In India, purchasing bottled water doesn’t always promise safety.
When I entered a guesthouse café in Hampi, filled with fellow travelers; food-wise, I felt safe. I walked past an employee sitting off to the side, with a line of empty water bottles and what did I see?… He was filling the bottles with tap water and recapping them!
Ever after, it’s ruined my trust in “sealed” bottled water in this country.
I began inspecting the ones I bought; sure enough, some of them were tampered with! Even if they had a brand label wrapper loosely sealed over its cap. How did I know?…
Plastic caps make a subtle “click” when unscrewed. Sometimes you see where they’re broken. When I twisted my cap, I felt a sandy slide. No broken bumps on the inside of the cap. It was glued on, probably with Crazy Glue.
But trodding around in the sweltering Indian heat, what can you do?
Though I didn’t get sick from any of the water I drank, as a traveler, I felt my choices limited. You either have to trust that the tap the water used is safe drinking water or do a combination of things…
Four Ways to Get Around a Bottle of Water:
1. Buy soda and juices
Sodas and juices are usually harder to refill or make– especially if they’re in a can! Go for the can– it’s the safest option. However, old-fashioned glass soda bottles are also a common in India and you’ll see familiar brands such as Limca or Coke. The bottles can be recycled for reuse so to be safe, ask for a straw or do as the locals do– don’t touch the bottle to your lips but pour the soda into your mouth.
* Tip on the “local soda”: local soda dealers will use recycled glass bottles to sport their own soda or carbonated water. The local soda isn’t as sugary and is priced at rupees less the commercial brand (i.e. 5 rupees vs 25 rupees!). The soda does the trick, just as much as a brand name will, but you must sip your soda there and leave the bottle back in its rack before you leave.
2. Buy a travel water purifier
These are especially good for those traveling to developing countries over a longer period. Pump filters and sport bottles filters assure you they’ll catch 99.9% of the bacteria in bad water. Not bad. The only drawback is that the pumps and water bottles require effort. In short, you’re getting a workout for each mouthful of squirt you make!
It’s not as light-weight either.
I bought a Sport Berkey Portable Water Purifier for $25
The Steripen however, doesn’t need hand-pumping, is pen-sized and runs on AA batteries. Supposedly it makes 1 liter in 90 seconds, which could be a decent solution. Because as much as you think you’ll live off of your own filtered water, it’s the constant workout that propels you back to the store… to buy your bottled water!
3. Boil your water
Perhaps you can’t filter out funky residuals but you can kill off water-borne bacteria and viruses if you boil it. Even better, unlike the water purifiers, you can make pots full of water without the muscle gain!
Obviously, a hot plate may be extra weight for backpacking travelers, so let me share a handy tool I just discovered– a
Coffee/Water Heater. It’s a little travel size plug-in heating wand that you put in your water, bringing your water to a boil in seconds! It comes in several sizes (mine is about 5 inches) and you can also find them India household and appliance shops! As for cups to boil water in– India has a wealth of stainless steel cups for mere rupees.
4. Employ traveler’s blind faith
Last but not least, if you spend enough time in India, you might find yourself getting a bit careless. Call it an exercise in blind faith or just being too tired to analyze everything.
When it’s hot, you have limited choices. Sometimes, you end up crossing your fingers, holding your breath and trusting that the sealed bottle you have is legitimate and clean.
How can you tell if your bottle of water has been tampered with
While I can’t guarantee my advice is foolproof, it might help a bit. Unfortunately, you have to buy the bottle first. When you twist the cap, you should feel it snap in at least the three (or more) places where you break the plastic. If you don’t hear that, but hear a sandy slide, the cap was glued on. Also, a plastic wrapper over the cap is not always a good indicator of safety either. Check first how sealed over the cap it is. If it’s loose (vs snug or shrink-wrapped) AND your cap is too easy to remove, chances are its been opened.
Notice the plastic grooves on the cap where the plastic is broken. You should feel the plastic pop when you twist your cap.
How can you keep this scam from continuing in the future?
Take your plastic water bottle after you’re done and crush it. This will prevent others from reusing the bottle– refilling it and setting it back on the shelf.