Wednesday, December 5, 2007

in lieu of a loo

16th May 2002

Hang around with travellers long enough and you’ll soon end up talking about poo.

It doesn’t matter what nationality, religion or social strata you belong to when the topic turns to toilets the conversation immediately becomes lively. Even those quiet retiring types who usually sit sullenly in the peripheral shadows of the discussion group suddenly perk up and interject with their own ablutionary experiences.

Ah the toilets I have known.

There is probably an entire book on my own experiences.

There are two Tibetan toilet stories I want to share with you. One involves me and the other one of my travel companions.

My experience involves what is undoubtedly, in my experience, both the grossest and yet at the same time the most beautiful and sublime toilets I have ever been to. And let me mention - I have been to some really gross toilets.

This particular one is situated at 5,200 metres above sea level. At this elevation the air is thin, breathing is more laboured and even walking a few hundred metres is tiring. I am in a valley on the Tibetan plateau and have just spent the night in a monastery at the village called (appropriately enough) Rongphu (pron. ‘wrong-pooh’)

I woke early. Earlier than the others in my group. So I ventured outside to see what the weather had in store for us, as that morning we were to walk to Everest Base Camp.

It was still dark, but I could see on the horizon that the sunrise was imminent. I wandered a little way from the monastery down beside some low stone walls which served to separate various sections of monastic activities. Within one of these enclosures were several Yaks - a creature I had developed an immense fondness for, having only ever previously encountered them in crosswords.

I stopped briefly for a yak with a yak.

The sun, though not yet visible, was providing enough light now for me to see where I was going, so I ventured a little further into the valley.

There was a fair amount of cloud about but Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) was already partly visible through the breaking cloud. And what a breathtaking vision she was.

7am and everest through the cloud

As I walked the cloud quickly grew thinner and thinner until it completely disappeared and left the sky a dazzling light blue, and Everest, in her serene majesty and grandeur swept magnificently upwards from the dusty brown sandy valley floor like an enormous starched white serviette. For a confirmed montophile like me, this was the ultimate experience.

view from the loo


Oh? The toilet? Sorry I was swept away reminiscing about Everest for a moment.

Well about this time the culmination of the scenery, the thin air and an early morning timetabled regularity, I realised I needed to find a bit of privacy somewhere pretty damned quick. But this is Tibet. No trees. No hedges. Not even a shred of a shrub within coo-ee.

But nearby I could see yet another enclosure of low walls so I dashed over grateful for even a little bit of cover.

Unfortunately this enclosure, consisting of three walls (the fourth side faced straight down the valley towards Mt. Everest) was in fact a refuse dump. Appropriate as this may be, it was also the most disgusting, putrid and noxious pile of garbage imaginable. So there I squatted, surrounded by rotting vegetable matter and a surprisingly large quantity of goat’s feet (presumably there is not a lot of meat on the hoof) attending to natures business with one of the most spectacular views I could ever possibly imagine.

The second story involves one of my group's female members heading off to one of our Tibetan hotel’s ‘hole-in-the-floor’ toilets (always situated on the first floor so the waste could be collected for use as fertiliser) and returning several minutes later looking a little ashen faced.

What’s the matter we enquired?

Well, she said, once she found herself squatting over the hole, she peered down to make sure her aim was accurate and to her horror she discovered she was staring at a Tibetan pervert underneath looking up at her.

Enough to make anyone’s sphincter snap shut like a camera shutter.

everest base camp

everest base camp cafe

terry at mt.everest base camp marker

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