By Michael Browning
China's oasis of fire is medical Eden
Super hot desert sand yearly aids thousands with arthritis, lumbago
By Michael Browning
Turfan, China -- Turfan is known by the Chinese as the "oasis of fire," the hottest, lowest place in all China, 505 feet below sea level, where the temperature of the sand dunes can climb to 176 degrees in July and
August--hot enough to bake an egg.
And it is here, during the fiercest dog days of summer, that several
thousand people come in great pain, crippled by severe arthritis and lumbago.
They are looking for a cure no hospital can give them, a cure they hope to
find in the blazingly hot sand baths of Turfan.
It is a folk remedy that the local Uygurs --pronounced "wee gors" --a
northwestern Chinese people of Turkic extraction, have practiced for
It is drastic. It hurts considerably at first, and patients take several
days to get used to the high temperatures.
After that, they have to be careful not to pass out from dizziness,
dehydration, rapid heartbeat or high blood pressure.
It is simple: It consists of immersing oneself up to the waist in hot sand of up to 118 degrees for up to 30 minutes, twice a day for two to three months.
"It works," said a doctor at the Turfan Desert Sanatorium, who gave his
name simply as Ibrahim.
The sanatorium is run by the Satellite Brigade of the Five Star Commune in
Turfan County and has operated since 1966. Ibrahim claims a cure rate of 80 to 90 percent.
"And," he adds, "it's permanent. Let me give you an example. One patient we received last year had arthritis so bad he couldn't even move his legs.
After one summer, he could walk. After this summer, he was completely cured."
No foreigner ever has come to the hospital seeking treatment, but about
1,000 Chinese come here each year, their expenses paid by the state.
The sanatorium is about eight miles north of Turfan, at the edge of China's cruelest desert, the Taklamakan, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
The sand is fine, crystalline stuff, yellow or grayish blue in color. It
molds itself well to the contours of the body and retains heat for a long time.
Patients are also lured by the rumor that it has magnetic properties, but a compass behaves normally in the Taklamakan.
Uygur attendants shovel the sand from the superheated surface of the dunes
then wait until it has cooled to less than 120 degrees before using it on
Patients spend three to four days getting used to the hot sand. They sit in shallow pits and have it poured onto their legs a little at a time.
We do just the feet at first, then a little more, then a little more. We
have to be careful. If you sat in the sand up to your chest, you would
develop tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) in 40 minutes or less, it is so hot,
"When they first try it, they feel dizzy and nauseous. It takes a while to
get used to it."
Attendants hover nearby, dosing the patients with water, raw eggs and
slices of the famous sweet Turfan melons. The patients sit under umbrellas
to protect them from the fierce rays of the Taklamakan sun. Otherwise, they would surely suffer sunstroke.
"Acording to scientific experiments, the effectiveness of the treatment for arthritis and rheumatism is above ninety percent."
Sand Therapy Center
The sand therapy has at once the effects of heat therapy, magneto therapy
According to scientific experiments, the effectiveness of the treatment for arthritis and rheumatism is above ninety percent.
The whitewashed building nearby is the Sand Therapy Center, consisting of
treatment rooms, wards and a canteen, with medical workers for auxiliary
Board and lodging are available in the center for patients.
The center is six kilometers northwest of the city. Every year from June to August, the two big sand hills are thickly dotted with colorful cloth
sheds, parasols and tents. Under these sun-shading facilities, people,
lying or sitting, bury their bodies with hot sand, dripping with sweat.
This is the well-known and peculiar "sand therapy of Turpan, the Flaming