Hamming it up at the Hamam

Went for a morning walk at the Ischeri Seher around 8. The “city” was mostly empty. Took my time just savoring the emptiness and the lovely sights. Have been meaning to get a scrub at the Aga Miyakil Hamam just for the experience so it was serendipitous to stumble on it. The hamam was built in the 18th c and is the oldest in Baku.

The door was open and a female tourist was hovering by the doorway taking a peek.

Two men were busy sorting towels by the counter and paid no attention. The middle-aged one with white curly hairs on his chest gestured that she could go inside. I followed and found myself in the front room of the hamam.

After taking a quick look through, the young lady left exited as the middle-aged man gave her a pamphlet. He then turned to me and said, “hamam?” I nodded and he pointed to the prices: entrance – 10, scrub – 10, massage -10, tea – 10, towel – 10. I gestured that I didn’t want a massage, only a scrub. He totalled the price and drew the figure on the wall with his fingertip. I made picture-taking gestures and he nodded. I was the first customer of the day and there was no one else so I guess he thought it all right.

The room wasn’t very big. At the center was a small marble table underneath a domed ceiling. Around the room were wooden tables and chairs.

He pointed to some wooden lockers on the left side of the room, gave me a pink cloth, and made wrapping motions. I undressed, wrapped the cloth around me, wore the rubber slippers, locked my stuff in the locker, and followed him to the baths.

The bathing area was spacious. It was nothing fancy. No colorful tiles nor decors. There were three curtained shower stalls on one side, 2 saunas (1 was closed), a small elevated pool, 3 massage tables, and marble slabs with plastic basins along the side. At the center was a round marble “table.” He took my key, pointed to the number, and put it on the table.

He pointed to the showers so I took a quick shower. He then pointed to the sauna holding up 8 fingers indicating how long I should stay inside. Perhaps it was indeed 8 minutes, he entered the sauna, this time just wearing his blue nylon shirts. He was going to be my scrub master. He again pointed to the shower while saying something like “doszh.” I took a shower to cool off the heat and then went to my scrub master who was standing by a low table. He showed me containers of honey, salt, and coffee. An extra 10 manat and I could have those too instead of just soap. I nodded. He then pointed to one of the massage tables and indicated I should sit. Putting on a mitt, he introduced himself as Ali then started scrubbing. I had expected a hard scrub given his stocky built but his hand had just the right weight and vigour. Through gestures, he got me to lie on my back and face down all the while scrubbing and asking “okay?” in a gruff voice. He expertly wrapped and re-wrapped the cloth around me so I was never fully in the buff. After about 15 minutes, he indicated I should take a shower. I washed the scrub off my body. My skin felt so clean and new. I was then asked to lie on the bed again while Ali lathered with me honey, followed by salt, and then coffee. The salt really felt good. I headed to the sauna where I let all that goo on my body seep in. After about 10 minutes, Ali opened the sauna door, pointed to the shower and said “dozhe.” He then led me to the small cold pool at the corner of the hamam and made motions that I should remove my cloth and then plunge into the water. It felt so good. After a few minutes in the water, I was back on the massage table where I was lathered with soap and washed away with water. The foam bath I had read so much about came next. Ali took a medium-sized pillow case-like wash cloth, drenched it with soapy water, started waving it in the air then blew into it until it inflated. He then wrung it over me, releasing a cloud of bubbles. “Finished,” Ali exclaimed as he covered me with suds which he later washed away. I indicated I wanted to go back to the sauna and he nodded. Did another round of the shower-sauna-shower-pool routine then dried myself with the cloth Ali had left for me.

Opening the door to the front room, I saw Ali seated by some chairs and table and he motioned for me to stop. He handed me a towel, gestured to put it around my shoulders, and led me to a seat for some hot cay (tea) with lemon. A few other men had arrived by now. I paid a total of 32 manat for the entire thing. I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to the hotel by 11.

The experience was so enjoyable and I wished I had done it earlier. The fact that I was all alone made it easy for a first-timer like me as I didn’t have to suffer the awkwardness of being around locals who knew what to do.

What to expect

1. The facilities are so-so. Don’t expect anything fancy. It seems more local than touristy.

2. You pay for towel, soap, and shampoo so bring your own.

3. Women get to use the facilities Mondays and Wednesdays.

Categories: Azerbaijan | Leave a comment

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