How in the… What in the world… I’m supposed to take a bath with this? To say some travelers react adversely to the traditional form of bathing in India would be an understatement. I was once one of those tourists, faced with the idea of either trying something completely foreign with my morning bathing routine or waiting until the next hotel, hoping it had a shower stall. It only took one go-round for me to fall head-over-heels in love with another of India’s smart concepts: The bucket bath.
A bucket bath is simply a bucket of water and a mug to wash oneself with. It uses much less water than a shower. Imagine reducing your water consumption from 25 gallon to 3-5 gallons, each time you washed. Environment saving awards aside, there are no written instructions on how to successfully take a bucket bath. And this leaves many travelers longing for the simple days of emptying a river through their showers at home.
Never fear! You’ve conquered the use of an Indian toilet. Now it’s time to master how to take a bucket bath.
Tips for Taking a Traditional Indian Bucket Bath
1. The Bucket
The bucket in question is nothing more than a heavy plastic 5 gallon container. They range in color from pink, red, yellow, green to white. Bucket colors are either chosen by personal preference or whatever is available in the market, not by any symbolic gesture within Indian culture. Hanging inside of the bucket is a smaller plastic mug which is used to pour water over your body.
Fill the bucket with as much water as you think you’ll need. Guests staying at a hotel or other accommodation with a hot water geyser can fill the bucket directly from the tap. For those staying at a private residence or accommodation without access to hot water, hosts will typically offer to heat water manually. Water is boiled in multiple pots and then poured into the bucket right before bathing. Be sure to test the water with your fingers first, adding cold water until a desirable temperature is reached.
Standing, pour a cup or water over your head, allowing gravity to maximize coverage over the body. Repeat as necessary to wet the entire body. Standing over the bucket will recollect some of the water, making your bucket bath go further.
Shampoo, leaning your head over the bucket and wetting your hair by pouring water over it, making sure the extra water goes back in the bucket. Rinse with your head over the ground instead of the bucket.
Dip washcloth into bucket (if needed).
Soap up (left hand only if you want to follow Indian etiquette). Do not put the soap in the bucket. The idea is to keep the water soap-free. Take a cue from Indians by scrubbing hard with the soap, it warms the body.
Use mug to rinse the body clean. Repeat as needed.
4. Clean Up
Leftover water can be saved for a later bath or even better, for doing bucket laundry.
Soiled water should be discarded. Leave bucket and mug in bathroom near faucet.
Many bathrooms in India are considered “wet” bathrooms, meaning there is no partition from the shower area to the toilet and sink area. Water from a shower or bucket bath will envelope most of the tiled or cement floor. Squeegee the floor if possible for faster drying.