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Are you squatting comfortably?

View Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur 2011 on Chris Parsons's travel map.

When on a trek, you start to appreciate some of the creature comforts that simply get taken for granted at home. One such pleasure is a warm toilet seat on which to park your posterior. Alas, like in many other parts of the developing world, Thomas Crapper's invention is only just infiltrating Nepal, where squat toilets are the order of the day. Doing your business in a Nepali squat toilet is part of the trekking experience, thanks to the variable quality of the sanitary facilities and the unpredictability of your digestive system when adapting to the local diet.

The very worst examples are the squalid, ramshackle latrines found behind the roadside food shacks where the long-distance buses pull over to allow passengers a five-minute comfort break. In practice, there's very little that's comfortable about using these places. They are typically thrown together from whatever bits of wood and corrugated tin happen to be lying around, and are frequently unlit. Darkness in a squat toilet can be a blessing as well as an inconvenience. You don't get to find out what unspeakably horrid fecal matter the previous occupant may have forgotten to flush away, and the cause of the suspiciously slippery floor remains similarly unknown.

The trekking lodges that are found on the more popular trails in Nepal are generally more sympathetic to the personal hygiene standards of Westerners. Here, you can expect to find a door with a lock (both are considered a bonus), a basket thoughtfully placed in one corner for depositing used toilet paper (though it's best not to peer too closely at the contents) and a plastic water container with a jug for flushing.

Some fine examples we have come across on our trek include the spotlessly clean toilet at our homestay in Ghap, the beautifully wood-panelled affair at the lodge in Meta and the tiled bathroom at the Snowland Hotel in Koto. The proprietors of the latter establishment had clearly never laid a tiled floor before, but deserve credit for trying. A lodge, however, is never a guarantee of a pleasurable bathroom experience, and there are numerous examples of overflowing waste paper baskets, leaky taps, sloping floors and tin roofs that lift off the walls when you stand up and hit your head on them. (Any other six-footers who've been to Nepal will know exactly what I'm talking about.)

The trekking lodges in Nar clearly know their market

The trekking lodges in Nar clearly know their market

On our camping trek we had the use of a toilet tent when no permanent cubicles were available. A shallow hole in the ground, dug with the adze of an ice axe, was the natural substitute for the white porcelain squat toilet cast-in to a cement floor. This worked fine when you needed to go in the evening or first thing in the morning, but strange diets can easily disrupt regular cycles and at some point you will inevitably be caught short in between campsites. The toilet en plein air is the only option, but it is not without risk. The one thing you're usually guaranteed with an open-air loo in Nepal is a good view, but more often than not, this means the porter a couple of minutes behind you on the path gets an equally good view of your pasty white bum. It's not always possible to find a convenient boulder or bush to dodge behind and there is a definite art to judging distances and sightlines. If that same porter passes you a few minutes later with a sheepish grin on his face, you know you've made an error of judgement.

We came across the same problem in the village of Phu, where there are no public conveniences at all, and to make matters worse, the surrounding hillsides all seemed to be overlooked by villagers' farms, homes or gompas. What to do? Well, aside from holding it all in until nightfall, which is what the locals did, we could sneak across to the campsite and make use of a French group's toilet tent. A lady staying in the same lodge as us confessed to a different solution. She kept a spare bottle in her room for emergencies, and when no-one was looking, went outside and discreetly disposed of the contents. So long as she wasn't emptying it into the vegetable patch...

The Nepalese village of Phu
Is sorely in need of a loo
So when nature calls
Wait till darkness falls
'Cos that's what the locals do

Another hazard is the multitude of sticky seeds and prickly vegetation underfoot. Not all the plants are familiar, so it's worth checking your nether regions for foreign matter before pulling your trousers up. A certain trekker I know managed to walk for several hours with bracken in her knickers.

Bowel movements on a trek can be unpredictable in consistency as well as regularity. Jen has a cast-iron stomach and seems to have few problems in this regard, but Gillian McKeith would have a field day with my stools. My delicate gut needs to be weaned carefully on to a foreign diet and this process can take a few weeks. Judging consistency by sight is difficult when what comes out slides away into the fetid abyss of the squat toilet. Turning around for a quick glance mid-action is risky too - I once misjudged the roof level and managed to lift it six inches off the supports with my head. The alternative method is to judge by the number of sheets of loo paper required to deal with the aftermath. I'm very proud of the fact that I managed to ration myself to 55 sheets of Andrex for 29 days, but after the first week it was looking as though 550 would be necessary. Eventually I'd had enough and started a course of antibiotics. This worked a treat and my insides quickly settled themselves down again. I waited with some trepidation for the next number two to come along, and I'm pleased to report that the event passed without any troubling incident, much to my relief.

That's why, in my humble opinion, there's no greater satisfaction when trekking than a two-sheet shit.

Chris is so relieved that his weeks of constipation are over, he doesn't notice his rock-hard turd has cracked the bowl

Chris is so relieved that his weeks of constipation are over, he doesn't notice his rock-hard turd has cracked the bowl

Posted by Chris Parsons 21:42 Archived in Nepal Tagged trekking nepal toilets

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