Silk Road Day 10: Tajik Spa Time

Day 10: Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

After waking up and packing our things, we took our luggage and loaded up the cars for our trip to our next destination, the Khoja Obigarm health sanitorium. I was a little weary going into this part because they apparently have radon-infused water in their spas.

First we went to breakfast near our hotel in Khujand, which was an odd experience of sorts. The restaurant didn’t seem to know how to cater to a table of 15. Mind you, when we go to restaurants, we are always just getting the same exact thing, so it isn’t too difficult. Here, we were offered a choice of eggs and sausage OR porridge. I request porridge and the rest of the table requests the eggs and sausage combo. It takes about 30 or 40 minutes to get everyone their eggs because only two or three plates are brought at a time. When I mention that I haven’t yet received my porridge, their response is “porridge? We don’t have porridge.” Uh, ok. Later someone in our group notices a sign for free wifi so they ask the password. “We don’t have wifi.” Ok, so the sign is decoration? Eventually we get the wifi password, but it was all very strange. They have no vegetarian option for Anne, but Anna talks to the owners and hilariously says “oh, but they have pickles, you want that?” Being gluten-free or vegetarian in other countries has to be so difficult.

We hit the road and stop in Istaravshan, one of Tajikistan’s oldest cities, and check out a fort that overlooks the city and surrounding mountains. We then enter the city and drive on a winding road that leads us to a mosque. We were on a small local road, where kids were playing on the street and saw us, so they chased our cars until we arrived at the mosque. Some of the kids flicked us off, but it was in jest and not because they were planning on hurting us. They were only 6 or 7 years old, after all. The mosque is unguarded, so there were some more kids playing in the courtyard as we entered it. We were able to get to the rooftop via a small, winding, dark staircase. Once at the top, we could climb out to the roof, which was a thin aluminum sheet supported by creaky wooden beams. As the aluminum rooftop bowed with our weight, Firuz begged us to get down.

By the time we left the mosque, a cluster of 10 or so children had gathered in curiosity and amusement of these weird western tourists. As we drove away, they all chased us. The kid who flicked us off chased after us and I flipped him the bird as we drove past, which he thought was pretty hilarious. As long as they don’t throw rocks, right?

We stopped again in town to take a look at a golden Lenin statue which was not as impressive as yesterday’s. We hit the road once again and don’t stop until lunch at around 12pm. The bathrooms here were the worst, with a single triangle cut into the concrete floor, and no sinks. It made me seriously consider not eating lunch as the people preparing the food probably aren’t the kind to carry around bottles of Purell. But I was hungry, so I just pushed that thought to the back of my mind.

For lunch we’re served potato carrot broth soup and a tray of miscellaneous appetizers as we usually get. The main course is a big slab of gristle meat. Since I was feeling quite full from the previous courses and didn’t want to get sick, I passed on the meat. However, Calvin gladly took it off my plate without bothering to use utensils like he was at Medieval Times. Anna left us after lunch to go on her own excursion for the remainder of the trip, so we bid her our farewells.

We hit the road again, and it’s a gorgeous drive. There are beautiful snowy Fan mountains surrounding us on all sides, and we occasionally pull over to take scenic photos. The roads are winding and mostly switchbacks, so it proves for some interesting driving since our driver just whips around corners without regard for the correct side of the street. There are a couple of times when we cut a left hand turn in the left lane into oncoming traffic, but luckily it was slowly so no car accidents happened. We stop before entering “death tunnel” which is known for its lack of ventilation. It’s 5 km long and we thankfully survive the drive.

Finally we arrive at the Khoja-Obigarm health resort, a soviet-era spa, in the early evening. The rooms are small and dorm-like with no amenities, but that’s ok because we’re here for the weird and wacky world of their health services.

I cannot express how awesome our stay at this resort was. You may think it’s because it was pampering and luxurious and snazzy, but it was very much the opposite, which made it the funniest and most story-worthy part of the trip so far.

Around 6pm, we changed into bathing suits and went down the road to the spa baths. The resort is adamant about separating boys from girls, so we say farewell to the guys and Helen, Anne, Remi, Eilidh and I go to our private spa. No one is there, including staff, so we’re on our own to relax. In one room there are stainless steel massage tables that look like they belong in a morgue. In another room there are four cots and a wall of lockers for changing. On one of the changing room walls there’s a Marilyn Monroe painted tile(?). The third room is the spa itself, the only one with a door. In there are three stalls. On one wall, there is a toilet stall (with only a shower curtain for a door which makes privacy an issue) and a shower stall. The corner hosts a sauna. The opposite wall has another shower stall and a row of three beach chairs. Against the entrance wall is what looks like a toilet set over a faucet, with a hose attached to the wall. In the middle is a tiled bath, just larger than a hot tub but designed more like a swimming pool with gradual steps. Jutting out over this bath is a claw-like faucet that isn’t streaming any water.

We change and enter the middle bath, which is perfectly hot and relaxing. The ceiling is dripping from the humidity, which unfortunately provides some cold sporadic droplets landing on your shoulders. Then begin the random visits from the health spa guy. So the idea of this place is not necessarily a relaxing spa, but rather a health spa, so the people working here are “doctors” who wear scrubs or lab coats. Or sometimes a lab coat with a chef hat, which makes it a bit more confusing. The man enters and speaks Russian to Eilidh, and it’s just plain odd that he enters without warning when some of us are half naked. He asks if the temperature of the water is ok, then tells us the sauna is a sauna and the shower is a shower and then leaves. Thanks!

He returns about fifteen minutes later, this time not stepping in the room, just communicating to us through the glass entrance door. You see, there is a panel of unmarked faucet handles outside of the spa room that control the various things in the room. He turns a few, one of which triggers that toilet seat thing, which now has become clearly a douche. It shoots water, no joke, ten feet into the air. What kind of human needs a fire hose all up in their business? It seems a little it would shoot your internal organs out of your eyeballs or something. We’re all laughing as Eilidh tells him to shut it off, which he does, looking a bit disappointed. He then turns on a series of hoses in one corner of the room that resembles a sort of human car wash. Since we’re nowhere near it, it just floods the floor. Eilidh tells him to shut it off but he refuses, telling us the steam is good for our brains or something. It’s all a little bit odd.

Firuz at one point enters with some beers for us, and at this point it’s just ridiculous that strange men are allowed to enter, but we still need to be separated from the boys in our group.

Eventually our time is up and we shower in the stall and change before heading to the hotel for dinner.

The resort itself is huge. To get from the lobby to our room, for example, we need to do the following: walk past the main entrance through a windowed corridor, down the hallway of 7th floor rooms to a staircase, go down two flights of stairs, then go down another corridor of rooms to get to our row of rooms. Getting to dinner, which was in the same building as our hotel, was just as insane, but with extra touches of creepy.

We’re led by our driver, who knows no English, from the lobby to the dining room. Therefore, it's just silent pointing from this man with big eyes, through a labyrinth of a building. We’re led down two floors to what looks like a dingy basement. The floor tiles are cracked or missing, the walls are unpainted in places, and the lights are fluorescent bulbs that are either broken, blinking, or dimly lit. This leads us to an elevator, which is surprisingly pristine and extravagant, albeit a creepy blood red color. We go down a few floors, then through a garden-lined staircase, down several more hallways and finally into the large cafeteria…where there is no one. Granted, we ate a little late at 8pm, but still, NO ONE. We were in the darkest depths of the hotel with no one around to hear us scream. The Shining, anyone?

Dinner was an event, as Firuz was proving to be nowhere near Bek-quality of a guide. Eilidh requested fresher, greener food since we had been eating heavily all week. So that was interpreted as ground meat patties, fried eggs, mashed potatoes with gravy and buckwheat, with the usual pickled carrots and whatnot served pre-meal. The food was cold, so we asked him to get them to reheat it. We also asked for two dishes to be made vegetarian by removing the eggs and meat. What we received then were even colder dishes about thirty minutes later, with no gravy and no meat, for the remainder of the table (as opposed to just the two we requested). It was an annoyance, but we were fine. I, namely, was fine because I didn’t ask for a reheat and therefore kept my room-temp food completely intact. The food was actually fantastic, albeit tepid.

After dinner we explored. As you can imagine, this place is huuuuuge so we cold freely wander and encounter no people. Firuz followed us around and tried to show us that there wasn’t anything to see but didn’t realize that the abandoned hallways were exactly what we wanted to see. In one unlit hallway, there were rooms with numbers, much like our hotel rooms, but these were labeled with a Sharpie scrawl on the door. Room 102 was slightly ajar, so Ben asked me to open it. I nudged it open with my foot and saw in the darkness that there was a bathroom and bed, much like our dorms upstairs. I then walked away back towards the elevators when I hear running behind me, so I start running. Calvin, Ben and Remi were rushing behind me because apparently Ben turned on the lights and there was a guy in the room, awake.

After exploring multiple floors, we grabbed our collection of beers and vodka and settled in the lobby to discuss creepy real-life stores (Dyatlov incident…Wikipedia it). Matt and Remi snuck around some empty hallways looking for a table, and then returned with a busted ironing board which they lowered enough to be the right height for a cocktail table. Eilidh went behind the abandoned reception desk and found a box of teacups for us to drink out of. No employees were present, but random other guests would walk by. One such guest was a drunk woman with her boyfriend who sat behind Ben and would occasionally lean over his shoulder and take bites out of a giant snowball she was carrying around with her.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

After creeping ourselves out from reading about orange people who died mysterious deaths, we took the long walk back to the rooms to go to sleep.