Bucket showers are fantastic. For the last month, with the exception of the days that I bathe at the hot springs, I have had nothing but bucket showers to keep me clean. For those of you who have traveled in Asia, or other parts of the world, bucket showers may be a familiar experience. For those of you who have not, I shall enlighten you now 😉
At Sonam Guesthouse, you must turn the geyser on fifteen or twenty minutes before you want to wash. When the time has passed, you go into the tiny bathroom and open the water spout on the left. Within moments, it is pouring out a steady stream of scalding water into the bucket below, and delicate steam is rising off the surface. I often light a stick of incense as well, closing the door behind me so that the whole room fills up with a combination of scented smoke and soothing steam. All around me, the air unfurls in waves of white.
As the water begins to reach the top of the bucket, I turn off the hot tap, and open the cold one. Soon the water temperature in the bucket is perfect. Now you squat down on your haunches, or, if you have a very comfortable relationship with the cold, tiled floor, you sit directly on it. With a smaller bucket, you begin dumping hot water on your head, over your face, on your arms and legs and feet. I am always quick to shampoo, and quick to condition, and quick to do nearly everything, because the moment you stop pouring hot water over your skin and concentrate on scrubbing, you become startlingly aware of how cold the air is. So I scrub, scrub, scrub, and then drop great bucketfuls of water over my head and body, relaxing for a moment as the heat washes over me.
If you’re lucky, you get two bucketfuls before the hot water runs out. If you’re really lucky, you get two and a half. Sometimes you only get one, and in that case, you scrub vigorously all over, cleaning your hair and body in one frenzied go, trying to ignore the freezing mountain air that slips in through the crack under the window. Once your hair is sufficiently lathered, and your skin is decorated with a paste of cleansing soap suds, you dole out small bucketfuls of water to rinse yourself clean, making sure not to waste a drop.
I have grown rather fond of bucket showers since I’ve begun taking them in Asia. However, when I picture my parents bathroom, with the giant mirror that fogs up, the white fluffy towels, the soft stepping mat, and the heat blowing up through the gold-plated vents, I admit, I get a little envious. Along with so many other simple pleasures that we take for granted in the west (clean bathrooms, drinkable tap water, soft pillows…), I will one day luxuriate in taking a hot shower where I can stand up and rub myself dry with clean, fluffy towel. I can’t wait!