Sustainable Tourism: Accessing drinking water while travelling

As I mentioned on June 5, 2020, I am starting a series on Sustainable Tourism. My first post in the series was on how we can leave a tourist destination cleaner than before.

This post is on drinking water.

One of the most pressing concerns we have as tourists in India is – Will I get drinking water there?

We need to plan where we will get our drinking water. We need it during train journeys, road trips, while hiking, camping etc. The easiest solution for urban and semi-rural spaces may seem like buying bottled water. But this is also the most environmentally damaging solution. For a week-long trip, if you assume that a person drinks upto 2 litres a day, then we are talking about 14 single use disposal plastic bottles generated just for drinking water! That, multiplied by number of members (n) travelling together. So n x 14 is not a number you want to see! So, the question is, how do we reduce that number? [Also, having bottled water does not always mean that it is safer]

First and foremost, always carry a water bottle. Secondly, plan for the drinking water needs! It is important to include “drinking water access” in your trip plan. If we have a 6-hour car drive from the train station to our destination, what do we do for water enroute?

Here are a few thoughts on drinking water accessibility while travelling:

A practical solution is carrying two re-usable bottles. Couple this with a portable Aquaguard OR chlorine tablets or drops. Each time you have access to drinking water which you are unsure of drinking directly, you can fill the aquaguard and then transfer that water to your reusable bottles OR use the chlorine tablets or drops. For example, when on the road, if we stop by a roadside dhaba, we always get water served in steel jugs. If you are worried about the potability of this water, then you do as mentioned above. For the most part, the water is safe and usually will not cause issues. But if you have a sensitive stomach, then you can follow what is mentioned above.

Image: All local hotels like these serve water free of charge.

Many (lodging) hotels are reluctant to provide regular water to the guests, which leads to bottled-water becoming a mandatory item in final hotel bill. They also “scare” us with statements like “this water does not go well with tourists”. I remember once arguing with this hotel owner in Rajasthan about providing us regular water.

He told us: “यहाँ का पानी खारा है, इसलिए सभी बोतलबंद पानी ही पीते हैं” [the water here is hard, so all drink bottled water only].

So I asked: फिर आप क्या पानी पीते हैं? [so what water do you all drink?].

His reply: अरे हम तो इधर के है… इसलिए हम इस पानी को पीते हैं .. हमें कुछ नहीं होता है [we are locals.. we drink this [regular] water …nothing happens to us]

In fact, this one hotel in Sujangarh (a halt to get to Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary) even went ahead and refused to serve us “regular” water saying that the lodging came with the bottled drinking water, take it or leave it. Given that the remote town did not have other reasonable lodging options at that point, we gave in. We were 6 adults and a kid on that trip. Rajasthan has hot day-time temperatures even during winters so we drank a lot of water! And we bought over 35 bottles for our 2 day stay there! I still cannot get over that number! I feel guilty to this day.

However, I am happy to say that in our second trip there, we did not have to buy a single bottle of water (even though the owner maintained his rule). We figured out where the hotel staff drink water from and filled our water bottles from the same matka. The rest of the hotel staff were more agreeable to share their water source!

For the most part, you need to plan. Keep an eye out when you have access to drinking water and not miss when the opportunity presents itself.

Image: Famous heritage sites like the Jantar Mantar (Jaipur) which are popular with tourists have excellent drinking water facilities within the campus. So having your own water bottle is ideal.

***

Most railway stations have a drinking water station. Some are reasonably hygienic. But when in doubt, you can always use the portable aquaguard or chlorine drops. Also, these days you see water ATMs at many railway stations. They charge around Rs 5 per litre to refill your water bottle.

Image: Railway stations are usually equipped with drinking water stations.

***

Bottled water in airports is 100% avoidable. All airports have drinking water stations where you can fill up your water bottle. Bottled water is also 100% avoidable inside flights. In flights where they give you a bottle, refuse! In flights where they serve it you in paper cups, avoid. Instead ask the flight attendant to fill your personal bottle instead. They do oblige most of the times. But to be on the safer side, plan! That means, don’t forget to fill your water bottle prior to boarding the flight!

***

Now, when you are camping out in the wilderness, then drinking water may not be that much of an issue. But there some tips you can follow. I will write about that in my next post!

So, how do you plan for drinking water while travelling? Please do leave your thoughts and ideas on this topic too!

Post Updated: 28 June, 2020
Thanks to Butool Abbas.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Excellent piece on how you can plan for a simple thing like water. We carry couple of extra water bottles empty to make sure we can plan for any trip.

    Hamsa

    Liked by 1 person

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