Saturday, October 15, 2011

Northern boundary?

The leftovers
With blogs listing details on the hot springs of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, it's only natural to expect their neighbours, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, to also be highlighted. Because there aren't that many hot springs this single blog post will cover all three countries.

Soaking in Uzbekistan - no way!
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.

Big country, little soaks
To the north of Uzbekistan lies the immense country of Kazakhstan. Here a few hot springs can be found in the mountains bordering Kyrgyzstan and China. However knowing that there are hot springs does not mean that they can be highlighted. Take for instance the hot spring located near Chimkent (Shymkent). Just the one mention:
'hot spring health spas'.
Elsewhere, there is more info on two close to each other located hot springs, Alma Arasan and Zharkent-Arasan.
'There are 51 groundwater springs, many of which are used for spa therapy purposes. The Alma- Arasan hot spring water is similar in its chemical composition to French mineral waters of the Pyre-nean type (Aix les Bains, etc.)
The temperature of major springs constitutes 35-37 degrees centigrade. With regard to water content, temperature and radioactivity the water is similar to Tshaltubo Springs [famous hot spring in Georgia, the country]. The springs have a good influence on people who suffer from rheumatism, metabolic disease, diseases of peripheral system and blood vessels, as well as on the diseases of women and on the people who were poisoned with copper, lead and other metals. Every year Arasan-Kapal Resort accepts around 2000 patients'.
Other info on Alma concern it's establishment in 1886.

On Zharkent which, by the way, was established in 1967:
'The main medicinal factors are: nitric, chloride-sulphate, sodium water (36C) which contains fluorine, organic substances used for bath and shower'.(source)
Kapal (not (?) to be confused with Kapal-Arasan) possesses a mineral spring with a temperature of 25-28C, not quite soakable?

Aktau, lying on the Caspian sea on youtube with this description:
'A small warm bubbling hot spring, a little ways off-the-path from the road between Karagiye Depression (-132 meters below sea level, 3rd lowest spot on Earth) and Aktau city in Mangystau Province, Republic of Kazakhstan'.
Wikitravel mentions the existence of Radon hot springs ("facilities are very primitive") in the Aktau travel guide with nearby mud baths, possibly the same as above?.

An odd experience is revealed by Jennie Vader on a visit to a banya slash hot spring near Turkestan:
'... and I went to a banya in the middle of the steppe about 30 minutes from Turkestan. The banya is a dome-like structure (called the egg) built over a natural, underground hot spring. We all went into this huge egg and then into our own room which consisted of 2 shower heads and an old bathtub. Basically, you seal up your room and the hot water runs constantly, steaming everything up. You shower like usual and sit in the bathtub of really hot water'.

There are also mentions made of the following hot springs in Kazakhstan: Tamshaly, Ayak-Kalkan (hot spring 180 km from Almaty, in the village of Baseit), a so-called Mountain Thermal Water Resort.

A flickr photo reference to a hot spring in their Kazakhstan set. Have my doubts though.

More recently mentions Dobyn:
'Experts say the hot springs at Dobyn village are enriched with minerals and contain small amounts of nitrogen. The waters contain silica and trace elements of radon, providing the thermal springs with unique medical and healing qualities'.
It goes on to mention how the wellness industry in Kazakhstan is shaping up. Twenty three health centres have been established since 2000, with 13 under construction, among them a
Premium Spa Resort (though the website of the company has no info on this possibility). Two-hundred thousand visits were reported in 2011.

Going underground
Turkmenistan features an 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'.
A great photo can be found on flickr (but not posted). 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"'.

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