If there is one thing you should take away with you from India it is a new toilet experience.
When it is time to go, you want to make sure you have the right terminology. It’s not a fun thing to repeatedly ask the waiter for a bathroom while he gives you a blank stare and wonders why you want to pour water over your head. Washroom and toilet are the two most common terms, with restroom coming in a distant third.
There are two types of toilets in India – Indian and Western. Indian is the kind that is flush against the floor with a hole and two footholds (shown below). Western means a traditional commode with a seat.
How Far Down the Drain Will You Go?
There are different levels to your involvement with Indian toilets. We’ll start with the least immersive, and work our way up (or down, as the case may be).
Level 0 = Western Toilet + toilet paper
This is probably what you are used to at home. It is your comfort zone. It is convenient for you. It makes you feel safe.
It is also ridiculous.
See this ad from Cottonelle (a US-based toilet paper producer).
Even they think it’s a bit crazy to only use dry paper.
Stop being stubborn. Live a little bit. Embrace the India experience.
If you must use toilet paper, remember that Indian sewers are not set up to take on a lot of paper. Often, the paper is discarded in a dustbin instead of throwing it in the commode.
Benefits of Level 0: You feel more comfortable
Drawbacks: You are extremely likely to find yourself in a situation with no toilet paper. What will you do then?
Level 1 = Western Toilet + Sprayer
I consider this one the height of evolutionary toileting. The sprayer (or bum gun) is a phenomenal addition to any washroom anywhere in the world. Its uses go well beyond personal sanitation and I have no idea why it has not caught on in other parts of the world.
Some people use the sprayer first and then apply dry paper. To have the truly Indian experience, drop the paper, use the hand. The left one to be specific. It will feel wrong/terrible/scary the first few times and then you will wonder what all the fuss is about.
Benefits: You feel clean(er). You just opened up a massive number of areas you can now do your business comfortably. You can laugh at those who are at Level 0. Better for the environment and the drainage system.
Drawbacks: It takes a few times to get used to.
Level 2 = Western Toilet + small pitcher of water
This one takes more skill and practice. Instead of a jet of water, you are now pouring water out of the cup with your right hand and cleaning with the left hand. It is a very useful skill to master if you are going to be in India for a long time and want the full experience.
Benefits: You can basically go to the bathroom anywhere in the world now with confidence. Your traveller ego is sure to soar.
Drawbacks: It’s a big mental barrier.
Level 3 = Indian toilet + small pitcher of water
Same as before, just requiring stronger leg muscles and better aim. See this popular YouTube video for more detailed instructions. It’s a good idea to splash some water on the toilet before you start to make sure everything can be cleaned well. Flushing in these toilets is done by filling a larger bucket with water and dumping it down the drain.
Benefits: Aren’t you cool now?
Drawbacks: Requires prepping with some squats and can be tricky to complete on a moving train.
Frequently Asked Questions
Don’t you get very wet?
Yes you do sometimes. Just give it a second to air dry.
Isn’t it gross?
Isn’t your way pretty gross?
But sometimes I don’t see soap available!
Yeah, ok, that is kind of gross. Soap is usually there, but sometimes the dispenser hasn’t been filled in a week, or it contains a solution of 99% water and 1% soap. Try your best not to think about this.
Why is the toilet seat wet when I walk in?
The default way to clean a bathroom is to take the sprayer and spray everything in sight. (Your househelp will do this unless you direct them otherwise.) If it bothers you, take a disposable hand towel to wipe off the seat.
Why are so many signs on buildings advertising a toilet with a phone number under it?
That is “To let” as in the building is available for rent. Most of them probably have toilets too!
Why does that man keep staring down at the wall? Oh wait, never mind. I figured it out.
Worst-case scenario for Indian Toilets
You are on a train and have to go really bad, but the only toilet available is the Indian one and the cup that is chained to the sink is gone.
In these situations, use your own drinking water and bring along some hand sanitizer.