Kabul Diaries: friday hamam


Kabul Diaries: friday hamam
by Princess

The whisky sours of the previous night, my jet-lag and probably the overexertion of my senses during the previous week in Afghanistan, made me sleep in well into Friday. Afghans have one-day weekends, but all international organisations take Fridays and Saturdays off.

I don’t remember when was the last time I slept until 11:30 AM. I woke up to a bright sunlight and a clear mountain view from the window. Slowly I made my way into the kitchen to have some tea before checking out the hamam.

Although my room has its own bathroom and toilet, I find the water pressure too low to be able to wash my hair, unless I am willing to spend a couple of hours on it… and I am not exaggerating!

So I was very happy to hear that the old hamam is still functioning and is lit up every Thursday night and all the way through Friday. I missed the chance of going to a public Turkish hamam a couple of years ago when I visited Istanbul.  This private hamam would give me a chance to experience how in the old days the well-to-do Afghans washed.

The hamam consists of four rooms. The first room is a small vestibule, which opens to the courtyard and is separated from the next room through a wooden door. The next space, which is sandwiched between the main washing area and the vestibule, is furnished with a bamboo mat on the floor and a couple of wooden chairs. This is a dry room where one undresses and dresses before and after the bath. A small wooden door separates this dry area from the wet room where all the washing takes place. The small size of this door, against whose frame I bumped my head twice, is to help minimise the heat loss. On the inner wall of the wet room at waist height a small arched opening provides a window into the pools of hot and cold water. The bodies of water mirror some of the daylight from the skylight into the wet room, lending the hamam a romantic air.

I imagine that in the old days water was ladled into buckets though this opening. Today, two separate faucets under the arched window provide hot and cold water.  Later I was told an Australian visitor to the Qala, unfamiliar with the concept of hamams, once said, ‘The hamam is excellent, but the hole through which you are supposed to dive into the pool is too small.’ I'd have to confess, at some point, the thought crossed my mind, too.

A big wood oven, which Kaka Daoud dutifully lights every Thursday at dusk, heats up the water. As a result the wet room gets extremely hot, much like a steam sauna. Not being a big fan of heat, for me even the cold water is warm enough for washing. I managed to wash in 30 minutes without fainting before I stepped into the fresh air of the courtyard.

The rest of Friday was taken up with preparations of a feast that was to place in honour of one of the wood experts. He was leaving Kabul after two years. An Indian colleague was preparing an elaborate multi-course dinner and everybody was helping out. The meal was a great success. Afterwards,leaning back on our cushion around the colourful spread, people started to take turns singing songs in English, French, Latin, Indian, and German. When my turn came, as usual, I shied away by saying that I do not have a singing voice. The truth is, I have always wanted to learn how to sing, but the thought of singing before an audience has always petrified me.  After lots of prompting, to my own surprise, I finally gave in and gathered the courage to sing Dokhtar Shirazi.

The audience was extremely kind and gracious. They seemed to like the song, maybe because it was a simple song in Farsi and they could understand the lyrics. I had crossed a personal threshold and the positive response made me feel good about it. Who knows maybe someday I will find a singing couch, who can teach me how to sing my favourite Persian folks songs.

The next morning I was going for a walk in the countryside about 20 miles north of Kabul. 


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more from Princess

Right JJ! "came to power through massive fraud on election day"

by Anonymouse on

Un-freaking-believeable!  Forgot all about it, but that's right, he came to power through fraud! 

Everything is sacred.

Jahanshah Javid

Bigger picture

by Jahanshah Javid on

Great description of the hamam and your time there. It also has a colonial feel: Foreigners in an occupied country being catered by locals. In this case the foreigners are honorable individuals who want to help a desperate population.

The bigger and not-so-pretty picture is that Afghanistan is under foreign military occupation with a corrupt government that everyone accepts came to power through massive fraud on election day. It's indefensible and jeopardizes humanitarian work.

Anyhow... screw politics and politicians.

You've thought of singing lessons? Go for it!


Ahvazi how long you've been in Afghanistan?

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.



by ahvazi on

Great narrative. I am also in Afghanistan. and appreciate ur story that focuses on the peaceful/simple afghan realities.


Doustaan-e Aziz

by Princess on

Doustaan-e Aziz: Abarmand, Red Wine and Multiple, Thanks for reading and leaving comments!

Anonymous jan, Bajenagh jan and Irandokht jan, I enjoyed your stories. And to answer your question, Irandokht, no, unfortunately we do not have a ‘kargar’ to help us wash in this hamam. Now, you’ve given me an idea to put in a request! ;)

Yolanda, unfortunately I don’t have a video of the singing session.

Ahmad, I am not sure if I can really answer your question. I would say first and foremost curiosity, a search for a new direction in my life, and a bit of guilt.

Bambi, Although I understand where you are coming from, I think there is point where one needs to accept that bacteria are every where and are impossible to eliminate completely. So sometimes developing immunity against them is a good thing.



by yolanda on

Hi Princess,

I wish you had a video or cell phone video for this part:


Afterwards,leaning back on our cushion around the colourful spread, people started to take turns singing songs in English, French, Latin, Indian, and German.........  After lots of prompting, to my own surprise, I finally gave in and gathered the courage to sing Dokhtar Shirazi.....The audience was extremely kind and gracious. They seemed to like the song, maybe because it was a simple song in Farsi and they could understand the lyrics.


It is a magic moment 'cause it is a multi-lingual singing session! It is sooo cool!



Multiple Personality Disorder

Uuuhhh! more, very good :O)

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

Bathroom and toilet in your own room!  You live in luxury.  Too bad the pressure is low.  Hopefully they'll fix the pressure soon, as soon as Taliban is defeated.

I'm sure you have a great voice too.


Red Wine


by Red Wine on

I enjoyed to read you again my dear ...

Take care .

Hugs .


Thanks for the picture and

by bambi on

Thanks for the picture and the blog princess jan.   


Unlike others, I do not romanticize , nor find the concept of old hamooms with low water pressure soothing at all.  I will be concerned about the sanitary conditions of the surfaces, the untensils, and most importanly the water itself.  In fact even at the best of hotels, I still don't feel very comfortable.  The most I miss at any vacation is my own bathroom.



by ahmad_ on

what made you to go to Afghanestan to begin with ?


Dear Princess

by IRANdokht on

That was a very soothing blog, no realities of war and no rocket attacks... not at all what I expected from an Afghanistan visit! :o)  I am glad you had some relaxing time and was fascinated by the multi-cultural goodbye party.

One thing I consider the most interesting about public baths is the use of an assistant who helps you wash up and scrubs you with loofah. Actually I think that is the best part of hamoom...  Did they have anyone help you out and turn on the water for you or rub your back too?

I've never been to a hammom like that with a large pool in the middle. Even when there was a shortage of fuel after the revolution and we had to use the public baths, we used to get a private one (nomreh), but we would still ask for a personal masseuse (kargar)  ;-)

Thanks again I needed this blog to relax during my lunch hour! Looking forward to reading more...

Be well and safe


bajenaghe naghi

Princess jan

by bajenaghe naghi on

very nice relaxing read this one. It was about hot water, steam, singing,  and walking in the counrtyside. What can be more relaxing? 

Your bathroom story brought back a lot of hamoome omoomi memories (sorry  too many Ms). I remember when I was only a wee lad being pulled by ears to go with my mother for kisse keshi and fitile fitile cherk. 

I hope one day you will enlighten us with your sweet voice.  

Keep safe. 



Happy Hammam

by Abarmard on

Hammam sounds relaxing. Thanks and let us know more about the city.



by yolanda on

Hi Princess,

     I missed your "Bar" article, I was busy all week until Sunday, last night I could not find your article. I am glad that you just launched this one. I like the part that you mentioned that people sang in English, French, Latin, Indian, and German.....it sounded like a great moment....wow! You have a little UN there, people from so many different ethnic backgrounds! It is wonderful! This part really cracked me up 'cause it reminds me of myself: 


but the thought of singing before an audience has always petrified me.  


I am way worse than you 'cause "talking" before an audience has always petrified me, let alone singing! :O))

    I am glad that you sang and they liked it!  Yeah!!!

Looking forward to your next article and the photo essay in the near future!


Take care! 


WOW!! An amazing picture! I forgot to take similar pics in Iran

by Anonymouse on

Princess jaan what a nice story and I can totally relate to it.  In my recent trip (and previous trips) we have showers with enough water pressure and so on but from time to time depending on where we visit we have to comply with what is available.

This picture with the big plastic red bowls/tashts reminded me of one such hammam, not public, in a family member's house.  It had a telephonic shower (the name they use in Iran) with water spreading all over except where you'd want it to! So I'd pour the water in these tashts and after shampooing the hair, I'd lift the heavy tasht full of water (Yaa Ali :-) and then pour it on my head! One time I slipped and almost fell to my own demise in the process!

I don't think I was supposed to pour all that water that way because that'd be wasting water, but I just didn't know any other way! After I told them about my near death experience, they told me didn't you see the smaller satls (buckets) nearby?! 

Everything is sacred.