The hot springs of Bhutan are believed to have miraculous healing properties
The Bhutanese believe that hot springs are a blessing from the Buddha.
A hot spring is, as the name suggests, a spring that is hot. Even in the dead of winter, as snowflakes descend around the water and a person standing a few feet away is freezing in the cold, the water in the hot spring is still hot.
There are a few ways a hot spring can form. Magma deep beneath the Earth's surface—commonly formed near volcanic activity—heats the surrounding rocks. When rain or groundwater comes into contact with the rocks, they heat up too. The heated water spills through the cracks in the ground and gathers on the surface of the Earth, forming a hot spring.
Another type of hot spring forms when water is heated by radioactive decay in the rocks and soil. When it rains, the water seeps through the ground and flows deeper and deeper. The deeper it flows, the hotter the water becomes. As the water heats up, it becomes more buoyant, thus it rises through the cracks and forms springs on the Earth’s surface.
Steam causes pressure to build below the surface. If there is no exit for the water to escape, it shoots out as a tall column of water and steam—known as a geyser.
Hot springs in Bhutan
Hot springs are beloved in Bhutan. The locals call them ‘tshachu’. Mineral water is referred to as ‘drubchu’, whereas medicinal water is ‘menchu’. The Bhutanese believe that tshachu, drubchu, and menchu are blessings from the Buddha. Thus, hot springs in Bhutan are usually sacred sites.
More than that, tshachus are revered for their miraculous healing properties. Tshachu therapy is a big deal in Bhutan.
Tsachus are believed to cure illnesses, including arthritis, body aches, skin diseases, ulcers, rheumatism, indigestion, tuberculosis, and others—all it takes is soaking in the water for a prolonged amount of time.
Tsachu is much like menchu (hot stone bath), with the medicinal water mentioned above. The difference is that the hot stone bath uses fresh water and wormwood leaves. Unlike hot springs, the heat comes from roasted river stones that are added into the tub.
Many, many years ago, Bhutan used to be known as Menjung, which means “The Land of Medicinal Herbs”. Bhutan’s tradition in medicine can be traced back to the 7th century in Tibet, under the heavy influence of Indian Ayurvedic practices. Today, the tradition lives on through hot springs and hot stone baths.
Hot springs to visit
1. Gasa Tshachu
Gasa Tshachu is immensely loved throughout Bhutan, and praised for its healing powers by both locals and tourists alike. It is situated near the Mo Chhu River. Gasa is 134 km from Thimphu and 47 km from Punakha. The road connectivity to the location is fair; it is accessible by car. You may book a guesthouse in advance by contacting the manager.
There are six bathhouses at Gasa Tshachu, one for the Royals and the remaining five for the general public. Of the five available to the public, one of the bathhouses can be booked ahead of your visit.
The medicinal value of the water determines the temperature of the water, so visitors get to pick the temperature of their choice. Each pond can hold up to 12 people at a time. All but one pond has a roof; the roofless option is for those who prefer to soak in the great outdoors.
The ponds are open 24/7. They are clean, well-maintained, and well-lit.
2. Duenmang Tshachu
Duenmang Tshachu is located by the Mangde chu river at the base of Kamjong hill. It is in the middle of a remote village in the centre of the Kheng region. Reaching Duenmang Tshachu takes some effort. From Tingtibi town, travel one hour by car to Gomphu town, then take an hour trek to reach the hot spring. If you wish, you may hire ponies and porters to help you with your luggage.
There used to be only four ponds at Duenmang Tshachu, but due to the high demand, the management has built six new ponds. The place is well-equipped with toilets, water taps, and rubbish bins everywhere.
There are canopies covering the hot springs and railings to keep the place secure. Unfortunately, there are no hotels in the area, only two guesthouses in the facility. You may pitch your own tent if you wish.
3. Dhur Tshachu
Dhur Tshachu is known as a hiker’s paradise and one of the most beautiful hot springs in Bhutan. Just like with Duenman Tshachu, reaching Dhur Tshachu is a challenge. It takes three days of hiking to get here, but think of the refreshing bath to reward you at the end of the three days!
4. Gelephu Tshachu
Gelephu Tshachu is located 15 km uphill from Gelephu. You can access the hot spring by road. Here, there are five pools available for your dipping pleasure.
There are three guest houses that can fit approximately 40 people. Alternatively, you can set up your own tent.
At Gelephu Tshachu, you can also opt for a hot stone bath.
5. Chuboog Tshachu
Chuboog Tshachu sits by the banks of the Pho Chu River. It is about a day’s journey from Punakha town. The only way there is by trekking; it takes about three hours to get from Tshachu to Woolathang.
There are two ponds at Chuboog Tshachu. The water in the first pond is meant to cure dermal diseases, stomach ailments, and tuberculosis. On the other hand, the second pond is for muscle sprains and diabetes.
You, too, can experience the miraculous healing properties of Bhutan’s hot springs during your next trip to Bhutan.