What are safe drinking measures during traveling in India?

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness

Although drinking packaged drinking water in India may be more a cult than a necessity, obtaining sufficient clean water in the country, especially in the urban areas is a major health issue. Since most of the country is engulfed by heat and humidity, we need a huge supply of fluids and a safe supply has to be set up.

During travel one of the major problems is safe drinking as contamination of water can cause lots of health problems, a few of which are also fatal in nature. Some of the common problems of water contamination are hepatitis A, diarrhea, typhoid, giardiasis, and others. Some diseases, in particular (schistosomiasis), are spread through the skin and are caught by swimming, splashing, or washing in contaminated water.

Ways of making water safe

During traveling it is important to keep at least a liter of safe portable water with you. Nevertheless, in case of emergency, you also need to know how to find the right source of safe water. Sometimes, during trekking, or long traveling journeys through less peopled places, you need to know certain tricks to find the right source of water.

1. Identify a source

Find the nearest, cleanest source, such as a spring, a deep well, a hand pump, rainwater tank (except where roofs are painted with lead or made of thatch). Tap water should be avoided, even if you use it, identify where it comes from and make sure pipes and joints are sound. Hot tap water left to cool is a useful source in a hotel. Treat claims that all drinking water is boiled with extreme caution. An ideal water supply is cool, clear, and odorless.

2. Sterilize it

Boiling is the most reliable method and kills all organisms including viruses and amoebic cysts. Unless your water is known to be a safe source or there is a serious lack of fuel, boiling is the method of choice. You can use an electric kettle while traveling.

Contact with iodine kills microorganisms and releases a low level of iodine for continuing disinfection. They are ideal when on the road but should not be used long-term. Iodine is effective, killing most micro-organisms and having some action on amoebic cysts. Buy portable aqua tablets and dissolve one in a liter of water, or as per manufacturer’s instructions. Current advice is not to use iodine for longer than six weeks, and to use it only occasionally when pregnant, in those under six years of age, or if suffering from thyroid problems.

3. Storing water

Boiled water should ideally be stored in the container in which it was boiled. Alternatively, it can be poured into a previously sterilized narrow-necked earthenware jar and placed on a clean, dry surface. The jar will need careful and regular cleaning and should be kept covered.

Many expatriates keep two large kettles, using each in turn first to boil, then to store. In this way, there is a constant supply of cool, boiled water. Water is best removed from its storage container through a tap or spout. Dippers are unsafe as they frequently get left on the floor and contaminate the whole supply. A good rule is ‘Tap or tip, don’t dip’.

Safe fluids – on the road

When on the road or in difficult conditions, boiling or filtering is not always possible. Many cases of diarrhea are caused by thirsty travelers dirking what’s offered and hoping for the best.

  • Keep to hot drinks. Tea and coffee are usually safe, though avoid coffee as it dehydrates the body quickly. 
  • Keep to carbonated soft drinks from bottles with metal tops from reputable brands. Such drinks are usually clean and their slight acidity kills some organisms. Avoid bottles with loose or suspect tops, and soda or mineral water bottles whose content may have been replenished from a tap.
  • Bottles of mineral water are now available in almost all parts of India. Although some of them are undoubtedly clean and genuine, others are definitely not. It takes an experienced eye to tell them apart. Only use those with unbroken seals, and preferably bottles where both the main label and bottle-top have identical names. 

  • Always have some water sterilizing tablets with you. They should be dry and reasonably fresh. (Yellowish tablets are losing their potency).
  • Carry a small, portable water filter.
  • Avoid ice. Freezing doesn’t kill organisms and ice often comes from an impure source.
  • Avoid milk unless just boiled.