contains no sulfur, drinking, with physical fitness, longevity, medicinal, regulating endocrine function, treatment of skin effect'.
No. 2 is the Best

Hailuoguo's no. 2 (source: RichardLuyy)

In Luding county (100 km from Kangding) one can find what seems to be Sichuan's most frequented hot spring for the mountainous part of the province. Located near Sichuan's highest mountain, Gongga (Minya Konka) and in China's biggest glacier park (?), are the hot springs of Hailuogou which for the convenience of foreigners has been (re?) named Conch Gully.

Hailuoguo even makes it to the top 10 hot spring resorts of China (

Despite all the claims to it's naturalness the springs themselves are part of a tourism set up such as the Gongga God Hot Spring Hotel. In total there are 3 hot springs in Hailuogou according to the article entitled 'Attractions: Four unique hot springs in China', one of them being Hailuogou.
That said it are so-called camps at hot springs 1 and 2 that attract most visitors.
Sabrina while blatantly copying on her blog copies:
'... most of the visitors favor hot springs in No.2 Campsite because they are rustic, with more natural taste'.
In this article discussing 'green' tourism in Ghanzi prefecture, the park around Hailuoguo is mentioned a number of times for the lack of 'green' planning.
'Several hot-spring resorts inside the park have tacky buildings and decorations totally alien to their setting. "These are truly ugly to me," Hitesh Mehta, a Canadian landscape architect, said in his presentation.
"They are beautiful," he said, pointing to the photos of traditional wood houses seen at Moxi Town just outside the park. "Unfortunately there are not many left."
Facing the criticism, Xiao Feng, director of the administration of the park, explained that these problems were mainly caused by several independent tourism operators inside the park and their bad management. At present, the administration is purchasing their property back to solve these problems.
However, many conference participants expressed doubts as to the local authorities' humble attitudes towards investors from the outside world.
"They spoil investors for sure," Chen Xujun said. "Most of them become indifferent to the local environment and welfare of the local communities."'
Then there is this info:
'According some doctors, the boiled water has high medicinal values, such as curing skin disease and arthiritis, and eliminating fatigue'.
I'm feeling a bit fatigued myself ...

Updated June 2014

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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 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 it 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.
The province having less restrictions on foreign travelers, one would believe that there is more information available. 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'.
Though I have not be able to pinpoint the building (A hotel? The
Qihai Holiday Dynasty has a 'bath service'). Elsewhere is the mention of the oddly named Syrup Beach 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." '
A real royal soak
Note should be made of the massive tragedy which struck here in the beginning of April 2010 when an earthquake had it's epicenter in the county of Yushu, which lies in the 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. This link describes in a matter of fact manner a visit to a hot spring in Yushu which due to lack of evidence I'll conclude is the same as that of the Princess ...

Hainan prefecture
In Hainan prefecture, Guide county lies the hot spring of Zhacang. Besides the proof in a scientific document, there is Life photo of the natural springs. Beware though, the following is 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'.
Elsewhere in the county are the hot springs of Qunaihai and Xinjie (1), though the sources mention the existence of 11 hot springs in this county alone ....

A hot spring is said to be 60 km southwest of Gongh, Hainan prefecture.
'near the town of Wenquan'
which seems to be an understatement as Wenquan translates as hot springs. The same source which focuses on the life of Zanabazar, the first living Buddha of Mongolia describes a meeting between Zanabazar and the then Dalai Lama near Hoang-Ho Hot Springs, which the source speculates are the same hot springs.

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? 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?
Maduo county, Golog prefecture possess 1 hot spring, which unfortunately goes unnamed. This site also provides a photo overview of the county with a surprising photo of the hot spring.

Then in Huangnan prefecture, Tongren 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 Calfree:
'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 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.