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Yangbajing (羊八井温泉): The highest hot spring in the world

Yangbajing hot spring

There's no place like home, or so the saying goes. Imagine my surprise then to see the very familiar landscape of my homeland replicated in a small town in Tibet. Search for Yangbajing online and you'll see what I mean – the photos that I saw reminded me so much of my native Iceland.

Like Iceland, Yangbajing is famous for its hot springs. In fact, Yangbajing is supposed to have the highest hot spring field in the world. Imagine soaking in hot groundwater at 4300 meters above sea level after a hike through the pastures of Yangbajing.

The reality might not match the fantasy though, as the hot water flows into a concrete enclosure at the base of a geothermal plant. I'm sure you'll find the cost of bathing in what's likely the world's highest swimming pool worth it!

Like Iceland, Yangbajing has learned to utilize the power of these hot springs. In fact, a thermoelectric plant located at the edge of the hot springs provides most of the power for the city of Lhasa, 90 kilometers away. The plant, which covers about 25 square kilometers, was established in 1977. It was the first time geothermal energy was used not only in Tibet but in China.

Yangbajing hot spring

Yangbajing's landscape is characterized by extensive prairie pastures. These great patches of green are framed by snowy mountains, which again bring to mind images of Iceland. Of course, the numerous oxen, sheep and herdsmen that take care of them is something I'm likely to see in Iceland.

There are certainly differences between Iceland and Yangbajing, though. One of the most striking is probably the amount of sunshine that each place receives. The region where Yangbajing is located receives over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Iceland, on the other hand, has as little as 3 to 4 hours of sunshine daily during the winter months. The average temperature in Yangbajing is 8°C, again, almost like home.

Not just hot springs

In case Yangbajing begins to sound like a place of just pastoral bliss, I should mention now that it is home to a Cosmic Ray Laboratory which runs the ARGO-YBJ (Astrophysical Radiation with Ground Observatory with Ground-based Observatory at YangBaJing) experiment. The project is a collaboration between the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (Italy) and the Chinese Academy of Science. Yangbajing was especially selected because of its altitude. If you're into astroparticle physics, then, this is definitely a must-visit.

Yangbajing hot spring

For regular tourists, though, there's always the Yangbajing Monastery to visit. This monastery was founded in 1504 and is historically the seat of the Shamarpas of Karma Kagyü. The monastery was detroyed in the 1980s and is currently being rebuilt.

A day's walk away is a nunnery associated with the monastery. It's worth the effort to visit because it provides a magnificent view of the Nyenchen Tanglha range. About 30 nuns reside in the nunnery now.

Yangbajing might not be everyone's cup of tea. A person needs a sense of adventure and a willingness to explore, qualities we Icelanders have inherited from our Viking ancestors. Yes, a visit to Yangbajing will definitely feel like coming home.

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