There are some things in life you take for granted, aren`t there? You need to eat; you need to sleep; you need to clean yourself and use some kind of toilet facility in some fashion. I thought I’d run into all the possible permutations of the last one, but India has added a few new twists.
You’ll be familiar with “Western-style” toilets, of course. You know, the things you have to clean (my least favourite housekeeping task, ever), usually in a room also containing a sink, shower and/or bathtub. The room that you fight over with your roommate or spouse or siblings when you’re trying to get ready in the morning.
You might also be familiar with Western-style toilets in some parts of world where everything works as you’re used to, but where you can’t actually flush toilet paper. (Central America, for example.) There’s a bin usually helpfully provided, next to the toilet, where your waste paper is dumped if sewage treatment facilities in that particular part of the world can’t handle it.
You’ve probably heard of — even if not actually seen — squat toilets. These are essentially holes in the ground, with a platform for your feet, that require strong thigh muscles and some dexterity in keeping clothing out of the way while you’re going about your business. Toilet paper is not usually supplied, but there is generally a water tap to clean yourself off. These types of facilities can be found in many corners of the world, and locals will use them in preference to Western-style toilets (which they consider unhygienic, what with all those different bottoms taking a seat there).
If you’re a camper, you’ll be familiar with the outhouses (huts with a rudimentary seat built over a hole in the ground) to be found in many campgrounds. If you’re an adventurous backwoods type, you’ll be well used to squatting behind the nearest bush or tree to take care of business, and to bathing in the nearest lake or stream. If you’ve travelled in remote parts of developed countries — the Australian Outback, for example — you’ll also have gotten comfortable with the idea of just finding a shady spot to the side of the bus. Boys to the left, girls to the right, please …
So I thought I’d seen it all. But there’s still a few things in India that perplex me, plumbing-wise.
There are Western-style toilets, but almost never any toilet paper (and you can’t usually find it for sale in shops, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do when my supply runs out). Where there are squat toilets, there is always a water tap with a small bucket helpfully nearby; I’ve worked out that you’re mean to use the bucket and water to clean yourself (in lieu of toilet paper), but how on earth are you supposed to get dry again?
On trains, you usually get the choice of either squat or Western-style toilets. Given the state of cleanliness of the latter, these pretty much become “squat” too (you just don’t have to squat as low); trying to use either while balancing on a swaying train and watching the track go by through the hole beneath you is a challenging task. Going “first class” by train doesn’t guarantee a Western toilet; I waited in the “upper class” waiting room for my Delhi-Agra train, and struggled to block the smell from the squat toilets at the back.
In hotel bathrooms, there’s often a hose-type thing with a nozzle attachment located next to the toilet; I worked out (finally) that this is meant to be a hand-held bidet, sort of, to rinse yourself off after you’ve finished your business. (I’d thought at first that it was just for cleaning the floor, and it works quite well for this purpose, too. Sometimes there’s a squeegee-type thing provided to help you get the floor dry again.) But the question remains: how do you get dry again? There’s never a helpful little handheld blowdryer nearby.
When it comes to other matters of personal hygiene, my dilemma continues. I’ve usually had my own bathroom where I’ve stayed, which is a nice step up over your average hostel, and there’s often even a Western toilet. There’s never a bathtub, but as it’s mostly to hot to think about baths anyway, this isn’t a problem. There’s a shower nozzle, usually planted in the middle of the room (never in a separate shower stall); how you’re meant to shower without drenching the entire room and everything therein I haven’t been able to figure out.
I can’t work out the buckets, either. There’s always a large bucket, with a smaller scoop-type bucket inside it; I’m guessing that you’re supposed to fill the larger bucket up with water and then use the little one to pour water over yourself. Why you’d want to do this instead of just standing under the showerhead, though, I don’t understand.
Given that there may not be a drain in the bathroom, anyway (my current hut just has a hole in the wall for the water to run out — which also happens to let the geckos in), pretty much everything is destined to get wet, and you’ll be standing in an inch or two of water by the time you’re done whichever way you choose to work it. So it probably doesn’t matter.
All I know is, the first thing I’m doing when I get home is spending an hour or two in a really hot bath. With not a gecko in sight.