What could be so uncomfortable about stepping into a sauna in Russia? Intrepid group leader Denis Sobnakov explains…
“One of my favourite places is Turka, a village on the shores of the beautiful Lake Baikal. With only a few people living here, this simple and very rural community can be considered one of the most peaceful places on the planet. But from time to time the quiet is disturbed with sounds of water splashing and people screaming. That’s when you know an Intrepid group has arrived and they are experiencing their first Russian banya!
Russians do love extremes and that’s what we enjoy so much about banya. Plus Russians are always keen to show our foreign friends how we do things locally, so here is what happened with my group on one nice sunny day:
First Valery, our local friend, stoked a stove from outside the building. This also heated the inside of the steam room and when it was warm enough our group of eight entered the parilka (sauna). Just after everybody was settled, Mike, the most keen of our group, poured some water on the stones of the indoor fireplace, hearing a heavy ‘shhhh’ sound. That’s when it got pretty hot and several of our first-timers shifted to lower benches to avoid the worst of the heat. We could smell the heat and feel the heavy steam while the temperature rose to 70 degrees Celsius.
It was funny to see all our Intrepid group smiling, but suddenly looking a little concerned when the locals produced birch branches. You see, Russians beat each other with these leaves in order to scrub the body and make it cleaner than ever before, plus we believe it improves blood circulation. For the westerners the whole idea of thwacking was quite weird before they actually tried it, but then they got into the spirit of the birch beatings.
After having a lot of laughs and feeling amazingly relaxed, we went out into the fresh air. But this is what led to the screams. Some of the local guys started to slide on the special rubber tube to the river and invited our group to join in. Ah, there are not so many pleasures in the world like this: being heated up in banya and then diving into very cold water. Looking on the happy faces of the locals I could tell why Russians do love banya at Lake Baikal, and seeing the thrill on the faces of my group I could see that despite the shock to their system, they enjoyed their Russian real life experience!”
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* photo by Scott Walsh – Intrepid Photography Competition