Khudadad Hamam, the oldest bathhouse in Peshawar, is now nearly 500 years old. For all these years it has opened up every fall and winter, but this time its doors remain shut.
The bathhouse would operate in the cooler months, from February to June and then from October to December. “Last year I suffered huge losses as fuel bills skyrocketed, so I didn’t open the bath for the second time this year,” said owner Mohammad Ishaq, adding that it has been running for several generations in his family.
He claims that the hamam, situated on Mohammad Ali Johar Road, is the only one of its kind in Pakistan and is modelled on the lines of the royal bath at the Lahore Fort. My forefathers migrated from Afghanistan, bringing this tradition with them, he said. The name of the bathhouse is also named after one of his ancestors, Khudadad.
The bath is mostly visited by patients suffering from mental illnesses, paralysis, arthritis and other ailments.
Khudadad Hamam has separate portions for men and women. Both male and female masseurs are hired, who do not have technical training but have learnt the skill over time. The clients go through cold, hot and very hot water for treatment.
Ishaq said that they charge patients Rs200 for a bath, but this price varies depending on the oils and other items used.
He claimed that he has been running the hamam for public service and to live up to his family tradition. The other months of the year, he rents the building which is situated on prime real estate.
In the past the business was thriving as a large number of visitors from places as far as Punjab would come to the hamam for treatment. “In the past few years, the number of visitors has reduced. It was a part of our culture, which has now been forgotten,” he said, adding “there were two other baths in the city, which are now closed.”
Dr Ali Jan, a member of the Sarhad Conservation Network said that during the Mughal era public baths were introduced in many cities of India. Ritual bathing tanks were often seen in Stupa sites in ancient Gandhara, he said. “Because of the city’s location on an ancient caravan route, for centuries Peshawar was a stopping place for travellers and trade caravans so hamams were made in the city for tourists.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2012.
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