Last Updated on May 27, 2020 by Christine Kaaloa
Drinking tap water in India is not safe for travelers. You may know that already.
But what you may not know about traveling India, is that there a several small scams and buying bottled water doesn’t always promise safety, either.
When I entered a crowded guesthouse café in Hampi, I looked around to see backpackers from around the world. Food-wise, eating at the cafe felt safe. But when I walked around back, I saw a restaurant employee squatting next to a line of empty water bottles… He was filling the bottles with tap water and recapping them! Ever after, it’s ruined my trust in “sealed” bottled water in India. I have already gotten sick in India. I did not want to get sick from bad drinking water .
This made me wonder,…
Is buying bottled water in India an exercise in blind faith?
I began inspecting the bottled water I bought at small shops; sure enough, some of them appeared 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.
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…
4 Ways to Avoid bottled water in India
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. Also, 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!). If you’re a ruppee-miser, then local sodas are actually cheaper than buying regular soda and bottled water!
The bottles can be recycled for reuse so many merchants will prefer you to drink it there on the spot so they can return the bottle.
Advice: 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 as it’s uncertain how the bottles are washed… if they even are!
2. Buy a travel water purifier or water filter
Whether you’re traveling India over a long period, doing a lot of camping or traveling other developing countries with undrinkable tap water, getting a travel water purifier or water filter is a solid investment. Travel water filters come in hand pump options, sport bottles and portable wands, with the assurance of nabbing 99.9% of the bacteria in bad water. Not bad.
Hand pump water filter are something I crossed when I took my yoga teacher’s training in Dharamsala. One of my classmates brought her hand pump and it was slightly large device. The drawback with any hand pump water filters is they require effort. You’re getting a workout for each mouthful of squirt you make!
It’s not as light-weight either.
The Steripen Adventurer Opti UV Light Water Purifier does not need hand-pumping. It is pen-sized , has a UV light to disinfect and kill bacteria and it runs on AA batteries. It makes 1 liter in 90 seconds and Steripen has been a long trusted brand. Read my review of my Steripen here. Note: This filter is only for tap water and you should not use it for streams, rivers and lakes.
I bought a Sport Berkey Portable Water Purifier for $25. Wasn’t a big fan because it was like operating an exercise squeeze ball just to squirt my water. But it does the trick.
The Steripen Go Water Bottle is a microfilter bottle that is great for hiking, outdoors and traveling developing countries where the tap water is undrinkable. Lifestraw also comes as a portable straw- you can drink from streams and it filters out bad stuff. You can find youtube videos where folks have tried drinking from the toilet, potting soil … and vomit. They also have an even cheaper portable wand filter.
3. Boil 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. Buy bottled water
Last but not least, employ traveler’s blind faith in buying bottled water in India. For tourists, this is an obvious and fuss free option. Long-term travelers to India may fight it from time to time, while occasionally finding themselves getting a bit careless. Sometimes, you’re just 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.
Has your bottled water 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.
What can you do to with your water bottle?
Take your plastic water bottle after you’re done and crush it. This prevents others from reusing the bottle– refilling it and setting it back on the shelf.