Women selling spices at roadside in Delhi, India
India Travel Tips

Avoiding Delhi Belly: How To Stay Healthy In India

Rumbling through the streets of Thailand, inhaling the traffic fumes, I began to realise that it wasn't just the tuk tuk that was rumbling. As we arrived at the train station, the waves of nausea reached critical mass and I made a frantic dash for the bathroom. The attendant was unsympathetic as she demanded the entrance fee and scrabbling through loose change wasted precious moments. Despite my desperate attempt, a torrent of vomit erupted just a few feet short of the cubicle. Nobody wants to waste precious days of their holiday confined to their hotel room, never more than a few metres from the nearest toilet. Projectile vomiting in public places is not much fun either.  It's better to avoid getting sick in the first place.

Open sacks of pulses and grains at a shop in Jaipur, India

Food Shopping in Jaipur

Before we visited India, everyone warned us of the food poisoning we were bound to experience. We couldn't find anyone who had survived India without at least one attack of the infamous Delhi Belly. Then we met Tim. Tim had been on numerous trips to India and largely escaped unscathed. He gave us lots of advice and we followed it to the letter. Unlike some of our other adventures, we survived a month of backpacking in India without any problems. Tim is now our hero.

So, how did we do it?

Have Drinks Without Ice

This is standard travel advice but certainly applies in India. If the tap water is not safe to drink then you can be fairly sure that ice made with tap water won't be safe either.

Dog drinking from reservoir in Jaisalmer, India

Reservoir in Jaisalmer

Avoid Salad

We met a pale, tired looking girl in a cafe in Rishikesh. She told us she had been sick for the last few days. She then ordered a salad because she couldn't face eating anything else on the menu. We began to understand why she had been so ill.

Salad is often washed in tap water and should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid Dairy

Raw dairy food should be avoided. We made exceptions for dairy food that had been cooked. This included paneer, a cheese that is served in curry, which we ate on a daily basis. We also drank excessive quantities of masala chai, spiced milky tea.

Only Eat Fruit You Have Peeled Yourself

Fruit, like salad, will often have been washed in tap water. Peeling the fruit yourself is the only way to ensure it's safe to eat. Oranges and bananas are both good snack options.

Fruit stalls on a busy road in Fatehpur Sikri, India

Fruit Stalls In Fatehpur Sikri

Buy Bottled Water From Reputable Places

Street vendors in India often reuse old water bottles. The bottles are refilled from a hosepipe and then sold to unsuspecting tourists. They may even glue the lid so it makes that reassuring snap when you open it.

Always buy bottled water from reputable places like proper shops or your hotel. A lot of bottled water in India has a second plastic seal over the lid. This is a good sign that it will be safe to drink.

Insist The Waiter Opens Your Bottled Water At The Table

If you order water in a restaurant, check the bottle is properly sealed before it is opened. Even restaurants are not beyond refilling a bottle from the tap.

Monkeys by litter filled Yamuna River in Agra, India

The Source Of Tap Water In Agra

What About Meat?

If we thought the hygiene standards of a restaurant were in any way dubious we avoided the meat. There are a lot of vegetarian options in India so this was very easy. We found that meat curries tended to be considerably more expensive than their vegetarian counterparts. When we did order meat, the portions were tiny, bony and unsatisfying.

Take Care With Inflight Meals

When you leave India, there's a good chance the food on the plane will have been packed in India. Some of the best airlines have now stopped sourcing food in India but many others haven't. If in doubt, the usual rules should still apply.

Boy cooking on open fire in Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

Cooking Lunch In The Thar Desert

What Did We Eat In India?

With a few minor exceptions, almost everything we ate in India had been cooked. Despite being dedicated carnivores, we actually preferred the vegetarian options. We had some of our best meals in holy towns that were strictly vegetarian. Any trip to India will be culinary adventure. Even if you stick to curry for every meal, there are still plenty of options and you won't miss out.

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