Passing time in Bhutan (Part 4)
Assistant Professor Takehiro Hirayama
The Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC)
Gasa Tsachu, Koma Tsachu, Chuboong Tsachu, Gelephu Tsachu, Duengmang Tsachu and Dhur Tsachu… There are approximately 10 non-volcanic hot springs (tsachu) in Bhutan. While some are so secluded that it could take three days to get there from the nearest road on foot, others are just ordinary (?) secret hot spring spots which are few only few hours or are easily accessible by car.
It was completely off season, but I visited the Gelephu Tsachu in Southern Bhutan one summer afternoon. What I saw were a pagoda and sutra flags quite common here since Tibetan Buddhism is the country’s spiritual heritage. The statue of Shiva and a stone linga (Shiva’s symbol) followed. Four out of the five bathtubs were circular and surrounded by high walls, making them look like water wells. In this hot spring, you took steps down into the well-like bathtub closed off from the outside, a unique design that is not seen elsewhere, even in Bhutan.
Men and women bathe together, clothed (men in underwear, women in shirts and shorts). The water was relatively lukewarm, and each bathtub had a slightly varying temperature. The hot spring was kind of lonely in the summer, but during winter time, I heard the place is full of visitors and their tents.
Right in the middle of the winter season, I went to the Gasa Tsachu for a bath one afternoon. This hot spring was buried in a landslide that occurred during the torrential rain in 2009. After its restoration and expansion, it became the largest hot spring facility in Bhutan. There was a large crowd of people with their children (and the entire family) on winter break. In the bathtub, I felt like a packed sardine with all the bustle.
Though wincing at how my skin stuck to the person next me as if I were on a crammed train, telling myself that, “Well, this is Bhutan,” and becoming part of the pack helped me gradually appreciate the hot spring for being a pleasantly relaxing place open to all, regardless of age and gender.
In Bhutan, it is common to bring your travel kit (food, mattresses, tents and more) and stay at the hot spring from a couple of days to even weeks for healing and therapy. However, there are many people who also take day trips to hot springs by car. Gasa started constructing roads starting in the 21st century and developed its infrastructure. Gasa Tsachu is also now easily accessible by car.
Whether this progressing development turns out to be good or bad, visitors will increase in the future.
*1/4 of Bhutanese people are Hindus, and especially in Southern Bhutan, the Hindu influence is strong.