Travelling in India always give me the heebie-jeebies, in spite of being born and raised in this country. Since the time I started visiting other parts of the world I realized that journeying by road in India is a challenge. More of a challenge for female travelers. Even more so, if you are traveling solo. My discomfort is less about the destination and more about the journey. In fact a very specific ordeal of the journey.
One of the most prominent challenges that I face all the time is the visit to the washrooms. The condition of public toilets is a known peril in India. They are unhygienic, obscure and at night they are a security threat.
In contrast, in Iceland while travelling to a remote waterfall my heart almost skipped a beat. I saw a toilet, with a fragrant hand wash, running water and toilet paper, smelling clean, ventilated and well maintained. The two remote huts that you see in this almost deserted landscape near the parking area are actually washrooms.
This appeared like a norm to Icelanders, but we as Indians are raised to make good with what we have; not what we deserve, and pay taxes for. The public toilets smell worse than an eleven day old dead rat. There almost seems to be a guarantee of catching diseases that are yet to be discovered. The odds of toilet flushes working are rather remote.
The only option that we are left with is going to the loo in the woods, answering the call of nature, in nature.
Once, while on a 14-hour journey, when the bus stopped mid-way for the only pit stop, all passengers rushed to relieve themselves. Why I speak specifically on women’s behalf is that I saw men not thinking twice and urinating on the road side. Meanwhile, the women were still struggling to ‘convince’ the restaurant owner to unlock the washroom.
He was actually miffed at our request. He ranted that it was too late at night; he had just washed the toilet for the day, so we could go fend for ourselves. It was tragically comic – a bunch of women, with a sense of urgency, trying to convince a man to unlock the washroom. Somewhere, it was also sad. Very sad.
A welcome a new development these days is finding washrooms in fuel stations. Maintained by private players, it is a relief and guarantee to know that one might find a clean, private space to go to the loo. It is not that urinating in the open is very challenging. The more pertinent question is who is thinking of this rare breed of people – women, who travel solo, who want to urinate, in hygiene and safety? Too much to ask?