Grumpy Traveller: Loo horrors

Grumpy Traveller: Loo horrors

Using public toilets while travelling in India can be a scarring experience

Mita Ghose
July 31 , 2015
02 Min Read

My near-death experiences have taught me a sobering lesson: you can’t escape them; certainly not while travelling with a full bladder through remote areas where public toilets are as rare as a snow-leopard sighting.

My first such encounter with a local loo at Nimmo, a village in Ladakh poised at the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, prompted me to condemn the term “public convenience” as criminally misleading.


A novice then, I hadn’t yet seen the toilet tent erected at South Pullu, a military check post en route to Khardung-La, supposedly the world’s highest motorable pass. Waiting outside it was a queue of chirpy women tourists. I watched each one enter. Their dazed silence as they emerged discouraged questions.

My turn came. Creeping past the precipice overlooking a vertiginous drop, I slipped in edgeways through the tent’s no-flap, open end – open to a gale-force wind threatening to blow tent and occupant away, to every Peeping Tom and Polly eager to brave that tightrope walk. Inside stood a latticework platform of criss-crossed bamboo poles so widely spaced that hurrying through the business at hand was secondary to the horror of imagining my sneaker-shod feet slip right through and sink into the pile of fresh “debris”, visible through the gaps, on the rocks below.

I survived.

Sikkim, therefore, was paradise. “Short: Rs 5; long: Rs 10,” said the no-nonsense signs outside its clean pay toilets. Unsuspecting, we drove up to Gaigaon, an army check post not far from the sacred Gurudongmar Lake. It offered a separate loo for women. Luxury at 15,000 feet, no less. “Queens,” proclaimed the sign outside. My bladder couldn’t resist the honour.

Imperiously, I swept up the concrete slope to the entrance. The floor flew up and smacked a welcome kiss on my forehead. Offended by such familiarity, I picked myself up and took my next baby step carefully. The second kiss landed on my nose. Fearing where this might lead, I conquered the incline on all fours, a primate in battle mode.

Then I examined the floor. How had I tumbled? I eyed the sparkly pieces embedded in the cement – not mica chips as I’d supposed, but small puddles, frozen over and slippery. Puddles? Of water or…? I blanked out the evil possibilities and glanced at the cubicles: unusually low door frames – I’d have to pass through bent double – and another steep gradient, mosaicked with sleet. But this one was special: a deep groove ran down the middle, rich with the legacy of braver souls than me.

I retreated, cautiously. I survived. My bladder, though, was never the same again.

Related Articles

India and Australia Sign...

OT Staff February 11 , 2022

Hong Kong Bans Flights...

OT Staff January 07 , 2022

Here to there

Explore Directions(Routes) and more...
to Go

Other Editions

Outlook’ is India’s most vibrant weekly news magazine with critically and globally acclaimed print and digital editions. Now in its 23rd year...

Explore All
  • Check out our Magazine of the month
  • Offbeat destinations
  • In-depth storytelling
  • Stunning pictures
  • Subscribe