The Sauna

Of course I went to the sauna. I mean, it’s Finland. How can you not go to the sauna.

I was informed by a Finnish woman that we have saunas here in Bangalore. Well, I supposed I sort of knew that… I mean, we have what we call “spa”s and even “spa and resort”s. So we have saunas as part of that, maybe. But is it a real sauna? I don’t know – never been to one.

The big deal about saunas, as you probably know, is the nudity. Apparently, it’s a big deal for many people, not just me. If I’d had to go somewhere to experience this, or if I’d had to pay for it, that’s all the excuse I’d have needed to not do it. But it was right there in my hotel and it was free. I had no excuse.

The thing is, even when you’ve worked up your courage and decided to do this, there’s still the question of how, exactly, is it done. I read up on Google before I proceeded to the women’s sauna in the hotel, but here’s the thing. There was a door and inside that door, a locker room. And then another door. I could hear voices, so obviously I wasn’t alone. Now, do I undress here? If yes, alright. If no, imagine walking through that next door to find that it contains a room full of fully clothed people!

Should I peek through that other door? What if it contains a room full of nude women who are ok to have me stroll in and join them but who would think it very weird indeed for me to just sneak a peek at them?

I snuck a peek. It was empty! Phew, what a relief. But there were shower stalls with transparent walls and no doors. And lots of steam. Okay. I guess I should undress.

I went into a shower stall and pushed the knob. All of a sudden there were several other women around. And all of a sudden I realized that I didn’t know how to turn off the water. Instinctively, I asked one of the women for help and in the mean time, I completely forgot that I was nude. I mean, seriously, it was as easy as that. (And you don’t have to turn off the water, silly, it goes off on its own! Doh.)

The other thing I didn’t know about saunas is that it’s alright to be really chatty in there, even if you don’t know each other and given that you’re nude. It feels a bit odd to me. I’d expect to be more reserved with people I don’t know when I’m nude, but apparently it doesn’t work like that. People talked to me as if it’s perfectly normal to be chatting up with nude strangers, so I talked back in the same vein. Pretty soon, we were engaged in long, personal conversations. One woman decided she’d had enough and exited without saying bye, which I thought was odd. I discovered why soon enough – she was waiting for me in the dressing area! It was expected that we’d continue our conversation there!

What about the sauna itself? Well, the sauna room was a lot smaller than I’d thought it would be. Perhaps five people could have sat there at any one time. Or six, at most. It was dimly lit, thank god! The seating consisted of wooden slats lining the wall. It was hot, obviously, but not unpleasantly so. There was a bucket of water with a ladle in the center of the floor and in the corner, the hot rocks. The idea was, you throw water on the rocks to keep the air humid, otherwise it dries out too much. You shower before the sauna and you immerse yourself in icy water after the sauna. This being a hotel, there was no frozen lake handy to jump into. So you opt for any icy shower instead. Then back into the sauna, then back into the icy shower. As many times as you can take it. Then one final shower and you’re done.

So the sauna room itself was very relaxing and I could sit there for quite a long time – such a long time that one of the women actually complimented me on my sauna ability! The ice cold shower afterwards just made me gasp. It was certainly invigorating… I got tiny pink spots all over my skin where the water hit. Overall, a good experience and I can totally understand why people do it. As to the nudity, you just have to get over it.

The second time, it was much easier. I just walked in as though it was something I’d done dozens of times before. The sole occupant of the sauna at the time assumed I was a local and said something in Finnish. She was absolutely astounded when it emerged that I was from India of all places. We had an unbelievable conversation about jobs and travel and parents and children – unbelievable because it made me realize that despite being from such different worlds our lives weren’t so very different.

It also transpired that my sauna companion was on the same flight out of Ivalo as I was, so that meant we’d be on the same bus to the airport as well. Of course, I was so tempted to tell her that I might not recognize her with her clothes on… but not only did I behave myself, I also surprised myself by actually recognizing her the next day. Fully dressed though we both were.

And so, with all of those conversations and experiences, another wonderful, memorable trip came to an end. As always, I went back to my world, my job, my home, my family and friends and hobbies and traffic and… all that. But, as always, a little richer, or a lot richer, for having seen a corner of the world, so far away, so beautiful, so utterly different and yet… not so different.

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