From the time we entered Ladakh from Sonmarg, we were directed to drink water. Not one or two sips or gulps but 3 to 4 litres a day. I remembered from biology class that 70% of the human body is composed of water. Water happens to be the base of our cellular constitution and also the medium for transfer of oxygen and energy to these cells and thereby keeping our body alive. The brain happens to be the most sensitive organ of the body and brain cells start dying very quickly if flow of oxygen and energy is stopped even for a few seconds. And brain cells did not regenerate.
Water was important. But then another biology lecture had informed me that the human urinary bladder has a maximum capacity of half a litre. And that coupled with the fact that the temperatures were around 10 Degree Celsius, well, we had a problem.
Due to narrow roads and hilly terrain, the bus was anyways on an average doing a 20 kmph. and now these su-su breaks were not exactly helping us increase our average speed. But if you had to go then you HAD to go! There were no two ways about it. But we had to wait at least till the bus was at a convenient place to stop. Also we had to make sure that there were places favourable for the women to go. There were no streetlights or lanes drawn on the roads, so expecting toilet facilities along the road was like expecting a non-coalition government in India.
But as I said before, if you had to go then you HAD to go! So we started improvising. Sleeping bags were used as makeshift cubicles. The women always had to go in groups wherein they took turns holding the sleeping bags and … doing their business. We guys were better off and could all pee at the same time enjoying the scenic views. But by the time the girls returned from their mission we guys would have a newly filled bladder ready to burst again. Timing was of prime importance.
And then again there were some women who I can swear were endowed with enormous bladders. They just never went out to pee. I wasn’t quite sure if it was their anatomy or some other secret procedures they followed, so I made sure that I had water ONLY from my bottle.
We have answered the call of nature at some of the most fascinating places in Ladakh. The view of Pangong Lake was awesome and while I am writing this I suspect I have another theory for it being brackish in nature and devoid of life. I just need to work out the mystery of its shades of blue.
The synchronization experienced during community excrement session while we were stuck in a blizzard at Khardung La is worth a mention. We were covered in woollens and warm attire from head to toe except for our exits and the snowfall made it more adventurous.
The women, I am sure, must have had their own set of adventures while they had to resort to evasive manoeuvres to hide from trucks and other vehicles carrying curious onlookers.
Some places did have toilets but it was rare that they would be usable, forget clean. Some were made such that I think they just installed the pots without any plumbing beneath it. And then there were the Ladakhi style toilets. These toilets are generally just rectangular cavities in the ground with at least 10 to 20 feet of empty space below them. Ladakh is devoid of fertile soil and night soil collected over a year is used to fertilise the fields. I did not use them. I am not a sadist when it comes to poop. Imagine your poop falling 10 to 20 feet below you. What had it ever done to deserve such treatment?
We had problems as a group as regards to toilet facilities, but we managed. We did raise this issue with the Deputy Commissioner of Ladakh, one Mr. Dwivedi, when we met him in Leh. He was very diplomatic in his answers and replied coolly that by the time we visited next, the problem would be solved. He must have known that the same group would never manage to find the time and resources together to visit Ladakh again, ever. And individually, we’d never meet him.
So that was it. That’s what we faced and that’s how we solved the problems. As guys we had lesser sufferings and I am sure that they must feel more strongly towards the issue. But they have got to admit that no facilities meant complete freedom and an experience worth remembering.