100 Days in India Project

Dog and a Scooter outside a hair salon in Delhi, India

50/ 100 You Will Get Sick in India

This story marks the halfway point of my 100 Day project of little snippets of things that I noticed about India during our two trips there in 2018 and 2019. Today is about why sickness in India is almost unavoidable.

Close to Varanasi is a wonderful place called Sarnath. There you will find a large collection of holy temples of various types and denominations, but the predominant one is Buddhist. There was a lot of conflicting signage and I will confess that I did not fully understand the importance of what is, essentially, a holy deer park except that at one time Buddha taught the Dharma there. But then I am not entirely sure what the Dharma is either. I even Googled it and I am still confused, especially because it has no western translation. Despite being a bit clueless about the complex religious significance it was a haven of tranquility. There were deer (everyone loves a deer, especially the fancy ones they had there) and there was even some grass where you could sit and have a picnic.

Once you had walked around the park and added a very fine layer of gold leaf to a sculpture if you were Buddhist because that was what they seemed to do there, despite the signs telling you not to, you could get a drink out on the main road. There were, as usual, dozens of mobile stalls selling all kinds of refreshments to replenish overheated and hungry worshippers and tourists. As this was a proper sanctioned government run type of place, many of the stalls looked official and they had, somewhat ironically, added keywords like ‘hygiene’ to their signage.

By this time in our trip we were religiously using water purification tablets and drinking either our own sterilised water, or fizzy drinks out of a can. A few people we met thought we were daft and told me that the best thing to do was just to buy water with a sealed cap. I was beginning to worry about my own levels of over-cautiousness until I witnessed something that made me very, very glad for my new addiction to luminous orange fizzy Mirinda drink.

Whilst we were looking at the very unusual ‘Dhamekh Stupa’ – a kind of holy brick dome made in the 5th century with no way in or out – I spotted an old man collecting all the tourist’s discarded water bottles from the bins and bushes. Once he could carry no more he passed them through the metal fence to his accomplice on the roadside, outside the compound.

This person would then fill the bottles up from a blackened hosepipe that was attached to a large corroded, open-topped metal tank used for watering the garden (possibly also 5th Century). At no point did he even think about washing the bottles, or skimming the green scum from the surface of the water. He would then spin around, use a fancy machine to pop on a lovely new cap complete with tamper-proof seal and add it to the stocks of drinking water in his ‘Government Approved Hygienic’ water shop.

I got stomach ache even watching.