The Bahrainis, Egyptians, Moroccans, Saudi Arabians, Somalians and Tunisians call them Shisha pipes. They were invented more than five hundred years ago. They are also referred to as ‘hookahs’, in English and ‘nargile’ (nar-geelah), in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In Iran they are known as ghalyan or ghalyoun. Pakistan and India call them huqqas. It is also known simply as a water pipe or even a bong.
The device consists of a hollow base, which is usually made of glass but sometimes may be made of brass or clay. A vertical pipe connects the base to a clay bowl and a hose. The base is filled with water and there is shisha, a fruit flavored tobacco, and charcoal in the clay bowl. The user sucks on the hose, drawing smoke down the pipe through the water in the base, where it is filtered and cooled. Smoking produces a peaceful, pleasant bubbling sound.
Shisha tobacco is also known as gouza, guza, moassel, sheesha, tabac, tombak or tumbak. It is completely different from the tobacco found in ordinary cigarettes or cigars. It is mixed with molasses and fruit shavings. The most popular fruit is apple, although you can also find it flavored with apricot, grape, mint, pineapple or strawberry. There is even a cappuccino flavor.
From India to Turkey in the Middle East and in the United Kingdom, people gather in special cafes to smoke shisha and drink tea or coffee. A hookah smoking session can last for as long as two hours. The custom is gaining popularity in Europe, Canada, South America and Australia.
Sheesha is a tobacco product and, as such, it carries with it some of the health risks associated with smoking ordinary tobacco cigarettes. However, because it is only heated, and not ignited to combustion, it lacks most of the tar, nicotine and other harmful additives.
It is popular in Western cultures to smoke substances other than sheesha out of a hookah, such as cannabis resin (‘hash’ or ‘hashish’), opium. It is recommended to mix the material with molasses, honey or other sheesha tobacco to reduce the harshness of the experience. This practice is frowned on in some circles as poor etiquette.
There are references to sheesha pipes, or hookahs, in film and literature. In the 1992 film, ‘Aladdin’, there is a mention of an unbreakable combination coffee maker and hookah that also makes fries. In the cantina scene of the film, ‘Star Wars’, there is a shot of a customer in the bar smoking a hookah. A particularly famous instance is in the cartoon ‘Alice in Wonderland’, where the caterpillar is smoking on his mushroom, blowing multi colored smoke rings.
Shisha pipes and flavored tobacco are readily available over the internet or in specialist mediterranean shops. Charcoal and accessories like charcoal screens, cleaning kits mouth tips and mouth tip filters are also available. The pipes themselves come in a range of materials, degrees of ornateness and numbers of hoses.