Long before the arrival of science based medical treatment, Bhutanese ancestors resorted to hot stone baths, locally known as Menchhu, to cure diseases. A Hot stone bath is a method of soaking in fresh water heated by roasted river stones for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. Although still in practice among some Bhutanese today, this tradition is vanishing in some places of the country. In Chhoekhorling Gewog of Pema Gatshel, the villagers are trying to revive this tradition to turn it into an income generating venture.
The residents of Chhoekhorling Gewog have to walk through the bushes to get to the site where the Menchhu is located at.
The hot stone bath below the Chhoekhorling village has a soaking tub carved out of stone which locals believe was Guru Rinpoche’s bathing tub.
People of Chhoekhorling and nearby areas used to visit the place to soak themselves. But not anymore. The Menchhu is believed to cure illnesses such as piles, gastritis and skin diseases.
“Most of our grandparents used to come here to take hot stone bath in the past. Now, it could be because of improved access to healthcare centres, hot stone is used only once or twice a year,” said Tashi Zangpo, a resident of Chhoekhorling village.
People say easy access to hot springs with proper infrastructure is another reason why people become less interested in hot stone bath.
The locals of Chhoekhorling want to revive the tradition of hot stone bath if they receive necessary support to develop infrastructure at the site.
“If we have the shed and other structure, it would be better. We think people do not take hot stone bath as they don’t have a proper shelter during rainy season,” added Tashi Zangpo.
“We have to rest in the open space after taking hot stone bath. We even prepare the meals in open space. We would be grateful if we can have structures a guest house and a kitchen,” said Zangpo, another resident of Chhoekhorling.
According to Chhoekhorling Gup, the gewog office has already proposed a budget for the revival of hot stone bath. If the budget gets approved, the revival works will commence in the first year of the 13th Five-Year Plan.
“We have plans to construct the approach road and a guest house for visitors to halt the night and take rest. And we also proposed to construct concrete bath tubs,” said Chhoekhorling Gup Kinzang Rabten.
The villagers are planning to form a community group to take care of the site and the infrastructure if the plan materializes.
“If the place is maintained and if we receive visitors, we are thinking of providing services for their convenience by providing essential items available from here. So, they don’t have to carry anything with them,”said Zangpo.
“From Nganglam, it takes just around 25 kilometers to reach here. They can easily visit the place. So, it will be a good opportunity for the locals to earn additional income as well in the future,” added Chhoekhorling Gup Kinzang Rabten.
Besides medicinal values, the place is believed to be blessed by Guru Rinpochhe.
If the development works commence as planned, it will benefit the residents of three gewogs of Nganglam Dungkhag.
Thinley Dorji, Pema Gatshel
Edited by Phub Gyem