Can I Drink Tap Water in India?
The short answer to this question is, “no”.
The water supply in India can often be full of all kinds of pollution such as arsenic, it’s typically extremely unsafe, and because water is the best carrier of disease it’s an easy way to get sick.
In fact, one time a family member of mine got a terrible flesh-eating parasite from drinking unsafe, dirty tap water in India.
These India travel tips are not to be taken lightly and caution is highly recommended. I don’t want to scare you from going, but bad water is the #1 cause of dysentery and parasite infection in India and around the world.
Follow these tips below and you should stay healthy.
1) Only drink the best bottled mineral water
The best bottled mineral water brands in India I recommend are: Bisleri, Kinley and Aquafina (in that order) and you can get them practically everywhere in India in many different sized bottles.
The reason why going with these brands is helpful is because these companies are owned by giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They therefore have the highest standards with their filtration process when compared to the lesser known, local brands of bottled water which have been shown to sometimes still have unwanted pollutants.
It is important to check the seal because occasionally conniving shop owners will refill the bottles and try to glue the lid back on! I recommend only drinking room temperature water because cold drinks will weaken your digestion and they also charge more for the refrigerated drinks. Also avoid ice in drinks because typically the water used to make the ice is not sanitary.
2) What should I do if bottled water isn’t available?
The only time this has happened to me was when I went trekking in the Indian Himalayas. In this case, I brought a Katadyn Pocket Water Filter and got the water from flowing rivers.
Another much more affordable product that works well is a LifeStraw Personal Water Filter which filters “over 99.99% of harmful microorganisms in water.”
To be 100% safe, it is also good to use Iodine Tablets and to boil the water for a few minutes to be certain that all the bacteria, such as Giardia, has been killed.
3) Avoiding illness: It’s more than what you drink
Only having pure drinking water in India is one of the most important things you can do for your health while there. Although, it’s not the complete picture. As foreigners our immunity is usually not used to the climate and different types of bacteria found in India. Knowing what to eat, what not to eat, how to deal with pollution and general preventative health measures will help make your trip more enjoyable and ultimately, more safe. My wife and I have created an online video course called Travel India Safely which teaches you everything you need to know about safe India travel in one hour.
4) Water scarcity in India is a growing problem
India definitely has a water scarcity and water quality problem and it is acute, even a “crisis,” in certain locations of the sub continent. As you pass through the country side in every little village there are large wells where women and children can be seen pumping water into plastic jugs. This water is usually contaminated, not sanitary and definitely should be avoided by any Western tourist. Thankfully the water shortage issue is typically not a problem for tourists because we can afford to buy the best brand name mineral water…
5) Drink a lot – stay hydrated
India is mostly a hot, dry country with daytime temperatures typically ranging from 25C – 40C (75F – 105F). So I find that I need to drink at least 2 litres (1/2 a gallon) per day in order to remain hydrated and healthy. If you are doing physical exertion like hiking at elevation you will need to drink even more.
6) Other beverages to try
Fresh coconuts are my favorite for sure. They are extremely good at hydrating you, giving you electrolytes and making your upset stomach, happy. Note: If you want to be super careful, don’t drink coconuts unless you’re satisfied with the cleanliness of both the straw and knife that the coconut vendor is using. You can even bring your own pack of straws to be safe.
There are a few bottled drinks that are also really good like Nimbooz (lemon drink), Mango Frooti (mango drink) and Coca Cola. There is a popular belief that Coke helps kill bacteria in your system. This may or may not be true but it sure is nice to have a cold Coke on a hot afternoon in India and it has worked for me countless times :).
7) Chai (famous Indian tea)
There is nothing like a fresh, sweet chai drunk from a fine china cup. It is one of India’s favorite past times (dating back 5,000 years or more), but the present day version with black tea was influenced by a promotional campaign by the (British-owned) India Tea Association in the early 1900’s.
Chai has a lot of milk and sugar along with Ayurvedic spices such as cardamom and ginger. There are chai stands at almost every corner and it should be safe to drink as long as you see them boiling it properly and you’re certain the cup is clean. These days they often use a new plastic disposable cup which is good for hygiene but bad for the disgusting trash piles that build up. Other stands have glass cups which are almost always dirty because they are reused very quickly and not washed properly so watch out! The chai shouldn’t cost more than 5 or 10 rupees.
8) Electrolytes are essential
Electrolytes literally save peoples lives. When you have dysentery the best thing is coconut water and also adding electrolytes to your water. These replenish the lack of fluids in the stomach and will save you from passing out from dehydration. I recommend bringing one box from home with a flavor like blueberry-acai because otherwise they can be low quality and taste a bit nasty if bought in India.
9) Brush teeth with bottled mineral water
As annoying as it may seem I advise you to only brush your teeth with bottled water (that’s me on the right).
Since all tap water in India is usually contaminated with both bacteria & pollutants, it’s not safe, even for brushing your teeth. Another reason to take this precaution is because the gums can be a direct path to the blood stream allowing infection to get in.
What’s the bottom line?
Be super careful with all water in India and then you’ll minimize the chances of getting sick while maximizing your enjoyment of India.
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