All across Russia many of the people we’ve met have invited us to take a ‘Banya’. Unfortunately in the early days my grasp of Russian was such that through interpretation of their sign language and misinterpretation of the word ‘Banya’, .. I thought that they actually meant for me to take a shower with them. Far from being offended, I was actually quite moved by their requests, but each time I graciously declined.
Here on the camping weekend in Usserijsk when the President of the Iron Tigers invites you join him and his senior colleagues for a ‘Banya’, it would be rude to refuse. ‘Banya’ in Russian is actually a ‘Sauna’, nothing more and nothing less. Here it is a tradition, winter or summer, men and women take banyas and then plunge themselves into the river, .. even if the ice needs to be broken first. For an Englishman entering this domain it is a huge step into the unknown. With clothing removed I entered the banya and was immediately directed to the uppermost bench, …. the hottest area. Laying flat on my stomach, a huge bunch of twigs with leaves still attached is dipped in boiling water and thrashed across my body, …… they turn me over when done on that side,.. and continue on my front. The process takes several minutes and all of the time the coals are being stoked and more water added to the furnace, … perhaps they are testing my metal. I hold out for as long as I can but eventually give in to the heat and thrashing.
Outside people check their watches and nod in appreciation as I exit the banya, ….. my head light and spinning, my body bright red and tingling. I walk down the jetty and throw myself into the river below, ……………………. it’s painfully cold.
My first banya experience in Russia, I suspect not my last, …… but an experience that will last for my lifetime. (Sorry, .... but no 'Banya Photos ;-)