So much is so sacred in India: cows, temples, Brahmin, Mother Teresa, Ganesh and the Ganges. There’s Varanasi and Vishnu - cricket’s Virat Kohliand and Bollywood’s Shahrukh Khan - the list is long.
On my list – sacred and exalted – is the holy of holies: a clean, private, flushing toilet, which so far had been present and beloved during my short time in Kolkata.
But on day two, things – loo paper included – quickly unraveled.
On the tour bus, a blonde, Danish traveller had been writhing in her seat since temple number 3 for the day, when she attempted a discreet bottom toot, which delivered more than expected.
“Stop the bus!”
Soon, the entire tour group came down with gastro and bathroom cubicles swung open and shut like saloon doors in a thirsty Western.
But not me.
I escaped the bug that had undergarments bleating in misery all about me.
I cleaned my teeth with bottled water.
I went through half a tube of hand sanitiser every eight hours.
I did everything the guidebook told me to, and more.
As day three ended, I drifted off to sleep, serenaded by the distant chorus of toilets flushing through the night.
The next morning, at breakfast, as I sipped my bottled water and nibbled on my plain toast, somewhere between smugs-ville and self-righteous town, I felt the tiniest gurgle in my tummy.
As I bolted for the washroom, the events that followed were X-rated and blisteringly violent.
And so it remained for the duration of the three-week tour.
When I wasn’t glued to the toilet seat I was staring down the barrel of one, vomiting with all the gusto of a possessed, pea-soup spitting child.
But life continued.
We were on tour.
You have to get on with.
You must get on with it.
Many say a tummy bug and its accompaniments are all part of a trip to certain countries, but I had been here before and not fallen ill.
Now I cursed the double-daal Thali, as I hunched over the porcelain in the road-side restaurant washroom.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered through streaming eyes as I tipped the bathroom attendant a king’s ransom.
Brought up laden with British reserve, toilet humour is verboten in my family, so when I returned to the table to hear tales of the ‘fart that wasn’t’ … ‘Pandora’s knickers and the evils within’ I was at first reluctant to share. But this new and exciting world of cistern chatter was both bewildering and enlightening to me.
Chronic diarrhoea is a particularly tiresome brand of sickness - made worse when you’re on the move, but when the entire group comes down with it, you have no choice but to share.
As I listened, I realised I had escaped remarkably unscathed, compared to some.
Horrors … such horrors.
That was, until the very end.
It was our final day in India.
I excused myself from the table as a tummy rumble indicated the need for flight to the washroom, which had become almost second nature.
When we reached our last hotel I was somewhat perturbed to discover my toilet had a rather energetic flush.
The intricacies of local plumbing have long been a point of confusion for me: strange pipes that lead nowhere and taps in the middle of rooms.
This toilet that sprayed all over the bathroom when flushed just seemed another touch of whimsy.
Simple though: close the lid before flushing.
I knicker-dropped at warp speed and sat a while contemplating the Celine Dion muzak piped into every corner of the hotel; her pinched nasal twang really was an appropriate anthem for soiling oneself.
“Near, far, wherever you are…once more you open the door..."
I sensed some firming of my deposits and gazed into the toilet to confirm.
Momentarily forgetting the exploding toilet and flushed …