BITLIS, Turkey — For the buffaloes in eastern Turkey, the hot springs in the mountainous Bitlis province are a welcome refuge from the freezing wintry weather.
Residents in the tiny village of Budakli walk hundreds of buffaloes up snow-covered roads to the geothermal springs near the dormant Nemrut volcano in the winter. The animals already know the way and spend hours in the steamy. 40 C waters — so much so that the young men herding them struggle to get the massive animals out of the water and go home.
The hot springs help keep the animals clean as they go through the winter. In the summer, the buffaloes swim in the cool waters of the plains. One caretaker likened the bathing to a form of therapeutic meditation for buffaloes. The men can also take a break from winter and enjoy the swim.
It’s mostly children who take care of the animals, taking them to fields to graze and to their swim. The children often don’t receive an education beyond middle school because they need to help their families in the small village, covered in snow for nearly half the year. The village’s main source of income is cheese, butter and milk from the buffaloes.
Villagers say the hot springs heal buffaloes’ wounds, alleviate discomfort in their udders and make quality milk. Tourists, mostly local, also come to bathe, especially for rheumatic diseases and skin ailments.