About three quarters of travellers in India get sick. Spouse and I though had taken all precautions to stay healthy during our roundtrip from Delhi to Bombay by train. We had received 400 Swiss Franks worth of vaccinations. We knew only to drink bottled water and eat freshly cooked food. We had enough DEET to kill all malaria-infected musquitos of Rajastan. If nevertheless the shit would hit the fan, so to speak, we had antibiotics and medication against diarrhoea.
People tell you hygiene is poor in India but unless you’ve been there, it’s impossible to imagine how bad it is. Delhi resembles a garbage heap. The streets are littered with plastic, rags, paper and rotting food. Cows, goats and pigs scavange the trash and add their droppings. People pick the filth, looking for useful things like cow dung for fuel. Then they add their shit to the pile. We saw rows of people emptying their bowels on the tracks of Delhi Main Station. They don’t use toilet paper but wipe their bottoms with their left hand, which they wash with a bit of water. Then they hand you a bottle of water, pat your train seat or shake your hand.
It took us only three days to get sick. We avoided a traffic accident in Delhi, bird flu in the Jain Bird Hospital, dysentry from a dubious train meal and chest infections from coughing rickshaw drivers only to be felled by a simple breakfast in a countryside resort. I stuck a finger in my throat and immediately felt better, but Spouse remained misserable. We moved to a hotel in Jaipur where the manager immediately took charge, pinching Spouse in her hand, providing her with dehydration salts, water, a heater and blankets, promising that, insh’allah, she would feel better soon. She will, but our initial enthusiasm to try out all kinds of food and drink is ruined. And I keep wondering: what are the statistics of falling ill a second time in India?