Home » How to avoid Delhi Belly in India

How to avoid Delhi Belly in India

written by Sarah Phasey July 22, 2018
Tour group sharing meal in India. Image by Benemac.

You’re mid-walking tour, tangled in the markets of Delhi and disoriented by unfamiliar smells of spices and incense.

Rahul, your local guide, is explaining something when your stomach lurches. Uh-oh.

Fresh hot sweat prickles at your hairline as your eyes dart around the space, frantically searching for a place of relief. Your panic heightens when you realise you’ve got about T minus 60 seconds before the place is gonna blow…

Ah yes. The all-too familiar story of our friend Travellers’ Diarrhea and her spontaneous visits. In India, she goes by ‘Delhi Belly’ and usually shows up at the least opportune time (think boarding a 13-hour overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi or at the entrance to the Taj Mahal).

Taj Mahal, India

You DON’T want an upset stomach when taking in this view. Image by Mirae Campbell

However, don’t let the fear of getting sick stop you from travelling to certain destinations. Delhi Belly can be easily avoided if you’re aware of the risks and take care of yourself.

Here’s my list of six things to look out for so you can stay healthy in India.

1. Make sure you wash your hands

Keeping your hands clean is the Golden Rule of travelling. It’s easy to remember to clean your hands before a meal as everyone in your tour will whip out their hand sanitiser at the table. Plus, there may not always be cutlery as Indians traditionally eat with their hands (something you should try, it’s super fun!).

READ MORE: THE MAGIC OF MOVING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE IN INDIA

But beware of times in between main meals. To keep Delhi Belly at bay avoid touching your face or anything that’s going in your mouth until you’ve cleaned your hands. Soap and water is best, because it removes dirt, but wet wipes are great when a sink isn’t available. Follow up with hand sanitiser and you’ll be fine. I’d also suggest trimming your nails short and regularly removing dirt.

2. Make that a soda, and hold the ice

Ingesting Indian tap water is like shouting “DELHI BELLY COME AT ME!”. It’s unsafe to drink, so stick to bottled or filtered water. Filter bottles and water purification tablets are great options for avoiding single-use plastic, just be sure to research the most effective products.

If you have to buy plastic bottled water, check the seal is intact. Some vendors have been known to refill bottles with tap water before gluing the lid back on. Listen out for the cracking of the seal and let your leader know immediately if it’s faulty.

Re-sealing doesn’t work for fizzy drinks, so soda water is a great choice for staying hydrated. Always skip the ice though – it’s usually made from tap water.

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3. Danger in the bathroom

For me, it goes like this:

Happily brushing teeth. Thinks about using filtered water to rinse mouth/brush. Starts day dreaming. Turns tap on. Spits. Rinses mouth with tap water.

Every time.

I find this the easiest place to slip up because it is a habit, so be extra careful. This also applies to those who shower with their mouth open. Zip it kid.

4. Hot and fresh

Local food in Delhi

Local cuisine in Delhi, image by Samantha Reid.

Indian food is incredible and your local leader will point you towards the tastiest. Don’t be scared to try new things. However, follow these do’s and don’ts to ensure the food stays IN your belly.

  • Eat at busy spots full of locals. The food is usually delicious and fresh.
  • Heat kills germs, so choose hot food.
  • Embrace street food, but ask your leader for recommendations.
  • Go vegetarian sometimes.
  • Beware of buffets as dishes can be left unrefrigerated for too long.
  • Avoid salad as it’s usually rinsed in tap water.
  • Don’t eat cut fruit. Instead, purchase fruit with a peel (like oranges or bananas) and peel it yourself.
  • Avoid Western food (unless you’ve read good reviews). It may not be as good quality as local food.
  • Try not to overeat, particularly at the start. Your body needs time to adjust!

BOOK INTREPID’S INDIA REAL FOOD ADVENTURE AND TRY THE TASTY CUISINE YOURSELF

5. Give your gut a pro-biotic boost

Pro-biotics are good bacteria that help your body fight illness and keep you healthy. The theory is that the healthier your gut pre-trip, the better equipped it is to deal with new bacteria during your trip.

Yogurt, kombucha and other fermented foods are rich in this gut-strengthening bacteria, but your pharmacy will also sell a supplement version. Do some research and check with your doctor to see what might work best for you. Pro-biotics need time to work, so incorporate them as early as you can pre-trip.

Street vendor in Udaipur, India

Local woman selling street food in Udaipur, India. Image by Ben Mac.

6. What to do if you DO get sick

Fact is, many people experience an upset tummy when travelling, thanks to time-difference, a change in climate and unfamiliar food. You could follow all my suggestions and still feel a bit off.

If feeling a bit off-colour develops into full-blown Delhi Belly and you’re spending the night on the toilet, you’ll want to have some medication like Imodium on hand to slow things down. Stay hydrated and carry tissues and change when exploring (you’ll need to pay for some public toilets).

If problems persist, tell your leader and see a doctor. If you know you are prone to an upset stomach, you should visit the doctor before your trip to discuss potential coping strategies.

So, take these few simple precautions and your trip to India will be full of amazing food and memories, NONE of which involve a toilet!

Do you want to experience the colours, sights and smells of India? Join a small group tour with Intrepid.

Hero image by Ben Mac.

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7 comments

lokesh kaushik May 1, 2021 - 1:08 am

I have seen people doing totally opposite and still not feeling unwell. Delhi belly goes person to person.

Reply
SanyaSharma December 10, 2020 - 12:09 am

Delhi has a lot of more places to be explored. and we are thinking we need to travel the world 😀 i think for me i will complete the tour of places in delhi.

Reply
Bharat Taxi December 27, 2019 - 8:54 pm

Thanks for a marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, this post is very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing…

Reply
Helen Silk April 25, 2019 - 2:45 pm

Hi travellers has anyone done a sleeper train overnight in Kerala India as I’m a bit worried about having to share with someone I don’t know

Reply
Rob b March 25, 2019 - 8:33 am

I eat lots of spicy foods at home and used to trying froods from everywhere .my stomach appears to be tough I have chillies and garlic. With everything. Is it possible I may get away without getting sick in india . I am going in march on tour of north india .

Reply
Lorraine July 23, 2018 - 12:03 pm

I hosted a group of travellers to India in 2016 and we were all very aware of the perils of Delhi Belly. We all did very well – until we caught an Air India flight between Jodphur and Delhi on our last day. All but one of us got food poisoning from the meal on the plane (the only person not to touch the meal was ok). Great memories of India but a disappointing end for everybody involved.

Reply
rick be July 22, 2018 - 12:39 pm

I find eating small amounts enables my body to destroy any germs & gives my system time to acclimate to the new things I’m putting in it.

Reply

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