4. One night in India
Which hotel is the right one for me? A delicate question for (almost) every tourist. Especially in a country like India. The German standard is hard to find here – particularly in terms of hygiene and safety. And the classification “five stars” is no longer a real exceptional quality feature and corresponds with a mid-table hotel in Germany. If any. Because even a clean hotel at first glance can turn out to be a breeding ground for cockroaches and bedbugs. In India you’re never safe from such plagues. Before you travel you should be aware of this. Also, that you often don’t get what you actually booked – as I had to experience on my Goa trip. The bungalow village on the grass were old shacks in the middle of the jungle. In the bathroom, cockroaches were already waiting for me. Of course, the shower water was freezing cold and the toilet hadn’t seen any rag for years. To top it all we slept in two bedrooms in a group of seven people; in just two beds and on two mattresses. But the bungalows were incredibly cheap.
In addition to the lack of hygiene, the safety aspect is also a big problem in many Indian hotels. Because thefts aren’t uncommon. Once a friend of mine was robbed in her hotel room while sleeping. Half asleep, she noticed that an employee gained entrance to her room. At first she thought it was a dream. But one look in her purse was enough to know that a theft had happened right in front of her. With several hundred rupees less and full of fear, she changed the hotel room. The thief has never been caught. Especially in popular tourist destinations – such as Goa, New Delhi and Mumbai – such thefts are expected to happen regularly.
Some tourists are even so venturous that they don’t give a damn about hotels and sleep under the stars. Which sounds very romantic for young lovers that can become a high risk in India. Just one year ago, a case of a British couple became famous which was ambushed in their tent. The man was brutally beaten and the woman was raped. Such incidents show how important it is to look for a safe overnight accommodation in India. And you can get one for just a few hundred Rupees.
3. Protection first!
In India you are never alone. And no, this time I don’t talk about the pairs of eyes that follow you every day. Rather, I speak about the bloodsuckers among the insects, the Indian tiger mosquitoes. These little beasts besiege everyone who comes close to them at a hundred yards. As small and inconspicuous as dangerous they are. Because they can transmit deadly diseases like malaria and dengue fever. And by just a single sting. Until today, there is no effective vaccination against these illnesses. Therefore, you should do personal prophylaxis. Particularly repellent sprays and lotions are easy to handle. But – as I had to learn – they just have an effect for a few hours. And German anti-mosquito sprays tend to have a too low diethyltoluamide content to scare away the Indian bloodsuckers. Because of that it’s the best to go to the nearest supermarket immediately after your arrival. There you can also buy some incense. Mosquitoes don’t hate anything more than stale air.
Another touchy subject, when it comes to prevention, is sun protection. Twelve hours a day, the sun radiates almost perpendicularly on southern India. For probably almost every person a real torture. But especially the white-skinned specimens are at risk. Because within half an hour their pale skin turns into a slight to severe reddening – depending on the skin tone. On long run, such a sunburn can be annoying and also cause health problems. Hence, a sun cream – of course not less than SPF 35 – should be part of every standard equipment of a Central European tourist. Likewise, it is advisable to avoid the midday sun and to wear long clothes. In India, you can buy practical – and often even beautiful – cotton clothes, towels and caps on every market. At very reasonable prices, as far as you are willing to bargain with the sellers.
2. Deeply clean
On all my travels, there is a basic equipment of products that I always take with me: ear plugs, dentifrice, medicines, disinfectants and wipes. Because there’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep and a clean environment.
Even before my stay in India I knew that this country could turn my idea of hygiene upside down. The website of the Foreign Office had forewarned lengthy. And so I prepared myself a bit more meticulous than usually. Day contact lenses, toilet paper – you never know where you can buy it – and one-time gloves completed my luggage. Well prepared, I thought. But what happened to me on my Mumbai trip, exceeded all my expectations. I had already become accustomed to dirty holes in the ground – also known as toilets – any vermin and rubbish heaps. But suddenly I had a nasty rash, which spread mainly on my thighs and my butt. For days I had to fight against it. Sitting was almost impossible and every visit on the toilet was a hell trip. On the Internet, as you would expect, I couldn’t find any information about it. And so I asked my colleagues. They knew immediately what I was suffering from: a travel allergy that occurs frequently in India. This is due to a lack of hygiene on train and bus trips. On the seats, there are countless bacteria which find their way through the clothes onto the skin. If it isn’t possible to change clothes regularly or to wash yourself, you can infect yourself with them and get sick or get a rash just like me. For two weeks an unbearable pain was plaguing me – and eventually the rash went away on its own.
Since then, I try – even more – to pay attention to my health. On every trip I change my clothes several times and cleanse me carefully with wet wipes. In addition, a healthy immune system helps to avoid such incidents.
1. Drinking with no regrets
There is water in abundance in Germany. But in many other countries it is one of the luxury goods, also in India. Tap water isn’t drinkable here, but rather you have to get bottled water at the grocery store or order a water supplier. They deliver large water canisters to your home, almost around the clock. Practically, you think. But this water isn’t always one hundred percent clean – as the stories of two well-known people show. Both were infected with typhoid after drinking filtered water from those canisters. Accordingly: Filthy and unsealed cans should never be accepted. And even if no contaminants are externally visible, the water can contain harmful viruses and bacteria. Who is insecure or has a sensitive stomach should boil the water before drinking – This is even possible with tap water.
In some rural Indian areas, as in West Bengal, this doesn’t help either. Because here the tap water is extracted from the groundwater which is highly enriched with arsenic. A slow death for all residents who consume the water daily and aren’t aware of the contamination. Therefore, I would always advise every tourist just to drink packaged bottles – although the risk of a disease isn’t completely eliminated.