Toilet Guide: India

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So, India is quite probably the most incredible country on our entire planet. Let’s hold that thought in our heads going forwards.

India is also quite an undertaking. India is huge. India is frustrating. India is modern and ancient, holy and profound, exhilarating and infuriating. And that’s all before you attempt the considerable feat of using the toilets there.

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In case there weren’t already enough conflicting messages in India… even the bins are holy!

Writing a guide to toilets in India is a bit like writing a guide to “toilets of the world”. It feels about as ambitious. You will likely experience the full range of toilets the world has to offer in India. You could be using an impossibly posh throne of a toilet one minute, then pooping in the gutter the next. Cos, you know, it’s India. You have to go a lot.

I think of India as a micro-world; every state is like a new country. You can travel a few hundred miles in India and find that the food, culture, people, laws and of course toilets are all suddenly completely different. And everywhere you go, you’ll encounter the same tangle of impenetrable paradoxes – a sea of totally contradictory ideas which are all equally true and important and somehow all work together.

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Quick guide:

  • 70% of households in India have no access to toilets. Defecating in the open is still fairly common in many parts of India, although as a traveller you will not necessarily see any of this. The towns on the “tourist trail” all have toilet facilities. 
  • But, these toilets vary hugely in quality. You will find very basic squat toilets and very fancy squat toilets. You will find buckets in buckets and also bum guns. Ideally, read up on all of these before you go.
  • Toilet paper will rarely be provided for free unless you’re staying somewhere upmarket. So bring your own toilet paper with you. Everywhere. You’ll find it for sale in many shops and some guesthouses, but it definitely pays to pack it before you go, in case of emergency. 
  • Some public toilets give you a wodge of toilet paper when you enter. You will be charged for entry to these toilets, so have small coins handy.
  • Accommodation aimed at a western audience will likely offer sit-down toilets, unless its super cheap. Hostels that charged £3 a night tended to have sit-down toilets. Hostels that charged £1 a night usually had squat toilets. Yes India is VERY cheap.
  • Not all cafes/ restaurants have toilets. There are a lot of great places to eat hovering in the space in between “street food” and “actual café”. These set-ups generally do not have toilet facilities.
  • Public toilet facilities in most towns range from limited to non-existent. In larger towns, shopping malls will likely have toilets you can use. 
  • You can’t flush your toilet paper down the toilets in India. Use the poopy paper bin. OR learn to use the bum gun and then you will only have to use toilet paper for drying your already clean bum.


Accommodation

Toilet facilities in your accommodation will be directly linked to how expensive and fancy your guesthouse is. If you pay more for a nicer place you will very likely find only great toilets in your hotels. I paid an average of £3 a night in India, which bought me a private room with shared toilet. In this price range I often found guest houses had both squat toilets and sit-down toilets available, so you could take your pick.



Toilets on transport

India is big. If you are overland travelling in India, you will likely be in for some long journeys, either by bus or train. Domestic flights are the only way to maintain guaranteed good quality toilet access.

Travelling by train

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The train network is wonderful, expansive and just as delightfully mystifying as the rest of India.

Trains in India have toilets on board. This is very welcome news, especially if you’re planning on doing some serious train trips. I spent an enjoyable 40 hours on the train from Goa to Delhi, sipping cup after cup of chai safe in the knowledge I could pee whenever I wanted. The toilets are generally squat toilets, although you find some sit-down toilets on trains as well. That said, by the end of the journey the toilets are usually so gross you don’t want to touch anything with any part of your body or clothing. In those situations, I honestly find it easier to use the squat toilets than the sit-down toilets. Because seriously, what’s the point of a sit-down toilet if you can’t actually sit on it?

A word on balance. Trains in India are bumpy, so one issue with squatting to use the toilet is trying to not fall head over heels every time the train goes over a bump. I generally find a rail to hold onto with one hand, for balance. Like you do on the tube/ subway.

There are always sinks with running water on trains, so as long as you have a bar of soap handy you can have a proper hand wash afterwards.

Something else to note is traditionally, train tracks are a popular toilet spot in India. By squatting on the rails, you ensure a nice gap between your bum and the ground, a fact which has not gone unnoted by the Indian population…

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Buses

Buses do not have toilets on board. Nor do they make toilet stops. This is information I sorely wish I knew before I boarded the 17-hour bus to Jaipur. Lack of toilet access during bus journeys is such an important topic we have a whole post on it here!



Further considerations:

Toilets in Amritsar

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You can stay at Sikhism’s most holy place, The Golden Temple, for free. Free bed, free meals, free toilet and shower facilities. This is incredible and humbling, especially considering at night hundreds of pilgrims spread out blankets to sleep on the floor, and they still give up beds for western, non-Sikh travellers.

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The toilets are cleaned everyday by volunteers so they stay in excellent condition. Inexplicably, all the toilets have holes in the doors, just at a height where someone could comfortably stand and stare at you whilst you squat to use them. Which is just what happened to my friend Nick. So, that’s a thing.


Toilets during the monsoon

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During the monsoon, everything floods. See that street above? That was bone dry literally 20 minutes before I took that photo. I spent time in a rural village in India during the monsoon, and the infrastructure really struggled to cope with the rains. The toilets didn’t flush because the land was so waterlogged, which got really gross really quickly. Also, immediately prior to the monsoon, during the hottest and driest time of year, the wells dry up and the toilets stop flushing. So, if you will be spending time in rural areas do consider the weather. You might face a considerable period of time with a deceptively non-flushing toilet, panicking as the toilet bowl fills higher and higher instead of flushing


That’s one reason why travellers are usually advised to avoid the monsoon season!



Toilets in private houses

If you’re lucky enough to get invited for dinner at someone’s home, you might be surprised by the toilets you find. I was invited to a wonderful Diwali dinner with a local family in Southern India, and they had a very clean and lovely squat toilet in their huge house. This was a pretty well off family; they simply preferred their squat toilet to a sit-down toilet. It can be surprising for Western travellers to learn that many Indian people use squat toilets by choice, because they genuinely find them better than sit-down toilets. We also ate dinner on the floor; not because the family didn’t have a table, but because sitting on the floor is during meals is an important part of this  family’s culture. India is good at challenging your assumptions!



And lastly, don’t forget your toilet kit!

We would recommend you carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel with you at all times, unless you’re happy to use the bucket in a bucket to clean yourself and adopt the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” system the locals use.

We also recommend bringing your own bar of soap in a soap box on your trip to India, because sometimes you just need a proper hand wash and there’s no guarantee anywhere will provide soap.

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So,  got all that? With a bit of planning and preparation, you can face the toilets in India with absolute confidence. Just remember, no matter how many plans you have for India, India will always surprise you with the unexpected. Which is why so many travellers fall completely in love with this amazing country  🙂

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