Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Traveler's Guide to Toilets in India

Howdy all. I wasn't going to blog today, I was thinking it was a good day to rest from blogging. But I was working on 'Short Journeys: India' and decided to write a small section in it about toilets, and well, I thought it was interesting and a little amusing, so I thought I would share it with you.

Have you seen that strange backwards episode of Seinfeld? No? Well I’m going to press on with the analogy nonetheless. George goes with Jerry to India where they stay for a few days at least, and refuses to use the toilet. Now, it’s unclear whether that’s because he believes all toilets in India to be terrible, or whether he just can’t face using a squat toilet, but he’s not the first person who has headed to Asia with a little trepidation about the lavorital situation.
So I guess we need to talk. Firstly, the toilets didn’t prevent me from returning to India. Twice. So they aren’t all that bad as I love travel and there are a lot of countries out there. Are all toilets in India squat toilets? No. Not at all. If you’re in a mid-range sort of hotel you’ll have Western sit down almost for sure. If you go cheap, well, there’s still a higher chance it will be sit down. It doesn’t mean though that you won’t encounter a squat toilet. Once you’re out and about and are in a situation where you need the loo, well, you’re chances of encountering the ‘squat’ increase dramatically.
There she is, the squat toilet. Good luck!

The argument is that because your arse doesn’t touch where other arses have been, a squat is more hygienic. I’m not so sure but I can’t deny that you have less chance of picking up some sort of butt-wart infection by using a squat. They appear to have far fewer plumbing issues too. Western toilets always seem to be leaking in India, usually from the hose that connects the cistern to the water supply.
Rule One, western or not, if there is a waste basket in the toilet THAT is where your toilet paper goes. And it’s a good idea to always have a roll with you as most people in India wash their bum with a hose and as far as I know, they walk around with wet bottoms afterwards. The sewerage system doesn’t deal well with paper waste, and yes that does mean anything else is for the basket too such as tampons. Just your excrement in the toilet!
When using the squat, rule two for men only, pee first standing up. Otherwise you need to completely remove your trousers, unless you can squat in the right position and point IT downwards. Which believe you me to the man with untrained squatting legs is no easy feat. So most people have been camping in the wild with no toilets, and you’ve probably squatted before, but not that it’s an actual toilet you need to aim carefully and be aware of where your arse is. In India and most of the world, face away from the toilet, usually towards the door. In Japan for some reason it is the opposite, although most toilets in Japan are western and have an electrically warmed seat, a bidet function and a button that makes the sound of flushing so others can’t hear what you’re up to. Hell some have a sensor that lifts the lid when you approach!
Be careful with your trousers, it’s tricky because there is often a fair bit of water on the floor of the toilet. So you don’t want your trousers touching the ground. That could spell disaster and needless to say some embarrassment. Once your done use the hose to wash it all down. Some squat toilets smell pretty bad because you are not that far away for the actual sewerage pipe, so wash away generously. That is why I am sceptical on the whole ‘more hygienic’ thing.
When things go bad. This is in (shock) Japan. Facing towards the back.

Wipe your bum with toilet paper and then it goes into the basket and leave remembering to leave the toilet the way you would like to find it, even if that isn’t the way YOU found it. And pray your gut holds out for the rest of the day!
Some toilets are spotless and well maintained. Others are not. Don’t forget squat toilets are a part of everyday life for people living in India. That’s over a billion people. You can laugh about it, but it’s a good idea to never be too precious about it.

Thus endeth the lesson.

'Short Journeys: India' will be out in April (around the middle of the month). Meanwhile here are my experiences of travelling through India in 2004 as part of my 'Dhaka to Dakar' adventure :

And the latest 'Short Journeys' is Japan, and it is here:

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