The Hookah High: Everything You Need To Know

by The Runaway Guide on July 27, 2011

A guy smoking Hookah in IstanbulThe first time I smoked the Hookah was in Istanbul, Turkey. I had been wandering the cobblestone streets by the sea when yet another shopkeeper invited me in for a cup of apple tea.

Though I was already buzzing from countless similar invitations, I thought it would be rude to refuse and so I entered what appeared to be a dodgy looking travel agency. Dominating the only table in the room was a large and ornate glass Hookah.

While I had seen Hookahs in smoke shops and in films back home, I had no idea how it worked or, more importantly, what it smoked.

Noticing my curiosity he said, “You want to make Hookah?” I smiled hesitantly and responded, “Umm, ok, well, what’s in…” Abruptly he cut me off and proclaimed, “Ok, we make Hookah!”

Nervous yet intrigued, I took the hose and began to smoke. “Breath deep” he said as I felt the tickle of the apple-flavored smoke on the back of my throat.  When my lungs could take no more, I began to exhale.

smoking a hookahTo my surprise, a seemingly endless mushroom cloud of thick white smoke bellowed out of me.  Startled and gitty over the amount of smoke, I began to chuckle. “That’s good” I said as I looked at my host. He beamed happily at me, content in my contentment.

However just as soon as I passed the hose back to him, the world around me began to wobble. Instinctively, I feebly attempted to dominate the insecurity while anxiety ensued. But it was no use. With no other choice, I allowed myself to succumb to the hookahs hypnosis. And I was glad I did.

Over the next few minutes, I began to enjoy the feeling of instability. I felt high and happy yet completely relaxed and lethargic. It was like nothing I had ever felt.

From that moment on, I was hooked on the Hookah.

Over the course of my travels throughout the Middle East, I indulged in the Hookah countless more times. However, it was only until I returned to the western world did I endeavor to learn more about my new guilty pleasure.

The History Of The Hookah

two guys enjoying hookah in cairoSince ancient times, the soothing smoke of the Hookah has coaxed even the most irate turban sporting shower abstaining cab driver (or donkey Jockey) into sublime submission to Allah.

Joking aside, the Hookah is believed to have developed in northwestern India around 1000 years ago. It was initially believed to have been constructed from wood and coconuts. And it’s primary purpose at the time was as a medium for smoking opium and hashish.

However, as it moved westward into Persia, it’s design was refined and the smoking of a dark tobacco known as “Tombeik” was adopted. Today, from downtown Delhi, to the corner cafes of Cairo, the Hookah is a salient centerpiece throughout the Middle East.

However, due to the evolution of the hookah as it traversed the Middle East, the Hookah now assumes many different names depending on ones locality. In Turkey, for example, it is know as “Narghile,” and in Jordan it goes by “Arghile.” Both of which are incarnations of the Sanskrit word for coconut. Finally in Egypt it is called “Shisha.”

So why do we use he word Hookah in English?  As one might expect, the Hookah received its name after the butchering of an Indian word by a colonial Briton.

While the name may vary across countries there is one customary feature that persists throughout. That being, the Hookah is almost always accompanied by a very sugary cup of tea.

The Hookah & Hashish

kids smoking hashish from a hookahThroughout much of the Middle East, smoking Hashish is technically illegal and also against Islamic law. In the result, most Hookah bars will not offer Hashish. However, depending on how liberal the country, if you really want to smoke hashish, generally all you have to do is ask. More, it is not uncommon to find people smoking Marijuana or Hashish from the Hookah in their homes. Today, like the past, hashish remains a popular Hookah ingredient despite the laws against it.

The Hookah & Health

Like cigarette tobacco, the coal roasted, molasses covered, fruit flavored tobacco distinct to the Hookah is addictive. While some argue that the reduced frequency of Hookah vs cigarette usage makes it less harmful, other contend that long Hookah sessions make it more dangerous. Either way, any type or amount of smoke inhaled into ones lungs is detrimental to ones health. Therefore it is best to indulge in the Hookah with moderation.

How To Buy Your Own Hookah

many varieties of HookahsIf you are in Europe or the US, you may have noticed a variety of Hookahs at your local smoke shop. However, if you aren’t into paying a few hundred dollars and are willing to wait a week or two, ordering online is your best bet.

A large and high quality Hookah direct from Egypt will only set you back around 50$. While there are many sites you can buy a Hookah from, Ebay is usually the cheapest option.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Luc March 20, 2014 at 6:06 am

Hey,
I am in Cairo now and want to find a good deal on a quality hookah. Any suggestions?
Also, are you currently in Egypt or elsewhere? I would like to meet if you are in Cairo.
Thanks,
Luc

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The Runaway Guide March 20, 2014 at 10:18 am

Hey Luc, be sure to bargain, a lot. You can get quality hookahs in Cairo for as little as 15-20$. I’m not in Cairo at the moment unfortunately. Drink some sugar cane juice for me. :)

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Anja January 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm

We call it “shisha” and I absolutely love it :)
I first smoked it in Tunisia at the age of 15, my father was sitting next to me and even asked my younger sister if she would like to try it :D oh and he bought me and my brother one :)

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The Runaway Guide January 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Hey Anja, haha that’s great. Your father sounds awesome.

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Leah Harper November 10, 2013 at 3:11 am

Thank you. This is the best information on Shisha on all the internet. :-)

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The Runaway Guide November 11, 2013 at 10:41 am

Thanks Leah! I love me some Hookah now and again.

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Liz December 13, 2012 at 1:05 am

My grandma went to Egypt two years ago and came back with a hookah for my cousin. At Thanksgiving she gave everyone the presents she bought for him. She pulled out the hookah for my cousin and before I knew it, I was smoking a hookah with my family in the middle of grandma’s living room on thanksgiving at age 15.

Ever since, I have been determined to have a small Egyptian hookah in my living room as soon as I move out.

I love your blog. Thank for the travel tips!

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The Runaway Guide December 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Your grandmother sounds awesome! How cool. Where is your gma from?

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Bianca November 21, 2012 at 10:01 am

:D In South Africa we call it a “Hubbly” and almost every young person has one. The best part is mixing flavours and then making your own unique “brand” haha and then also blowing amazing smoke rings and pretending to be a dragon.

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The Runaway Guide December 11, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Yea used to call it hubbly bubbly here in the US back in the hippie day. Whoa, mixing flavors, sounds like a good idea.I’m pretty good at the smoke rings myself

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Vacation Wanderer July 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I first tried smoking hookah while working in Iraq. It’s a great socializing tool and yes, I made the chai. Have read one study that a full hookah session is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes. :-) Yeah hookah can be a lot of fun for sure especially if you just want to chill for a bit and watch the people walk by.

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The Runaway Guide August 10, 2012 at 10:08 pm

I hear ya. Hookah is great for socializing with old dudes and getting the scoop on how they feel about america and domestic politics and such. The fact that you are probably smoking 40 ciggs is the trade off :)

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Sarah January 4, 2012 at 12:03 am

Yeah, another way to get hookahs real cheap is at flea markets – the ones I’ve seen sell them all the time. They sell small ones for $5 and the regular size is $10 and so on – but I don’t know if they sell the actual weed or anything like that (you might have to ask on the side lol).

Anyways, awesome website – enjoyed reading it.

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Blair November 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Lol my first encounter with hookah was at around 3am wandering the streets with me best friends we had been talking about trying it for a long time and when we eventually stumbled across a hookah bar we walked right in. We got the apple and ode flavor it was the best an to this day is still my favorite. It’s very relaxing.

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Tawny from Captain and Clark September 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

We’re actually smoking our hookah that we got in Bahrain right now. It’s the only thing either of us smoke, but it’s so relaxing and I’m pretty sure it helps us write all of our posts! :) The best is mint flavor and adding a little ice in the base with the water. soooo good.

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The Runaway Guide September 17, 2011 at 7:36 am

Yeaaahhhhh, good on ya. Adding ice sounds like a good idea, nice a cool smoke. I remember filling it with apple juice once but I dont think it had any effect, just wasted a lot of apple juice. I miss Hookah now. I am heading to egypt soon and can’t wait to hookah it up and play chess with all the geezers.

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Simona August 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Weird name! At first I couldn’t understand what you were talking about! In Italy we call it “narghile”, here in Egypt it is called “sheesha”! Despite the name, I love it! My favorite is grapes. And I drink, of course, tea with mint with it!

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Raymond @ Man On The Lam July 31, 2011 at 12:32 am

First time I tried it was in Istanbul as well — I liked the apple tobacco, quite smooth… :)

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The Runaway Guide August 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Nice! Me Too. Apple or Pina Colada.

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flipnomad July 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm

i havent tried this yet… ive seen a lot doing it in some bars… it smells fruity too which im not sure if i like it… great informational post leif…

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The Runaway Guide July 30, 2011 at 10:23 am

You should try it! It’s really not very addictive, more relaxing.

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Caanan @ No Vacation Required July 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

So were you smoking hash?

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The Runaway Guide July 30, 2011 at 10:24 am

Not on this occasion. I was just tobacco but I wasn’t used to it so it really gave me the spins.

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Beth Yost July 27, 2011 at 9:43 am

Why have I not done this yet?! It’s officially on my list. Thanks for sharing. Entertaining, informative, and inspirational ;-) post.

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The Runaway Guide July 30, 2011 at 10:24 am

Yea, you def should give it a go next time you have the opportunity. It’s good fun.

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Nomadic Samuel July 27, 2011 at 9:25 am

LOL, my first go at Hookah was in Bangkok with the ‘apple’ flavor as well. I felt like a dragon breathing out smoke & loved the chilled out company I was with. This was years ago but it honestly feels just like yesterday. I can even remember where people were sitting next to me and what we talked about.

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The Runaway Guide July 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

Nice! I wonder if they have any Hookah bars in Korea. You’re in Seoul right?

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