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A Spartan Spa:
Visiting The Lake of ‘Miracle Cures’ In Iraqi Kurdistan

Salam Handani
Dipping into the Garaw lake, deep in the Kurdish countryside, is supposed to cure the bather of skin disease. The facility is becoming increasingly popular, but doctors say its reputation is not completely deserved.
15.03.2018  |  Halabja
Locals come to Garaw to try and cure skin problems. (photo: سلام هاندني)
Locals come to Garaw to try and cure skin problems. (photo: سلام هاندني)

“If this lake was in any other place, it would be a major tourist attraction,” enthuses Sharmin Nader, a local woman from the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil. “Everybody who comes here says they have benefitted from the water. It’s just sad that it doesn’t receive the attention it should,” she said, adding that her relatives had asked her to bring back several bottles of the Garaw lake water for their own use.

Any person who takes the lake water should not shower for at least 24 hours to get the full effect.

Nader is yet another fan of Garaw lake, in the Khurmal area, north-east of the town of Halabja, in the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The lake is warm and contains minerals, such as sulphur; it draws hundreds of visitors who come to bathe in the water, often as a treatment for dermatological problems.  

“I’ve taken my son to many doctors,” says Hadi Abdullah, another visitor at Garaw today. “He gets itchy spots all over but nobody has figured out why. So, I am hoping the Garaw’s water can help.”

Abdullah, who is from the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, says he heard about the lake from relatives, who told him it had helped them.

The healing properties of the lake’s mineral-infused waters were first discovered in the 1920s. The water remains the same temperature all year around and around 12 months ago, the regional authorities worked on making the place more comfortable, building enclosed bathing areas for males and females and leaving a third area open.

 

Facilities at Garaw.

 

“In the past things were not that nice,” says Ali Ahmad, the manager on the site. “There was no fence and no separate bathing enclosure, but now we have it a lot better.”

Visiting the lake is not free; It costs IQD1,000 (around 83 US cents) to enter the area and IQD500 per bottle of lake water that is taken away.

People come here from all over Iraq, Ahmad says proudly. “But any person who takes the lake water should not shower for at least 24 hours to get the full effect,” he cautions. “And they should not carry iron or copper metal into the pool – the lake water discolours it.”

 

 

There is a lot of misinformation about the Garaw water, says Hadi Khalil, a local dermatologist. The sulphur in the water can certainly help skin problems like scabies, acne and itchiness. But, he says, a lot of locals think it can cure any skin disease. In fact it can be harmful for some things. “For example, if the water is put on a burn, it will be harmful rather than useful,” he explains.

You also need to bathe in the water regularly for it to have any impact, the doctor adds. “Just being here once won’t do much.”

It’s hard to fight the Garaw propaganda though. Also here today is Sirwan Mohammed, the local owner of a travel agency, who has brought a vanload of Iraqis from Basra.

“We’ve been working in this field for 12 years and everyone who comes here says their skin problems have been cured,” says Mohammed, who adds that he gets enquiries from all over the country about his tours to Garaw lake. “My relatives and I have also visited this pool. And people are continuously asking me to bring them bottles of the water back.”

 

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