How to Wash Your Hair in Kathmandu

Have you ever tried to wash in Kathmandu?

Rolling electrical blackouts and an erratic work schedule can only mean one thing when it comes to showering; no matter how hard you try, the water is always going to be cold. 

Before I arrived in Nepal I used to think water had three temperatures – and how much gradation can you really get between hot, lukewarm and cold?

Turns out solar panels can provide you with water that’s heated to such an untraceable degree that it still constitutes ‘cold’, but there’s an absence of the after-chill that comes with really cold water. Then there’s the ‘pseudo-cold’ – and alternatively the ‘pseudo-warm’ – which, after a few minutes of hand-under-running-water, makes you believe it really is changing temperature!!… only to remove said hand and realise that, no, it’s still bloody freezing.

Basically, I haven’t had a hot shower in three weeks and I think the lack of warmth is starting to affect my brain. Warm water is necessary, stat.

Wanted: clean hair, no fuss

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the hair washing component didn’t come into play. I’ve dealt with lack of showers before – Glastonbury’s seven day cleansing hiatus was a particular thrill – but everyone looked disgusting when drunkenly wandering around a cluster of muddy fields.

Despite having the option of the ‘traveller’ vibe that I am constantly trying to emit to all and sundry, when I have to turn up to school and teach with hair the texture of a bramble bush combined with the grease levels of a oil refinery, it does make me feel rather small. All the other teachers are very glamorous in their saris and perfect make up, and even after my somewhat terrifying Nepali threading experience (where pretty much my entire face was relieved of its hair, with the exception of little vague lines where my eyebrows should be) the gross hair is a definite downer.

Luckily, I think I’ve worked out a (semi) foolproof way to get myself squeaky clean, regardless of the hot water shortages. In case anyone else is planning on visiting Nepal soon and is already balking at the prospect of freezing showers, I’ve created a lovely step-by-step guide.

Volunteer bathroom in Kathmandu, Nepal

Our lovely bathroom, which is the setting for this tutorial.

Necessary showering components

  • A bathroom with shower head and/or wall tap
  • A wide, shallow plastic tub (bright green is often available)
  • A small pouring jug (should be green also to match your tub)
  • Access to a hob or gas cooker, and use of a water boiling device, preferably a saucepan or similar deep cooking pan

Step 1: 

Boil a large amount of water on the stove. While waiting for the bubbles, kit out your chosen bathroom with towel, soap, shampoo and conditioner, change of clothes and flip flops for your damp feet. Don’t bother with a razor as I can promise you wholeheartedly that no one will ever see your bare legs in Nepal.

Step 2:

When the water has boiled, carry pan to the bathroom and empty it into the green tub. Avoid scalding splashes as, though warming, they are surprisingly not preferable to the cold water.

Step 3:

Using your green jug, add cold water from your tap/shower head to your boiling water tub. Repeat as desired, but try to err on the side of overly hot. (NB: avoid using shower head if you don’t want any cold water to touch you and thus make you even more freezing)

Step 4:

Now comes the fun part! Strip off completely and squat on the floor. Wear flip flops if desired – and perhaps any clothes you feel need a wash also. Now fill your green jug with tub water, flip hair over your head and start dousing.

Handy tip – to avoid unnecessary wastage, this water can be poured straight over your hair and into the tub again!

Step 5:

Start shampooing head. Ensure your green tub has been moved adequately far away so as to not be tainted with shampoo suds. When thoroughly lathered, employ green jug to wash away shampoo.

Step 6:

Repeat step 5, but using conditioner instead of shampoo.

By the end of this step you will have washed away all traces of conditioner and should now have clean hair. You should hopefully also have an excess of warm water in your green tub. The growing cramps in your calves will also be crying out for a stretch by now. Congratulations! You can now stand up! (or at least manoeuvre yourself into a more hospitable crouching position)

Step 7:

Using your helpful green jug and a piece of soap (strangely this is also often green) you can liberally (no conserving needed) splash yourself with water, soap up, and rinse down. Indulge in two or even three soapings if it’s been a few days since you felt hot water.

Step 8:

The bonus step for those who, like me, are simply unable to be too liberal with their water. You are now clean all over and ready for that towel. But wait – there’s still some water in the tub! Why not stand in that lovely warm water while you towel yourself dry? Toasty toes makes getting warm quite a bit easier – just don’t try putting your trousers on while you’re still in there!

Disclaimer: Upon waking the next day, there was a distinctly shiny section of the top of my head, proving that, sadly, my first Nepali hair washing experience was not a total success. Luckily I have at least a few more shower attempts to improve on my techniques.

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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6 Responses to How to Wash Your Hair in Kathmandu

  1. Ceri March 1, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Love this. It’s how I got clean in uni because we didn’t have central heating. Haha. I will definitely be keeping this in mind for the future. I’ve had my fair share of cold showers when travelling and I’m definitely not one of those people who can just put up with them.

  2. Nepalese Encounters December 11, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Briliant ideas 🙂

  3. Deepak@Everest Base Camp Trekking April 8, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    You can wash by Ground water and we also have hot water to take shower, in Mountain some time it will be difficult to get hot shower but most of the place you can get it to clean your hair.

    • Flora April 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Thanks for the insight, Deepak!


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