Anyone and everyone who has travelled to India will know just how inevitable it is that you will at some point during your travels get an upset stomach. It’s a fact of travel there and there isn’t much you can do to avoid it. However I’ve compiled a little list of the best tips you can adopt to try and avoid the dreaded Delhi belly.
Disclaimer: yes we still got the sh*ts. It’s India.
1. Go veggie, ease into meat.
This is the big tip that we decided to follow as soon as we arrived in India. We are both big into meat but decided that while we got used to the richness and spice of the food we would give our stomachs a chance and stick to veggie food. India is the perfect place for vegetarians as a lot of people are veggie. It’s very well catered for with a lot of restaurants sticking to ‘pure veg’.
During our time as veggies we really didn’t miss meat too much. Indian curries are rich and use a lot of lentils, chickpeas and curd like paneer to add protein. If you’re worried about protein intake make sure you pick curries with lentils like Dal, or go for paneer. You can also get your protein fix from drinking thick milkshakes or lassi. Our lassi of choice was banana but there are loads of flavours to choose from.
2. Choose street food wisely
This is the one tip we didn’t follow that we think contributed to our ultimate Delhi belly. One day we decided to take the plunge and try street food. We chose a vendor that made an amazing fried potato cake covered in a deliciously sweet and spicy chick pea curry. It was heaven. It was only 20 rupees. We were amazed. How had we been in India almost 4 weeks without trying this? It would save our budget, it was better than lots of curries we’d had in restaurants.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in India, we had gotten cocky. We went rogue and ended up trying street food that even Indians will only eat when they’re constipated. We should have known. The guy was using his hands and dipping the potato shell into a vat of liquid. He had probably been doing that all day. When we told our new friends later on what we had tried, they laughed so much. The next day Delhi belly was upon me. The moral of this story? Use common sense!
3. Avoid heat exhaustion
Now usually you expect to get a dodgy stomach from the food but don’t underestimate the impact heat exhaustion can have on your digestive system. We speak from experience when on our third night in Kerala Ben suddenly got up in the middle of the night puking and more with a pounding head. Ben and I both had the exact same thing to eat and I was fine. We realised that we hadn’t drank nearly enough water that day. There are simple steps to take to avoid heat exhaustion:
- stay hydrated
- avoid sunburn
- cover up in loose clothing
- take breaks from the sun and stay in the shade.
If you’re not careful heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke. If you think you have heat exhaustion make sure you drink plenty of fluids and seek medical help if it’s not getting any better.
4. Drink bottled drinking water
Now of course drinking water is all well and good but you need to make sure the water itself isn’t going to give you a dodgy stomach! Make sure you only drink bottled water or water that has been treated to be drinkable. Remember that Indians are used to their tap water so don’t be surprised if you see them slurping away. You are likely to have a very different reaction to them!
Whenever you buy bottled water check the seal on the bottle as some people may refill bottles with tap water and sell it as new. A lot of bottled water has plastic wrapping round the opening which is an extra indication that it’s not been tampered with. But don’t worry about having this seal as not all companies have it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use any tap water at all. We’ve still used tap water to brush our teeth everyday. A little bit is actually good for you. You can build up a bit of resistance and the tiny amount of water on the toothbrush is not going to send you into full on stomach turmoil.
5. Take a break
If you want that McDonalds you go for it. If you’re not used to having curry for every meal every day at home then it’s obviously going to be the same case in India. We’ve had a few periods where we’ve given ourself a complete break from Indian food. By the time we’re ready to go back to it it tastes even better. There’s no shame in wanting a taste of home. We walked around in the heat on three separate days to find a European restaurant. If your stomach isn’t used to rich food then let it have something more bland. If you’re having a dodgy stomach you might also want to stick to things like plain bread and rice just to get your digestive system back into balance.
6. Be prepared
When you go to India try to be a little bit prepared with a stock of diarrhoea tablets. If you have a long journey to take you’ll definitely need something to block it all up for a while. Make sure you drink a lot of water with these tablets. Another useful thing we took with us was toilet wipes. You might really enjoy the little butt shower that most Indian toilets have but if you’re feeling crappy and don’t want to be adventurous then wipes can be really good.
Delhi belly is not only caused by food and water. You can also easily get stomach bugs, particularly if you’re travelling on crowded transport. To help avoid the germs pack a good hand sanitiser. Always remember to wash hands, particularly after touching animals! They could be carrying all kinds of parasites that can make you very ill.
7. Accept that Delhi belly is inevitable
You could take all the precautions in the world but you could still get Delhi belly. It might not be the best experience of your time in India, stuck to a toilet staring at the bathroom wall. But embrace it. Have a sense of humour. Laugh about the funny and slightly icky toilet stories you’lll have. At the end of the day you’re travelling to India to get the full Indian experience. You will try street food, you will travel in packed trains, people will sneeze near you, you may want to try a chicken curry. Do it.
Trust me, a trip to India would not be complete without a good ol’ bout of Delhi belly!
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Have you ever experienced the joy of Delhi belly? Let me know in the comments!