Sulphur bathhouse in Georgia is not a place you visit. It is an experience.
After being attached physically, mentally and emotionally to the child I gave birth to some 3 years back, I was hoping to spend some quality time with my “inner-child”
I wanted to go to some place new, with some friends, old & new, eat a new cuisine, drink a new liquor and experience something new to bring in the new life force in me.
And this gave birth to the idea of a “Girls weekend Trip to Georgia”
Why Georgia you ask?
- I had seen and read enough and more, great reviews about the place
- It is a slice of heaven on a budget price
- It boasts of a beautiful winter temperature when I was burning in Dubai heat
- It was free visa on arrival for us GCC expats
- And most importantly, it was just a few hours away from home where my baby would be, away from me, just a cheap, budget direct flight away.
I will be covering this Gorgeous Georgia travel in a few more blogs but for now, let me share one of my highlights of the trip to Georgia. “The Sulphur Bath”
It was the last day of our stay.
We were excited.
We were weary.
We were a bit sore from all the walking
We had planned the night ahead to party till dawn
Our internet research on the Sulphur bath was ranging from “Delightful to Dreadful” but I for one wanted to experience the hot, communal, mineral rich, traditional public bath.
So, as we were walking back from the National Botanical Garden of Georgia, we came face to face with this very unassuming and very pungent smelling face called the “Public Sulphur Bath”
WHICH BATHHOUSE DID WE VISIT IN GEORGIA?
Like I said, we were not prepared for a bath experience. We came face to face with it, it was part of our “To Experience in Georgia” list and we were ready to knock at the door that came in front of us. It just so happens, that the bath house we spotted was one of the oldest and most reputed in the city.
We went to the Bath house no. 5. I read that it is almost 300 years old, and is Tbilisi’s oldest bath house. o
WHAT IS A SULPHUR BATH?
Sulphur is a naturally occurring mineral that is found primarily near hot springs and volcanic craters. Sulphur has a distinct smell which is caused by Sulphur dioxide gas escaping into the air. The Sulphur bath has been a tradition in Tbilisi going back hundreds of years. The city’s abundance of Sulphur springs has been harnessed and used to naturally heat the pools which bathers use to unwind, relax, and gossip about local news. Typically built into the ground, the baths look to the passerby like brick bulbs sprouting from the Earth. When looking for one, simply follow your nose to the distinctive Sulphuric odor.
WHY SHOULD YOU EXPERIENCE A SULPHUR BATH IN GEORGIA?
Legend has it that Tbilisi wouldn’t be here without it–in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali of Georgia, found his hunting falcon poached in the same Sulphuric waters that feed today’s bathhouses. Dazzled by the waters, the king ordered his capital moved to the spot, which he named Tbilisi, based on the Georgian word “tbili,” or “warm.” Today, a monument to Gorgasali overlooks Abanotubani from across the Mtkvari River, and a small statue of a falcon can be found among the brick domes.
The Abanotubani baths are built along Persian traditions, but unlike the water in Persian baths (which are manually heated) the water in Tbilisi naturally comes from the earth with a temperature ranging between 75 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mr. Google told me that the waters of Georgia’s Sulphur bath have healing powers, ranging from curing skin ailments like psoriasis to eczema, as well as arthritis. And this is no old wives’ tale, having been documented by specialists like Irina Toidze, a neurologist at the Institute of Neurology and Neurophysiology in Tbilisi, who has written of its antiseptic, as well as calming benefits on skin. (International studies have also been done on the effects of balneotherapy, or mineral baths, showing that wading in the nutrient-rich hot water could reduce pain for osteoarthrosis or improve antioxidant levels.)
So, I was sold and after reading my experience ahead, maybe you too will be.
MY EXPERIENCE AT A SULPHUR BATH IN TBILISI, GEORGIA
My friends and I walked towards the Sulphur bath not knowing what to expect. All four of us are from Dubai so, we have had our lavish hammam experiences in some posh Dubai Spas, but we were totally clueless about what a public bath should offer.
As we reached the entrance, we saw a group of thick-browed old men smoking cigarettes and drinking tea was gathered near the front door. They smiled at us and gestured to show us the way to the reception.
On the reception, we were greeted by a stern warden looking lady who spoke to us in broken English and asked us to look at the price list on the board and decide what we want.
It was now that we had to choose the type of bath we’d like to take. We had to choose between a public or private bath. Public baths were for unlimited time for about 20-30 Gel while private rooms could cost us from GEL 50 for an hour’s soak and add the 1-2 gel for a Towel & slippers and Gel 50 more for a scrub, sauna & massage.
Since my friends were feeling quite uneasy with the smell of Sulphur, the faces of the strangers, the noise, the cigarette smell and questionable hygiene standards as compared to the spas that we were all used to, we requested the lady for a tour of the private room before we decide to pay.
Yes, public room for us was totally out of question. 4 women travelers, naked in a public bath, at a foreign land was something way too courageous for us for our first trip abroad together.
A Santa Claus look alike (minus the beard), the jolly old man took us to show the private room. He even told one of my friends that she looks like Aishwarya Rai because we are from India.
Forget the Zen-like atmosphere of spas and their plinky plonky music. We were shown a vast room with 2 jacuzzies like pool, a shower, a waiting area, a stone platform and a nice wood burning charcoal sauna room and a toilet. The place smelled pungent due to Sulphur but I loved the mosaic on the wall, the dome like roof and the hot -steamy water in front of me.
Anyway, two of my friends chickened out after this tour and decided to go back to the hotel. They were just too posh to experience the rotten egg smell in a dingy historical bath place, but luckily for me, I got a company with this other friend of mine who decided to live it up and experience what was truly traditional, therapeutic and something so NEW for our sense and sensibilities.
We paid for the Private room with massage and then started our hilariously memorable experience of a Tbilisi Sulphur Bath.
A very cute, chubby, grandmotherly woman escorted my friend and me inside and gave us directions in Russian for the bath process. First, we were to remove our clothes and sit in a steaming pool for 15 minutes and then she would knock the door and come to give us the “massage.”
I strip down to an embarrassing orange bikini-cut panty and my friend also strips down to her rather pretty white underwear. We tried to act casual and not look at each other awkwardly and focus on our bath but it really was very embarrassing and hilarious to start with, at the beginning.
My friend was quite a hero and within 3 minutes she bravely submerged herself in a mercury-soaring pool of Sulphur water. She was really enjoying herself in that scalding water and was motivating me to make my way down to the hot pool.
Though I got used to the smell and scalding water, I was still too scared to submerge myself into that pool. I had this image of my skin burning out of my bone for some reason but strangely enough that touch of very very very hot water was feeling good too.
Just then, we heard the knock on the door and I answered it to find yet another very cute, strong built, a face of the angel kind of a grandma. She looked at me and realized that I had not adhered to her instruction and almost pushed me into the hot water tub, till I submerged and surrendered.
She then took my friend to the massage area and I just relaxed and relished the feeling of being a boiled egg in a water on the stove.
After say 10 minutes, I felt like I was going to pass out. It was too much to handle, and I was getting dizzy. I called the old lady, who came and helped me walk to the shower area. She made me drink that water, and it was so sweet and fresh and I can still taste how divine that water felt and asked me to relax on the stone stool, till she completes the massage of my friend.
After lying there for few minutes, with the knowledge that I was not dying of dehydration I got up and walked around, naked, checking out my private bathhouse: It’s the modern image of ancient opulence—a massive room slathered in beautiful but old tiles, a large pool, and two smaller hot and cold versions. I did feel like a Cleopatra of Georgia, must be the sulfur causing hallucinations.
Now, it was my turn for the massage and man! Again, I was nervous and excited.
The same cutesy grandma arrived. She was in a black bra and panty ready to massage me. She ordered me to lie down on the granite slab on my back and she started putting some solution and soap on her old oven mitt kind of a hand glove loofah sponge. I tried not to think about the hygiene now.
I was aware of my freshly boiled, nude body, lying on that granite floor waiting for her touch, but I was still too shy to look her in the eye. She didn’t speak – presumably because she couldn’t speak English – but rather pointed emphatically, making it clear what she wanted me to do. As I lay there, naked facing her, she lathered up a coarse glove then set to exfoliating every inch of my bare body (except my face). She moved me onto my back, then had me flip over onto my stomach and she scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed – paying no attention to the moments when my muscles tensed as she scoured areas of my body not accustomed to a stranger’s touch. It was awkward, but not intrusive.
After every big scrub, she would show me the tons of dirty dry skin cells that were coming from me due to the wine scrub she was applying on me. I felt dirty and I felt clean. I was ecstatic to be having millions of dead skin cells removed from my body.
When she finished, she dipped a bucket into the pool of lukewarm water and threw it on me. She repeated the dipping and throwing routine several times, rinsing the freshly peeled skin from my body. And it felt marvelous.
She again positioned me on my stomach and then proceeded to use a bar of soap on my entire backside. Once I was soaped up and slippery, she began to fiercely massage my shoulders and neck and then pounded on my back. After about 10 minutes, she again doused me with a bucket of water. She then pointed me towards the Hot sauna room and asked me to stay there for 5 -10 minutes. She told me to take a dip into the pool with icy water for 1 minute after that hot sauna.
I stood up from that granite-marble platform, she was busy cleaning the bucket etc., wrapping up her duties. I tapped on her shoulder and gave her one tight hug. She was not expecting a tight hug and a thank you from a naked woman, but I just had to, because she made me feel sparkly clean and more so, because she made me remember my grandma so much.
She smiled, murmured some blessings in Russian, said, ‘you beautiful’ in English and left the room.
Next, I entered the wooden sauna room. It had woods burning and the Sulphur smell was finally not coming inside this room. After than massage and scrub, this sauna heat felt so relaxing. Even the sweat was sliding without any restrictions on my now smooth body.
I came out of the room after what felt like 10 minutes and now my friend was sitting in a nice towel wrap, in the waiting area, waiting for me. She reminded me to take the dip into that pool of freezing water and said, I won’t feel cold at all.
I didn’t trust her, but I was to follow the instructions of my grandma therapist, and this was any way the last step. I entered the pool, shuddering, but I actually felt so nice while in it. It is what a cake would feel if you take it out of the oven and into the fridge. I wanted to stay longer in the fridge but I had to come out.
I looked very happily, gratefully and excitedly around. Tried to say my thank you to the walls, the domes and the pool of that old, historic Sulphur bath house. I was feeling so relaxed. The Sulphur smell was not bothering me at all. My skin felt softer than my baby’s and I my soul felt pampered.
For a Mom, who is running round the clock, taking care of her little one and the family, these last 60 minutes were pure joy.
WILL I DO IT AGAIN?
Hell Ya! I will.
I wholeheartedly believe that the Tbilisi Sulphur baths in Georgia are a unique experience. I honestly can say that for initial 2o minutes this Sulphur bath experience was a “What-the-*#&%#-is-happening-here?” moment for me and my friend but once I relaxed, surrendered and submerged in the Sulphur water, it really did feel amazing. Do not let your preconceived notions about spa bath and your modern standards of hygiene come between you and this experience if you ever travel to Georgia. I say, go ahead. Take a bath.
If you have read it this far, do leave me some comments. Also, tell me if you have ever experienced the Tbilisi Sulphur baths in Georgia. Did you love it or hate it? If you haven’t been, do you want to go? Please do like, share and comment.