The thought of visiting a natural hot spring soothes the mind with feelings of hot healing mineral water immersing your body.
Then the image of being out in nature along with that hot healing water makes it even better.
And so that was what we had in mind when we heard of a side trip we could do from the city of Chitral in the north-west of Pakistan, to a famed hot spring called Garam Chasma.
“Let’s go for a night and relax there”. Sure.
But all wasn’t what was thought to be…
Garam Chasma Hot Springs (Yuk)
The hot springs are a 2-hour drive from Chitral and finding a shared car with some locals for 300 rupees each ($2) we headed out.
The drive was nothing spectacular for the first 30 minutes or so until you start heading deeper into the valley where Garam Chasma is located and the ‘wow’ factor kicks in.
It’s truly a stunning valley leading towards the Afghanistan border in the Hindu Kush mountain range.
It becomes steeper and steeper with the mountains towering over you as you drive up the valley following the river that flows down past scenic villages with stone walls and mossy banks flowing from the river.
After 2 hours you arrive in a dusty and busy town full of trucks exporting potatoes and other goods out of the area. It has the feel of a frontiers town.
This can’t be it, can it?
Ok, fair enough Garam Chasma itself isn’t that great but the surrounding scenery is beautiful and surely the hot springs will be a little bit away from the town itself nestled somewhere in peaceful nature.
Back to that in a moment though as in the meantime we are having a budget dilemma. We were misinformed by someone in Chitral that there were plenty of good budget places to stay in Garam Chasma but nope that’s not the case.
There are only a few places to stay and it’s a choice between the one main hotel of the area which is nice, big, clean, and with a swimming pool, but costs around 6-7000 rupees for a double.
That’s ok if you’re not travelling on a budget but as we were and the average budget guesthouse price in Pakistan being around 1500 rupees, the hotel was over the budget for the trip.
The other option was just 50 metres down the street from the main hotel but you wouldn’t know it was a hotel as there’s no sign and it’s hidden at the back of a simple restaurant.
Thankfully it was cheap enough at 2000 rupees for a double room (after bargaining down from the initial price) but was very grotty compared with every other guesthouse/hotel we had stayed in for the same price elsewhere in Pakistan.
On the bright side though it was right next to the river which was very cool to go to sleep to.
View from the budget hotel.
The absolute best thing to come out of the Garam Chasma trip was the people we met at this budget hotel, a group of students who go there to use the internet for online studies.
They were in their early twenties and quickly we started chatting and laughing around together and they offered to show us to the hot springs.
The river that runs through Garam Chasma.
Taking us through the dusty streets for 5 minutes we reached the edge of town and started up a small hill.
We are going to get into nature and soak it up in some hot springs with some new friends.
Oh no, you ain’t…
After only a 1 minute walk up the hill, we reached an area of some concrete pools measuring around 2 metres long and 50cm deep.
The guys pointed at it.
Yes? What are we supposed to be looking at?
The reality kicked in.
This was the Garam Chasma hot springs.
Just on the edge of town in small concrete structures.
But then the guys said how local people come here to wash their clothes in it and on top of that there was trash all around.
The hot spring dream trip was dead.
Garam Chasma ‘Hot Springs’. Yep, seriously.
The local guys we were with never go there. You can see why!
Seeing the disappointment on our faces they gestured us down the hill to a small house where an elderly man had made an indoor bathhouse consisting of 6 small bathrooms where hot water from the hot springs is poured into.
So fuck it at least it was clean enough although a little grotty. But we came all this way for some thermal bathing I was not saying no!
And like a lot of things in travel the whole experience actually was a lot of fun. The thermal waters, although you can’t bathe in them like in nature, are very soothing even if just pouring over you from a tap.
The good company we had and the general laugh at the situation made it a great experience.
When in Rome…
Here we go…
If you want the next picture you’ll have to see me butt naked trying to rescue a snail that got stuck in the bath!
After this, we headed back to the grungy hotel and fell asleep to the sound of the river rushing past our window.
The next day up at 6 in the morning we jumped in the first taxi leaving and got the hell out of there.
Yes, it was a cool and offbeat experience but I wouldn’t recommend you going to Garam Chasma if it’s a hot spring experience that you are looking for.
But the valley itself is beautiful and you should meet some nice people.
Short on time in the Chitral area? Then definitely don’t go there. Head straight to the Kalasha Valleys for one of the best cultural travel experiences in Pakistan.
So yeah trips don’t always go the way you expect them to but then something else happens instead that make them a different and also fun experience in its own right.
Just go with the flow and try and enjoy the best you can when things don’t always go the way you want them to.
For more stories and guides on Pakistan take a look at my Pakistan destinations page.
And be sure to take travel insurance for any trip you do. I use (and highly recommend) World Nomads Travel Insurance.