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I've just read Drinking tap water in India, which has some mixed messages (in different answers) regarding tap water safety in different locations and conditions in India.

Now, I'm traveling to a conference to be held in the Gurgaon area, near the New Delhi airport. I'm going to be there for a little over a week, and mostly in the hotel where the conference is held and my own hotel.

  1. Which of these places are going to be safe for me to drink water from?

    • Water fountains
      • at the airport
      • in well-rated hotels
      • in public places in that area generally
    • Bathroom taps
      • at the airport
      • in hotel lobby areas
      • in the bathrooms within hotel rooms (again, well-rated hotels)
  2. What about brushing your teeth rather than drinking? Is it the same rule for water safety, or is brushing safer because you don't ingest a large quantity of water?

  3. Where should I get water? Should I look for someplace which sells large(ish) water bottles, or just buy half-lifter bottles repeatedly?

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    A comment, as you may not really think about it until it's too late (like making sure the tea water has been boiled), be cautious with washed fruits/vegetables as well (thinking of salads, etc.) as they're likely washed with just tap water. – BruceWayne Aug 9 '16 at 17:53
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    #2 - use the same rules as drinking water. I went to egypt once and was very careful to only drink bottled water but I used tap water to brush my teeth with. Got diarrhea! – Pyritie Aug 9 '16 at 20:40
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    Unlike in the US, Bathroom taps in India don't supply drinking water in most areas and even in well rated hotels. – Ramnath Aug 10 '16 at 8:48
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    FWIW, I don't see any mixed messages in the linked thread: everybody agrees drinking regular tap water is a Bad Idea. Drinking fountains are a greyer area. – jpatokal Aug 11 '16 at 2:10
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    I was in Gurgaon a couple of months ago. If you are staying in a well rated hotel there will be bottles of water supplied in your room. There might also be bottles provided at the conference. I took hotel cars instead of private taxis and even the drivers offered me bottles of water. In short I spent a week there without ever needing to buy water, it seemed everywhere I went someone was offering me a bottle. – Qwerky Sep 7 '16 at 15:06
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I've lived in India for almost five years now, and I believe it's better to err on the side of caution here. For drinking water, stay away from all fountains, taps and the like. I would stick to this advice even in the airport and at hotels. Also use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

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Buy bottled water of a known brand. (Bisleri, Aquafina, Kinley.) It's preferable to get them from a large supermarket or other trusted source, to avoid counterfeit bottles. Your hotel will probably sell them. Make sure the caps are sealed. You can typically get 5L or even 10L bottles. If you do this, though, make sure you don't get the type where the same bottles are reused, as the refilling process can often be unhygenic. Below is a picture of reusable bottles that you want to avoid. They feature quite sturdy plastic. These are 20L, but smaller varieties and shapes also exist.

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If they ask for a deposit on the bottle, and the bottle is exchanged back for another bottle after use, then you know you're dealing with reusable bottles. Some of my friends have had water tests done of the reusable bottles (of a known brand) and found that they are more likely to contain various bacteria. The tests of the disposable bottles, on the other hand, turned out fine. If there is no deposit on the bottle, then you know that each bottle is new.

Stay away from reusable bottles, even from known brands. Any local refilling facility may or may not have their procedures in place.

Here is an example of a disposable bottle (which is what you do want) from a trusted brand:

enter image description here

This bottled water is quite cheap here. A 1L bottle costs €0.26. A 5L bottle costs €0.87.

Personally, I have my own RO system, UV filter and ozonizer, but that's usually not an option for short-term visitors.

Since most of the bottled water here is RO processed, it's good to choose a type that has added minerals in it (Bisleri, Kinley). The RO process removes all bacteria and harmful chemicals from the water, but it also removes all the useful minerals.

  • Those 20L bottles are water dispenser use, and it is quite a common practice to reuse them. Trick is to get them refilled at reputed places, and not some place with a water tap behind the shop. Smaller bottles, don't forget to crush them after use (remove the cap, crush, and put the cap back). – Ayesh K Aug 9 '16 at 20:41
  • @AyeshK Yeah, and it's also quite common to buy those 20L bottles pre-filled and with a seal on them. – Revetahw Aug 9 '16 at 20:41
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    Also, always choose the water bottle yourself. Long story short, I let one of the hostel staff buy for me (once), and had an incredibly unpleasant 14 hour flight home. – Phill Aug 10 '16 at 4:59
  • Odd thing is, that the 2L bottles cost Rs.35 and the 20L bottles cost Rs.40. How did that work out? – Nav Sep 3 '16 at 4:13
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    @Nav That is not surprising. For example, for Bisleri, 2L costs 30 and 20L costs 80. (In my area.) For other brands, it can perhaps be 35 and 40 like you mention. The reason for this that, like I mentioned in OP, is that the 2L bottles are disposable. So it means that you're paying for the plastic perhaps as much as you're paying for the actual water. The 20L bottles, on the other hand, are used over and over. So the first time you get it, there's like a 200 deposit. From then on, you just pay for the water. Thus the price difference between disposable and reusable bottles. – Revetahw Sep 3 '16 at 6:50
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Both water fountains and bathroom taps are probably risky - even water that is clean and safe for those living there might cause a traveler distress, because of local adaption. You might, if your hotel is reasonably fancy and well rated, ask if they suggest using bottled water or if the hotel water sources are safe for travelers - if they are, it would be a selling point, otherwise, they will emphasize bottled water available on demand - I doubt they will be offended if you inquire politely.

Getting bottled water is generally a safe choice - you will want bottles with good seals, preferably from reputable sources. It probably is wise to have larger bottles, when you have someplace to put them (hotel room), otherwise smaller bottles are convenient to carry - though refilling smaller bottles from a larger is probably cheaper, as long as you're sure of the original bottle.

When we used to travel to India, we always drank boiled or bottled water. Anecdotally, we didn't have problems with brushing our teeth, or with the residue of water on our hands from washing with un-boiled water, it may have to do with the amount being consumed - although you can of course use bottled water if you wish to be safer.

You may wish to avoid chutneys or other cold sauces, they are often ground with cold water (and not cooked), but other food is cooked to safe temperatures and usually safe. Coffee and tea are both usually quite safe, the cultural convention is for heavily brewed and boiled for a concentrated extraction, then diluted to serve - unlike the more western habit of brewing delicately and at precise temperatures. Juices may vary - anything concentrated and diluted will have water in them, but bottled ones may be safe because of their processing. Very fresh juices may be safe, like pure sugar cane juice extracted form a machine, or young coconut water which is cut open in front of you - where there's no extra water added. Also, they're nice experiences. Sodas are processed and will usually be safe. You may also want to be wary of ice, since it is not usually made from boiled water. It's not necessarily that everything is dangerous and you will get sick if you mess up, just that these things might be a risk, and you should be aware of the risks you choose to take - sometimes it may very well be worth its risk.

  • Ice? Personally I would have thought ice would be safe (like boiled). But this is just my semi-educated guessing. Why isn't ice safe? – Nobody Aug 10 '16 at 13:29
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    @Nobody - We were warned to be careful of ice because it was rarely otherwise treated, just tap-water put in a freezer - tap water is safe for locals, recall. Freezing by itself doesn't kill everything, just look at yeast dough stored in the freezer, which will still rise afterwards - the temperature will kill some things, but only pause or slow down others. We could have ice that we knew was safe, made from boiled or bottled water - but that's something for homes we knew and trusted, not businesses who would not bother with extra processing, when tap-water would do. – Megha Aug 10 '16 at 13:36
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    @Nobody Nope. Freezing does not kill all bacteria and definitely not spores. – curious_cat Aug 11 '16 at 3:09
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    I had a group of friends who went to someplace like Haiti and somehow all managed to get sick on the day they returned home... It was the ice on the flight home, which had been made with local water. So yeah, ice is only as good as the water it's made from and it's easy to think of as not-water. – Wayne Sep 19 '16 at 1:34
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My thoughts as someone who grew up there & then later visited as well as hosted Westerners (a fraction of which did get sick!):

  • You have not just the bacteria to worry about but also minerals etc. because some waters are notoriously hard or have other toxics like PCBs, metals etc.
  • Ergo, it is best to entirely avoid tap / fountains etc. especially as a short term visitor. You have neither the time to get your system adjusted nor the luxury to recover even a mild bout of stomach problems.
  • Stick to bottled water. It is available plenty & almost everywhere. Even Indians, at least the middle class, will often drink Bottled Water when outside their comfort zone of locales.
  • At the low cost, 0.20 cents for a 1 Litre bottle, you hardly have to worry about the cost of bottled water. No need to cart around huge bottles unless you expect to be in a remote area. Since you will stay in a hotel for most part this is moot. Most people will get by buying 500 ml or 1 Litre bottles.
  • Buy from reputed stores. Stick to the big brands (Bisleri, Aquafina, Bailey). Carefully examine bottle seals. Unfortunately bottling has become a cottage industry & with tough competition sometimes you may have to shop around a bit till you find a store that stocks a good brand.
  • What is less appreciated is that even the same brand will outsource the bottling operation at hundreds of local bottlers not owned nor operated by the company. If you carefully read the label you will discover this. Ergo, the same "Aquafina" may be of varying quality (in practice) depending on where it was bottled.
  • Not much you can do about the choice of bottler. But maybe buy near the big cites because bottles sold there are more likely to be bottled in a company owned facility or at least one of the better, more closely supervised bottling plants.
  • Avoid like the plague any hint of a refillable bottle. The large bottles (2 L plus) are very often the refillable variety. I'd rather drink tap water thank anything that came from a re-fillable bottle. Even an Indian tap.
  • Another monstrosity you try and avoid is the RO / Filtration / UV plant in a public place. It is deceptively reassuring. Typically, all money is allocated to purchase and none to maintenance. You'd be lucky if the filter was cleaned in the last year.
  • I wound't worry about the brushing part. I think the chances of catching anything that route are negligible. Unless you are living in the middle of a gastro epidemic. Or are brushing with raw river water or something.
  • If in serious doubt or ultra paranoid go for club soda i.e. seltzer (of a reputable brand e.g. Kinley, Bisleri) Luckily those tend to have fewer, more tightly supervised bottling plants and due to the higher per unit cost get far better manufacturing lines. Also due to the carbonation there's less potential for fakes or re-capped bottles. (Perhaps bugs too hate living in (acidic) carbonated water!)
  • People worry too much about water and not enough about other food items where waterborne contamination is likely. (e.g. ice creams, sherbets, salads, water-diluted-drinks, juices). I'd avoid any of those (fine, unless they came out of a tetrapak from a brand you trust). Hot drinks are only safer than cold if the preparation involves extended boiling, not otherwise.
  • Before someone accuses me of scaremongering: Sure, you can get away 9 times out of 10. Sure Indians drink tap water all the time. But do you want to risk it? For a short trip traveler I'd err on the side of safety. As it is, your immunity is probably low with all that jet lag & climate change etc. A little paranoia is a small price to pay to get to enjoy the rest of the trip. If you feel really adventurous drink with abandon from local, unfiltered taps the last night of your trip. If you must spend the night in a bathroom, might as well do it at your own home. :)
  • Aquafina is a Pepsi brand. It may well be bottled in various places, but I'm pretty sure Pepsi enforces quality standards across all its bottlers, because unlike some random fly-by-night operation, they can't afford to take the reputation hit of contaminated water killing babies or something. – jpatokal Aug 10 '16 at 10:07
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    @jpatokal You can choose to believe that. :) Jokes apart, yes, Pepsi will try but having seen the industry from the inside there's only so much they can do. I'll say better Aquafina than an unknown brand. But then again better Aquafina bottled at a Pepsico location than a third party. – curious_cat Aug 10 '16 at 10:10
  • You would avoid any and all ice creams, sherbets, salads, drinks and juices? Can't you qualify that a bit? – einpoklum Aug 10 '16 at 10:12
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    @jpatokal Check out the Nestle noodles saga. It could be a giant conspiracy but what wants to test that theory?! Pepsi sure won't like to kill babies but stuff happens. You underestimate the difficulty in controlling quality in a commodity like water with massively distributed manufacturing locations. Good intentions aren't everything. – curious_cat Aug 10 '16 at 10:28
  • You can't eliminate risk in life, only reduce it, and IMHO in India there's bigger risks to worry about (like, say, crossing the street) than the specific manufacturing location of a genuine, branded bottle of water. – jpatokal Aug 11 '16 at 1:20
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I've been to India once and have been sick (water or food I don't know).

As far as I remember, in Mumbai airport there were no water fountains; maybe it is different in New Delhi Airport.

Drink only from sealed bottles. If drinking tea or coffee, be certain that it is very hot (YMMV).

Hotels will have bottles water available in the room and on demand. Your conference organisation will also probably have bottled water available.

Depending on the hotel category (1 star, 2 stars, etc.), they might have clean(er) water for the bathroom sink; if in doubt, use bottled water for that also.

When showering, keep your mouth closed.

Here is a recent article on the subject in the Times Of India.

  • [I have been to both Mumbai and Delhi airports] Delhi airport does have some water fountains, and I have seen many people drinking water from them (although I would still buy a bottled water). – Ayesh K Aug 9 '16 at 20:36

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