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What is the one big worry that plagues women travelling in India on bus journeys? Clean public toilets!
By Aparna V. Singh
Recently, I met a young British woman who has been backpacking around India for the last 6 months. Talking about her trip (which she described as “amazing”), she mentioned one particularly challenging journey, a 17-hour bus journey from Dharamshala to Amritsar, on a slow-moving, prone-to-breakdown bus. My first thought was, how did she manage trips to the loo?
Indeed, this is my first thought on hearing about or having to undertake bus journeys in India. Will the bus stop for loo breaks? How many times? Will there be clean toilets? As a matter of strict policy, I refuse to go on bus journeys that will take longer than 8 hours.
If you are a man reading this or a non-Indian, you might wonder if I am obsessed with bathroom breaks. But if you are an Indian woman reading this, you are probably nodding your head and thinking about all the godawful, unmentionable toilets in India that you’ve been forced to visit.
Any woman who frequently undertakes bus journeys in India quickly comes up with her own coping strategy to answer the call of nature. Stop drinking water two hours before you board the bus. Sip water in very small doses during the journey so you’re not compelled to use the toilet too often. (Not drinking any water at all can be lethal on your urinary tract, as you will discover on visiting the loo after a long gap). If you’re travelling by AC bus and sitting right under the vent, see if there is a kind soul who will switch seats with you. When the bus makes a halt, dash to the loo first – it is likely to be in better shape before your fellow passengers have descended on it.
Any woman who frequently undertakes bus journeys in India quickly comes up with her own coping strategy to answer the call of nature.
My deepest sympathies are always reserved for women travelling in India with one or more kids, where none of the above mentioned strategies will work. It seems as though a child just has to wait for the bus to start before she feels an urgent desire to visit the restroom.
On a recent trip from Bangalore to Chennai, our bus suddenly pulled to the side of the road, and by some unspoken agreement, the men and children (with attendant mothers) filed out to do their business in the usual Indian ‘we pee where we like’ fashion. The rest of us sat in the bus crossing our legs and resenting them for doing what we could not. The bus driver counted this halt as his second stop during the journey, never mind that fully one third of the bus was female!
If you’re travelling by car, things are a little better. Highway motels and restaurants have in the last decade begun realizing that the presence of clean loos is a sure-fire way to attract families. If you travel on a particular route frequently, you quickly learn the good ones. Forget the food and the service, are their loos clean? That’s the question many women ask, and the answers are filed away for future reference.
One of the most memorable loos I have used while travelling was while honeymooning in Sikkim, up at 12000 feet near Tsongo Lake. Having done our share of admiring the lake and riding on yaks, we went to have tea at a shack nearby and I gingerly asked the lady who owned the shop, if there was a toilet I could use. “Yes, yes”, she nodded happily, and signalled me to a door behind which I would find it. I went there to find myself alone in a large open area with a beautiful view of the mountains that are everywhere in Sikkim.
Sometimes, I think there should be a wiki up somewhere online, where one could make a list of restaurants with clean toilets on every national and state highway in India.
Sometimes, I think there should be a wiki up somewhere online, where one could make a list of restaurants with clean toilets on every national and state highway in India. While such a list would be useful to all long-suffering women travelling in India, I can only think of the value to clean freaks like my sister who was perhaps traumatised by dirty loos in her childhood and completely avoids using the toilet while travelling in India. (Luckily for her bladder, she doesn’t live here and doesn’t have to do this often!)
Last month, some friends from Bangalore visited us, travelling by a new bus that KSRTC has just launched, complete with toilet on-board. Wonderful as that sounds, my first thought is that it’s unlikely to stay clean for long, and I can’t decide which is worse: not having a loo easily available or a dirty one on board stinking up your bus journeys?
*Photo credit: Ignas Kukenys (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas
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