The two troubles that most commonly afflict the physical bodies of visitors to India are diarrhea and the common cold. Both are easy to avoid, and easy to recover from.
How do you get it?
By eating contaminated food, drinking bad water, or (the most usual way) eating more than you can digest.
How to avoid it?
- Entirely forgo meat, eggs, poultry, and seafood. In tropical climates, they’re harder to digest. And in India fishing, butchery, and handling of meat are done by people of a very low class. So–I’ll spare you the details–with this stuff you always have to wonder about filth.
Of course the best advice is this: Eat only krishna-prasadam, food offered to Krishna. And avoid eating food from hotels, sweet shops, food stalls, and so on.
- Drink water from reliable sources: taps and pumps approved by the local educated people, or bottled water. Always safe: water straight from a fresh green coconut.
- Don’t sleep more than you need to. (The more you sleep, the less you can digest. A person who works hard, Srila Prabhupada used to say, can digest even stones.)
- Eat wisely.
When you first arrive, take it easy. Long-distance flights disrupt your body’s inner workings. Your digestion may slow down or quit (even without your knowing it).
When you land, you may want to launch right into a big meal. Don’t. For a day or so, give your system a rest. Drink juice, have some fruit. And after a day or so, when you’re really feeling hungry, gradually settle into taking your regular meals.
Still, if you’re coming from a non-tropical climate, your body needs time to adjust to India. And you should adjust your eating accordingly.
The main way to stay free from stomach problems is not to have them to begin with.
Here are the main rules:
- Eat lightly. Eating more than needed is what gets people’s stomachs into trouble. And you might be surprised how much less you need to eat in India. So eat less. It’s good for your body and good for your spiritual life.
- When you’re not hungry–or you’re not sure you’re hungry–don’t eat. No need to worry: When you’re hungry, Krishna will feed you, rest assured.
Suppose you’ve done it–eaten more than you should. Your body starts feeling heavy. Your digestion turns sluggish. You start feeling heavy or weird inside. What should you do?
Skip your next meal–or even your next two. Give your system a chance to catch up. Be satisfied with some lemon water. Your body will be grateful.
When your appetite and digestion come back into line and you start eating normally again, take it easy. Stick to food that’s light and easy to digest.
- When your digestion is weak, prefer food that’s light and cooling. Some foods are light, others heavy. Some cool the body, others heat it up.
Rice is light and cooling. Breads (such as chapatis) are heavier and warming. Fried things are hard on your digestion. The same goes for rich, heavy, or spicy vegetable preparations. Sweets create heat. (A few heavy sweets can put you out of commission fast.)
Cold drinks–sodas and so on–are heating, not cooling. They may seem cool, but the sugar in them creates heat in your body. Genuinely cooling: water, coconut water, or salty lassi.
Kitchri (when hot and nicely made) is easy to digest.
Raw salads are fine when your digestion is strong. Otherwise, count them as heavy. (No one has cooked them, so your body has to cook them for you.) The same goes for nuts and dried fruits.
- Don’t drink water too soon before or after eating. You’ll kill the fire of digestion. Before and after you eat, go about an hour without drinking.
How to cure it
Good news: dysentary cures itself. The trouble comes when you overburden your system. Give your system enough rest, and the trouble goes away. No heavy medicine required.
Now, here’s the natural miracle medicine for diarrhea. It’s called Sat Isabgol. It costs next to nothing, and you can get it at any Indian medical shop or general store. It’s also called Fleaseed Husks.
You take a spoonful or so with yogurt. Once or twice a day. It has no chemical action, but what it does is cool your insides down and soak up that soupy mess in your guts. Result: Take this for a day or so and you’ll soon be back to normal.
(By the way, Sat Isabgol taken with milk or water instead of yogurt relieves constipation. Versatile stuff!)
There’s also a miracle diet. Super-light, super-cooling, extremely easy to digest. What is it? Simple, plain “flat rice” with yogurt and bananas. Not flat rice that’s cooked, fried, or spiced–just plain. If plain flat rice isn’t being served, you can buy it anywhere. (In Bengali it’s called cheera. In Gujarat and most of North India it’s called poa.) You just wash it like regular rice, then soak it in water till it’s soft. (This should take 5 minutes or less.) Then you drain off the excess water, mix the rice with plain yogurt, add some salt and cumin powder. And if you can get some small, ripe bananas, add them too. And that’s it.
This preparation soothes your disrupted insides. And apart from that, it’s delicious.
The Common Cold
How do you get it?
Mainly by exposing yourself to cold drafts. Even when the days are hot, the mornings and evenings can be cooler than you think.
How to avoid it?
Dress carefully and stay out of drafts. Most of all: Be careful about sleeping under a fan. The weather’s hot when you go to bed, and you don’t like mosquitos, so you turn the fan on–and in the morning you’ve got a cold. A word to the wise.
How to cure it?
Here’s some advice from the Ayurveda: Keep your head and feet warm. (Wear socks and keep your head covered.) Stay out of drafts. (Skip the fan.) Drink hot liquids. Dress warmly. Avoid cold things. (Sensible, right? But it works.)
When you have a cold, avoid foods and drinks that are cooling. That means: No rice, no yogurt, no bananas, no coconut water, no chilled drinks. Instead, take things that are warming: breads, vegetables, and so on.
As long as we have these bodies, we’ll always have trouble. But a little care, a little common sense, and your health in India should be fine.
I am not a doctor. The purpose of this document is merely to share my experiences as a traveler. For professional medical advice, please consult a certified medical practitioner.