When in Ladakh, finding and using a toilet can be quite an exercise. And if you are mentally and physically not ready when the time comes to use one, it can cause a fair amount embarrassment and discomfort. Or a change of clothes if things go a little awry.
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For starters, toilets are a rarity here. The silver lining are the vast desolate landscapes with perhaps the lowest population density anywhere in India. Head out to the nearest boulder and allow that wave of relief to sweep across your body. Phew.
And then, most of these toilets do not have water. Thus you cannot call them washrooms. And since you would always be rushing out as soon as the deed is done, you cannot call them restrooms. So make sure you carry your own water. Even if it means making do with precious supplies of mineral water. And have some soap handy too. Did someone mentioned toilet paper? Dig into your own rucksack. And don’t allow your imagination to run too wild: don’t even think where the guy who is cooking a meal for you at a roadside ‘café’ washed his hands.
Toilets come in many kinds here. You have the Ladakhi toilets, also called the Tibetan ones. What are these? Holes in the ground. Where you squat, with your bottoms a few inches away from stuff left by others, and make do with the ambient conditions. There is a version a few notches better than this at places: The hole in the ground is above a collection room: Everything drops through a hole into a dark closed space a few feet deep. The aroma may still be there but you are saved the sights. I know of a couple who were stranded in Tso Moriri in a homestay after the only camp refused to honour their booking; the toilet in that house was a hole above a room. One has no idea of the frequency these are cleared.
Privacy can be another concern here. You usually have flies for company – don’t they just love this stuff? Are they related to pigs? And often there are no doors. If you must use these, then be like the mice who closed their eyes when the cat came and thought it had gone away. You can do likewise or just put your head down – if you don’t know who has seen you, then it can’t hurt your modesty, can it?
The situation for many of the hundreds of visitors to the annual Hemis Monastery festival seemed to have become highly uncomfortable when I was there. For one, the monastery itself had no signs of toilets anywhere. Not even make-shift ones for the event. And with the day being cold and wet, it automatically makes for leaky bladders. One was directed to the surrounding village where the few toilets were just holes in the ground, with everything from previous users still piled up. These had no doors or even a ceiling; they were just three sided boxes. What were the visitors doing? Some used these, while a few actually went into people’s houses and quickly relieved themselves in the outer rooms and rushed out. Houses here are also open to anyone – there is nothing but some utensils and clothes for anyone to take away anyway. And Ladakh is mostly an honest and innocent place. Some ladies had no choice but to just squat anywhere while no one was looking. Men still had walls to stand against. Funnily, just when one thought no one had seen them, you realized those sitting on the upper stands of the monastery had a clear view of what was going on in the village around. Oops!
Of course, there are some modern toilets with water too. These are usually found in hotels and restaurants. The owners can be quite protective of these though: One such toilet at the Café Desert Rain in Leh was on the terrace and could be accessed by a key given to paying customers. Even when walking in the market area of Leh, it can be a challenge finding toilets. There are hardly any public facilities, and one often has to request restaurant to allow use of the same. Happily enough, most allow you to.
Delightfully, I saw some portable toilets at the Khardungla Pass on the way from Leh to Nubra Valley with running water and a guy constantly cleaning them. A tip to the caretaker was most deserving here. I also saw some of these portable ones at the Taglangla Pass too marked Ladies and Gentt but I did not venture to check these out.
Next time nature calls, make sure you are well prepared!!