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A go to to a Soviet Well being Spa

Shargaljuut, Well being Spa – A Journey to Nowhere.


Like many individuals on the earth, I’ve suffered from the dreaded COVID, first Delta, then Omicron and the following, no matter fancy title was attributed to this horrible virus. However being one of many fortunate ones, I’ve pulled by, though with just a few undesirable long-term results, lack of style, painful complications and a few joint pains being the worst for me. Residing and dealing in Mongolia and Central Asia has some highs and lows, and as I approached the dreaded Mongolian winter, family and friends thought it will be a good suggestion to move out to one of many former Soviet well being spas to arrange for this yr’s sub-zero temperatures.

At first, I wasn’t eager on the thought however having visited the Khoja Obi Garm in Tajikistan and being fairly a fan of this most weird place, I believed, why not? If it really works, I will lastly be capable of style a fizzy drink with out it tasting like rust, and if not properly, I’ll have had an journey and a little bit of content material for this publish. 


Earlier than we get to the precise journey and among the odd remedies I obtained, it’s possible you’ll be asking why are/have been Soviet well being spas an enormous factor. Properly, that dates again to when the Soviet Union was in its infancy, and Lenin was attempting to advertise a greater working surroundings, spur on the plenty, and enhance productiveness whereas paying everybody the identical wage.

Within the yr 1920, Lenin issued a decree “On Utilising the Crimea for the Medical Therapy of Working Individuals.” This decree was then later ratified and expanded on within the Soviet Union’s 2nd labour code of 1922 (the primary being 1918). It was determined that obligatory holidays would enhance a employee’s outlook and productiveness. This ruling was enacted throughout the Soviet Union, which means that Sanatoriums have been constructed at a fast tempo. Development of assorted forms of sanatoriums was to proceed till the late Nineteen Eighties and the demise of the Union. 

The Soviet Union collapsed, however the spas continued, and now I discover myself in one other trusty truck about to go away the consolation of Ulaanbaatar. 

The Journey

It is a wintery Saturday morning, and the clouds are heavy with snow, confirming the snow warning given on the climate reviews. I can inspire and get a tour group of 15 out of a resort and up a mountain completely on time, however with regards to my circle of relatives, there isn’t any probability! I plan to go away at 8 AM, however that comes and goes, and we finally depart at 10 AM. It could appear odd, however many Mongolians journey huge distances with their youngsters, and we’re no completely different! Drawing books packed, barbie has extra spare garments than me, and we’re away. As I’ve written earlier than, our first problem is to interrupt by the Ulaanbaatar metropolis limits.

Visitors is comparatively heavy however not as loopy as it may be; I go away town with that odd feeling that within the melee of getting two youngsters out of the door right into a 4X4 ready for a 1000 KM spherical journey, I could have forgotten one thing! 

One of many important concerns when driving in Mongolia is gasoline; I’m taking the southern path to the well being spa, which I’ve written about earlier than. There are many locations to refuel, and the route is comparatively busy (for Mongolia). Nevertheless it’s winter, and one ought to all the time be prepared for an impromptu gasoline blockade or different emergencies.

As I proceed the journey out of the capital, the snow appears to get heavier. Because the temperature right here within the winter is extremely chilly, the snow does not soften on impression with the automobile. As a substitute, it turns into sticky, making a crispy blanket enveloping the whole automobile – very romantic if I did not have to see out the windscreen!

Though I’ve taken the southern route many instances earlier than, the journey is rarely tiring. Particularly because it offers an opportunity to witness the stunningly lovely panorama of Mongolia all through all of its seasons, because the grass adjustments from the plush inexperienced of summer season to the darker oranges and browns of autumn and at last, as it’s now, framed by the primary dusting of snow which indicators the beginning of Mongolia’s notorious winter.

Because the journey continues, the extra acquainted creatures which populate Mongolia’s countryside surrounding Ulaanbaatar, similar to horses, goats, sheep, and cows, are slowly changed by a extra intriguing host of characters as I go away the low-lying capital area and head into Central Mongolia. Herds of yak roam the steppe, their tiny eyes peeking out from beneath their monumental woolly coats. Majestic eagles and hawks swooping by the sky, their feathers slowly turning white as they start to tackle their winter plumage, and the sinister sight of flocks of vultures circling above the street trying to find unlucky animals to scavenge on the bottom beneath.

Nevertheless, leaving later than deliberate means I am shedding the sunshine. Travelling throughout the solitary Mongolian steppe in twilight brings a complete new environment to the journey. Maybe the oddest factor I discover is the scores of tiny mice scampering throughout the street in entrance of me – as winter is approaching, these tiny rodents are trying to find meals to maintain them going till spring. Nevertheless, their route throughout the street means it is not exhausting to identify the stays of those that weren’t so fortunate. Irrespective of although, they’re going to quickly develop into meals for the dozen or so foxes which often leer out of the darkness together with the street, or their eyes seen within the darkness for a second as they’re caught within the headlights.

Finally, the sunshine disappears utterly over the horizon, and the solitary journey throughout the steppe continues, the one mild emanating from my headlights or the distant glow of sporadic ger camps as nomadic households throughout the steppe mild their night fires.

Lastly, I attain the flip off the primary street in the direction of the well being spa; though this definitely is not the tip of the journey – with none signposts or perhaps a actual street to talk of, the final jaunt over the bumpy panorama is a difficult drive to make. Relying fully on MapsMe and family and friends in Ulaanbaatar passing us instructions over the telephone, I lastly arrive on the entrance street to the Shargaljuut Well being Spa – my dwelling for the following week.

The Well being Spa

As I method, there is a seemingly out-of-place avenue of bushes lining the street as much as the sanatorium, maybe it’s because the Soviets used to import such bushes throughout their territories. I knew I had reached my vacation spot when the distinctly soviet-style concrete buildings appeared on the horizon, together with some flashing neon signage – clearly a later addition!

I used to be anticipating, given my late arrival, to be proven on to my room. Nevertheless, to my shock, we have been knowledgeable that as we had paid for that night time, we have been entitled to dinner. Led into a totally empty eating room, I sat right down to take pleasure in my dinner of fried beef, greens, and a few steamed rice; a welcome reduction in any case these hours of driving.

After dinner, I headed to my room and promptly handed out – my solely waking thought; I’m wondering what the remedies can be like tomorrow.

The well being spa is split right into a compound of various buildings. The primary constructing is the resort, additionally geared up with a restaurant. Close by is the hospital constructing – in between the hospital and the resort is the workers residence, older than the opposite buildings and seemingly not as properly maintained as the opposite buildings. Though not as ramshackle as one other sequence of concrete buildings additional up the hillside – regardless of the semi-abandoned look of them from a distance, I am advised these are further lodging for the summer season… glad I did not come in the summertime!

Different buildings included a smaller hut-like constructing with a neon signal, apparently a bar, though I by no means noticed anyone inside. Particular person chalets dotting the hillside, additionally further lodging, though apparently extra for these guests who wish to come and benefit from the surroundings with out partaking in any of the well being spa remedies.

Most notably, our hillside overlooks one other hillside which seems to be steaming. That is the intricate community of effervescent swimming pools and sizzling water vents, which, because of the excessive temperature, ends in a continuing mass of steam rising from the bottom and freezing as quickly because it comes again into contact with the earth. Moreover, every vent and pool are numbered, supposedly to characterize completely different elements of the physique, and a go to to this marvel of nature is a vital a part of the remedy regime right here and certain why the spa was constructed right here within the first place!


The very first thing each customer should do upon arrival is test in on the important hospital for his or her session. I head over to the primary hospital constructing, the place I obtain a small booklet to maintain observe of my numerous prescriptions and coverings. Following this, it is off to a go to with the physician.

The physician’s function right here is to supply a quick cursory checkup earlier than prescribing a sequence of assorted remedies from across the sanatorium. From what I may perceive from different guests, most remedies are the identical; what adjustments is how a lot one should do of every one. So, I went in to the physician’s workplace with just a few typical complaints – fatigue, lack of scent, joint ache, and a lightweight cough. Consequently, I’ve prescribed the next remedies:

Therapeutic massage

A seemingly pretty primary therapeutic massage – definitely not the most effective I’ve ever had. Predominantly centered on my shoulders, again, and head. Most days, the practitioner was a lady, though on one significantly busy day, a person gave me my therapeutic massage – he appeared to not like me an excessive amount of as a result of by the point I left, I felt like I might been overwhelmed up.



For these unaware of this extra conventional type of drugs, it entails the usage of hearth and jam jars! Regardless of this conventional historical past, all of it appeared very hygienic – the practitioner wiped down each jar after use with alcohol rub, and the whole course of felt very skilled. Basically, a ball of cotton wool is lit and held inside every jar to take away the oxygen and create a vacuum, at which level the fireplace is eliminated, and the jar is positioned on a selected strain level on the affected person’s again the place the drive of the vacuum sucks up the muscle into the pot. At its peak, I had 12 pots dotted throughout my again. After 20 minutes of mendacity there, the pots are eliminated, leading to large bruised pink rings in your again – though don’t be concerned, it is believed that the more serious the bruise, the extra toxins have been eliminated. Though that is conventional drugs, occasionally one thing could be positioned in fairly the appropriate place and it will really feel as if a nerve had moved or one thing usually constructive had occurred, so perhaps do not write it off too shortly!

Electrical energy Therapy

Earlier than you possibly can start your electrocution, you could go and accumulate water from the aforementioned steaming hillside. Upon your return, they’re going to dip sponges within the water and place lead panels on high of every of them to ease the conduction of electrical energy. The electrical machine itself regarded about as previous because the constructing, if not older! Definitely, a Soviet relic nonetheless getting used. It felt like a minor present of electrical energy, not sufficient to make any large distinction apart from a barely annoying tingle. As as to if or not it improved my well being? The jury’s out!


Steam Room

A typical sauna-like steam room nonetheless in style throughout Russia and elements of Asia. In contrast to all different steam rooms I’ve visited, this steam was pumped in from the steaming hillside and first handed by a weird Rube-Goldberg-Esque filtration system, which was a useful distraction while attempting not to have a look at anyone else bare by accident. The room additionally had some neon lights added for good measure! Notably, the room smelled considerably of sulphur – an indication this steam actually had come straight out of the bottom. As with all saunas, the main profit is in opening up your pores and skin and your pores which definitely had some advantages.


Bathtub Room

Cubicles with large wood baths full of scalding sizzling water pumped down from the mountainside. Apparently, the water is wealthy in minerals, together with Radon. Earlier than stepping into you are handed an egg timer set to 10 minutes, after which you’ll head in to take pleasure in a unadorned, boiling sizzling mineral bathtub proper as much as your shoulders. If you happen to have been allowed in longer, it will be pleasant to sit down within the bathtub with a great guide, nonetheless, any keep longer than 10 minutes is deemed probably extra hurt than good, I left feeling invigorated nonetheless!


Mud Therapy

I got here for a mud remedy 4 instances, as soon as every day. The mud used is from the native space, so it is oily and reeks of sulphur. Upon arrival, the practitioner would test my little guide, which highlighted the areas the place the mud would have to be utilized. The mud was scalding sizzling and never particularly nice. A further battle I wanted to undergo could be unlikely to trigger points for the common Mongolian. Nevertheless, I am 6ft 3in, and so the mattress, which was blocked at every finish, made it unimaginable to stretch out. So, mendacity at a barely awkward angle being caked with boiling sulphurous mud did not really feel incredible. Even much less so after I was wrapped up in plastic sheeting with a blanket surrounding me for 20 minutes. After the woman returned to scrape the mud off, I had a fast bathe to do away with any traces of the mud earlier than escaping. Did it work? I do not know – but it surely definitely did not really feel very pleasant. The entire course of appeared very over-the-top, though I did really feel oddly rejuvenated afterwards; maybe this was the remedy, or maybe it was the sensation of escaping the mud coffin. All I’d advocate is longer tables!

Mountainside Steam Therapy

Throughout my session, the physician specified which swimming pools I would want to gather water from and the way a lot I might have to drink every day. Personally, I used to be really helpful specific swimming pools of water excessive in calcium to assist joint pains.

In a unique space, I used to be prescribed to sit down for round 10 minutes in a selected space on some rocks, heated from beneath by the geothermal vitality, with some incredible views over the encompassing countryside and the austere Soviet well being spa behind me.

On one other event, I used to be advised to go and accumulate water from a gap which was harking back to a small nostril to scrub my nostril with, an odd expertise made worse by the intense sulphurousness of the water. Intriguingly, the nostril water gap was between the 2 ear water holes – it was maybe right here the place the hardened science gave technique to the extra mystical ingredient of the remedies.

Additionally on the mountainside was a pure spring from the place we may accumulate pure consuming water.

Steaming Field

I used to be advised to go to this massive wood field constructed over a steam vent twice a day. The concept was to put your face on this field and breathe within the steam. Every day, the size of time would enhance till I used to be spending a full 10 minutes inhaling the steam, finally, it will lower once more to only over a few minutes. The steam field and steam inhalation is supposed to enhance lung well being, and it actually did really feel prefer it helped clear my airways, the hike up and down the mountain to the field was most likely additionally useful on this regard. Strolling round throughout the night time time amidst the concrete buildings of a Soviet well being spa was additionally a cool, albeit eerie feeling!


The well being spa was a really attention-grabbing and intriguing expertise. On high of the number of strange remedies, Soviet structure, and questionable medical practices, half method by our keep the clouds opened with an immense snowfall, including to the distinctive and wonderous environment surrounding us, together with growing concern and fear in regards to the return drive!

Do I feel it labored? I really feel just like the escape from town, and the contemporary mountain air definitely had some profit, together with these particular remedies based mostly extra in confirmed science. Nevertheless, among the different remedies have been based mostly extra in custom than science and perhaps had much less of a physiological impression than was marketed, though they definitely did not do any hurt and aided my basic feeling of leisure.

That stated, while staying on the well being spa, I did decide up a quite nasty chilly! Upon my return to town, the hamburger I might been craving all week was a welcome return to civilisation.



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