India – A Lowdown on the Loos

Down the hole

Although snugly tucked at my parents’ house in California for a month-long break from my hectic travel schedule, I can’t get India out of my head. The chaos, the dirt, and the bathrooms–oh the bathrooms!–are still haunting me from 8,000 miles away. There are those people that love India, and can sing its praises despite the constantly blaring horns, plate sized cow patties and near collisions at every bend in the road (hello, Steve!).

However, if you’ve been reading my blog for the past eight weeks, you will know that I am not one of those people. Traveling in India is simply not for me. And I’ll tell you exactly why: I have never seen dirtier toilets in all my life. (Only one photo has been included in order to protect the sensibilities of my gentle readers!)

This may sound like the voice of a seventy year old woman speaking, but the older I get (I’m 32), the more I desire to travel comfortably. I don’t mind a challenge, but I do not enjoy being in a place where every molecule in my body is screaming out in protest. My OCD means that I get a bit frantic in very dirty places, and this basically meant six weeks of non-stop anxiety in a country where I didn’t see much evidence of rubbish bins, soap or toilet paper in a single public toilet I visited.

This is where this post gets down and dirty with a lowdown on Indian loos, so if you are the squeamish sort, I suggest you move on. However, if you plan to travel to India and would like to know what to expect sanitarily OR you’re simply one of those people that can’t turn away from a train wreck, then read on. (I realize this entire topic is decidedly un-chic, but my goal will be accomplished if I can inspire at least one unsuspecting traveler to prepare their hand sanitizer supplies in advance before visiting India.)

Bathroom Scenario #1: A Floor

Imagine the scene. It’s late at night, the air is boiling. Tired and hot, I present my 10 rupees to the attendant and stumble into the bathroom at the Kolkata train station hoping for a decent toilet before boarding the overnight train towards Darjeeling. This is my last chance to have a wee while not squatting over tracks on a moving vehicle, and I for one was happy to take it–until I saw the set up.

I had walked into a stall that was surely meant for showering. It was simply a floor. A spigot of water dripped lazily into a dingy bucket in the corner, but that was the only accoutrement. I walked out, sure I would find a toilet, squatty, or at least a hole in the ground through the next door. But all the stalls were the same. Just a floor! Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a miniature golf ball sized hole in the very corner of the floor. I realized that I was supposed to go on the floor, and wash it down the hole with the bucket.

Oh, no.

And how women wearing saris do this without the fabric dragging on the ground eludes me.

Bathroom Scenario #2: A Train

I wrote quite the post about this very thing a few weeks ago after a particularly traumatizing train ride, so there is no reason to rehash it again here as it will just cause me to once again need a Xanax. Let’s just say that for me, the train bathrooms on Indian Railways are prescription drug inducing.

Bathroom Scenario #3: A Public Toilet 

Varanasi is the dirtiest city I’ve ever seen, and–not to be left out–the public toilet near the train station in Varanasi is the dirtiest public toilet I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, there was a porcelain squatty on the floor. But it had long since lost its white, shiny sheen and had turned a shitty (no pun intended–I’m talking literally) brown color. The floor was wet in that way that is very suspicious, and–GULP!–the walls were covered in a not-so-mysterious brown goo that is the direct result of lack of toilet paper.

Poor Steve will tell you that after this particular toilet experience, I truly did have a full fledged panic attack.

A note about tampons: Sorry guys, stop reading here; this is for all the ladies out there. Despite searching high and low through chemists and corner shops, tampons proved to be as elusive as successfully logging on to America’s new healthcare website (trust me…I’ve tried that too!). They simply could not be found. I am sure that they exist somewhere, for some people, in India, but they certainly did not present themselves to me. Should you be planning a foray into India, may I recommend you bring your own supply.

Disclaimer: This blog is simply a personal opinion of my own experiences in India. I in no way wish to offend anyone or to dissuade anyone planning to travel to there. 

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16 responses to “India – A Lowdown on the Loos

  1. Oh gosh, I couldn’t walk away from the train wreck and now any future plans I had for visiting India one day are part of that train wreck. I can’t handle bathrooms like this!

  2. Hi Leslie, I have experienced similar and developed a re-in forced bladder of steel in India! However, as unbelievable as it may sound, there is worse. Tibet. Monk’s toilets, long drop toilets, no privacy, ie a couple of stalls with only a foot high wall between them. The tour guide warned us to keep passports safe as we could not travel without! Nature pees became a very attractive option!

    • Oh my–I can’t imagine anything worse! I guess Tibet (and probably places like Nepal and Bangladesh I would imagine) are moving to the very bottom of my travel to-do list. I need to recuperate before I can handle going that hard core again!

  3. On the subject of tampons, I would recommend a Mooncup as an alternative. Cheaper, better for you and environment. Maybe have a look at the website!

  4. I gotta say, public toilets in India and Egyptian trains have been the worse that I’ve been to. I guess luckily for me, I grew up in the ‘developing’ world and had been quite used to it. But grossest moment surprisingly was when I was in Paris running the half marathon. The public loo situation was so appalling that the runners pretty much ran into the middle of the parks and dropped trou…

    • Haha! Really? In Paris? That’s too funny. Fortunately for me, I have not had the experience of an Egyptian train, but I did use a bathroom on a bus in Egypt that was covered in cockroaches. That was pretty bad… Oh the things we go through for our love of travel! 🙂

  5. Oh I love a good dodgy toilet story. I once rushed into a public toilet in Vanuatu. I paid my 20 vatu and then realised that I needed to pay another 20 vatu for toilet paper, but it was little late for that.

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