How to Stay Healthy in India

Some travellers take along a veritable pharmacy. Generally, the supplies listed below will be all that you need. If you have specific health issues, be sure to discuss preparations for travelling in India with your health professional. India is home to one of the most ancient and enduring forms of medicine, Ayurveda. Based on the ancient Vedas, practitioners use local plants and millennia of experience to provide healing. If you are interested in Ayurvedic medicine, the state of Kerala has a wealth of centres and practitioners. An Ayurvedic massage is not to be missed. A word of warning: there are many non-authentic offerings of Ayurvedic medicine and massage which leave you worse off than when you started, so check out credentials carefully before submitting yourself to a treatment.

Protection Against Malaria

There is some difference of opinion regarding anti-malarial medication. I have taken it sometimes, and other times not. Some will advise against taking Larium in any of its formulations, because of its adverse side-effects (psychoses and depression for example). Some take Doxycyclin, an antibiotic. Research your options before deciding on what will work best for you.

Protection Against Parasites

The single most important medicine for me was a daily dose of anti-parasite remedy. Prepared by a local herbalist in my home town, I took a small amount each day to render my guts unfriendly to parasites. The first time I visited India, I didn’t take this precaution and caught a nasty dose of giardia. Even with industrial-strength antibiotics, it persisted. When I staggered home semi-delirious, my herbal medicine practitioner dosed me with an extremely vile concoction that I was certain would kill me first. Four months later, I was cured, albeit much thinner.

Those Nasty Mosquitoes

Anti-mosquito repellents containing DEET work, but some people don’t want toxic chemicals coating their skin. Others use a citronella-based alternative. Besides repellents, you might find a hat with a full-body netting pulled down around you an effective barrier. Seriously, take a mosquito net with you. At least, you will sleep at night whenever the mosquitoes are out for blood. Mosquito netting, made from light-weight material, easily bunches up into a small wad and can be stuffed into a backpack or bag. Make sure to bring lightweight twine to tie the net up above the bed. You will find that lots of places won’t have hanging devices for nets. A few clothes pins or apholstery tacs come in handy. Just pack the tacs in your check-in luggage, not your carry-on.

Please note that certain types of mosquitoes hunt during the day. It’s a good idea to wear light-weight, light-coloured pants and shirts in areas known for these biters. Check when you go to get your vaccinations. The health practitioners have current information on infestations, so to speak.

Drinking Water

Don’t drink the water. Not ever. Bottled water is even suspect. Bring a UV sterilizing wand, or other water treatment drops/tablets. You will find them at home in your local travel shop or outdoor/hiking store. They take up very little room in your luggage. Put them in your carry on bag. Just in case your checked luggage goes astray. Bring your own water bottle, preferably one that can keep the water cool. Have it with you always. Most ashrams and hotels have water filtration systems for safe drinking water. Even so, when taking a shower, be mindful of not swallowing any.

Other Useful Health Supplies to Take

Most people experience some version of the runs or “traveller’s diarrhea”. You can pack tablets to top up your electrolytes if this happens to you. For stomach upsets or the occasional heartburn, which may happen to those not used to the spicy foods of India, you may also want to take along your remedy of choice. Pack a small bottle of aspirin, too. If you suffer from airborne allergies, remember to pack your medication. Indian cities are tragically smog-ridden.

A good selection of sticking plasters, or bandages, is handy. An anti-bacterial cream helps keep any cuts from becoming infected. The weather in parts of India is hot and damp, and cuts can take a long time to heal in those conditions. Consider taking powder to keep your crotch and other sweaty parts free of heat rash.