Our next stop in this whirlwind tour of Azerbaijan was the town of Nakchivan. We were staying at a health spa so were a little surprised when they welcomed us with plates and plates of cakes, served with sugary tea.
The hotel is set way into the hills, so when the map on my phone showed just a white space I thought the Wi-fi was broken. Then I looked out the window and there really was nothing in any direction.
As it happened, we were standing above the main feature in the region – the Duzdag salt mines are 100m below the mountains.
Duzdag Salt Mines physiotherapy clinic
In 1975 these salt mines were converted into a physiotherapy clinic. The salt leads to low humidity which kills germs in the air, speeding recovery.
The majority of the patients are children, but unlike most mines this one is long and flat, so older people can also visit. The clinic treats 1700 people per year and has 300 beds, from singles to family room and large dormitories.
Dr Vaslan Suleymanov, the friendly Head Doctor, explained that “People come from all over the world. Even Vladivostok.”
Most stay for up to twenty days, at a cost of 100manat (US$127) per night including treatment and accommodation.
Chinar Hotel and Oil Spa in Naftalan
The Chinar Hotel is near the worlds only source of Naftalan oil. This natural crude oil contains 50% naphthalene, a hydrocarbon they use to treat psoriasis, rheumatism, arthritis and many other skin problems.
In the hotel’s Naftalan Therapy Department, patients are bathed in hot oil before being scrubbed by a member of staff, then taking a shower. The oil is also antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
It’s also used for prostate massages, but we managed to avoid a demonstration.
We were given a tour of the facilities by the General Manager and the Head Doctor. They walked round liked they ran the place, which I suppose they do. They walked into rooms without knocking whilst patients are still being tested, including a slightly awkward trip to the gynaecology department. By the time we reached urology we’d learnt to move ahead of the staff and knock on the door…
The guidelines are to sit in the oil heated to 38C for ten minutes a day, for ten baths over two weeks. The 40 medical staff are on hand to pull you out after 10 minutes as any longer is considered toxic. Repeat after 6 months then after another year.
By government decree the oil can’t be exported or used in products. It also cannot be subjected to tests by external laboratories. As a result there is no external scientific evidence that it’s either safe or effective.
When they asked if anyone wanted to volunteer for an oil bath, there was a nervous silence until they suggested lunch instead.
Lunch at the health spa was excellent. A very generous buffet full of mayonnaise and cakes might explain the size of most of the patients.
We were then shown round the exercise room. This may just have been a result of the large lunches, but most people were in there not really taking it seriously, dawdling along on a treadmill, whilst wearing jeans.
I was growing a little weary of all these science facts so went out and chatted to the ladies who run the Thai massage spa and make the fresh fruit juices in the Vitamin Bar. One could suggest they were probably the only two people in the hotel actually doing beneficial work for the patients.