Tour of India – When Delhi belly strikes

Roger Wolens writes about the delights of India – environmental and otherwise

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you fall ill you wish you were somewhere else – anywhere else.

It is the same with Delhi Belly.

I must confess to feeling a little smug as a few fellow travellers fell victim to the dreaded Delhi Belly early on. “Made of sterner stuff, me,” I thought.

Some mistake.

It seems that the longer you stand, the harder you fall – if you’re going to fall that is.

Certainly not everyone does, but Kuoni’s guide Glenn has been escorting British parties full time for 19 years, and how often do you think he has had a group that had no sufferers at all?

Not one. Not ever. Never in 19 years.

“Never will,” he said without as much as a smirk.

A greasy chicken-burger during a bush stop was the final nail in the coffin that at times over the next three days would have offered a very welcome release for me.

Excruciating stomach cramps, headaches, searing shooting pain, feeling faint, hot sweats, cold sweats. I even hallucinated.

I actually saw demons, and thought that I had better make friends with them. (No poppy seeds needed).

And absolutely no energy.

The holiday becomes a tour of Indian toilets; not the best mixture for the afflicted, but it is where you want to be.

The cure-all mixture actually recommended was yoghurt mixed with boiled rice, and electrolyte replacement powders. I thought I was going to overdose on electrolytes.

The last thing you feel like is food, and certainly not that food. But you need to get something into your stomach and gradually build back up to normality – and just when you’re thinking the world will never be the same place again.

I was at my worst as we headed for Corbett National Park, a gruelling 8-hour bone breaking drive over rutted roads with each village more primitive than the last (so they tell me). My eyes were shut tight. The only defence that I could muster to the continued cacophonic accompaniment of blaring horns and near-misses that are a mandatory part of motoring Indian style.

Glenn was concerned enough to make an emergency stop at the last frontier of medicine South of the Himalayas.

Another eye-opener.

About 20 people crammed into an 8×10 waiting room. There wasn’t enough room for even one to sit down.

No-one protested that this foreigner jumped the queue to find the doctor already treading two patients in a similar size room. One of the others was flat out, only a few rags in strategic areas, looking so ill we thought he was dead.

Suddenly that option did not seem such an attractive alternative.

“When trouble start?”

“Yesterday” I replied.

“How many times toilet?”

“About 20”.

“20? One day?” His voice rose at this point to match his incredulity and he sounded like the Peter Sellers version of an Indian doctor. But at least he had the decency to lower his head to try and hide his smile.

“Anything solid?”

He had got to be joking. Does he know nothing? Perhaps it is Peter Sellers.

But he prescribed a three-day course of three tables that performed more magic than a witch-doctor – who would have been our only resource as we moved further away from relative civilisation.

It cost 80p to see him and the medication he supplied on the spot and including two lots of listed drugs cam to less than £1. What do you think Mrs Bottomley? I ain’t knocking it.

Jackie suffered two separate but briefer bouts. The first was a warning of what I should have expected, but the second was a night of violent sickness and stomach pain.

We were in the individual bungalows at The Claridge’s Corbett Hideaway at the time; jungle country.

At two in the morning, with her discomfort at its peak, I decided to go to Reception to see if they had any magic potion to ease the pain.

Stumbling across the compound in the dark, I eventually found Reception but there was no-one on duty.

“They have a guard on the gate,” I remembered and headed off in that direction.

As my foot squelched into something warm and sticky, it suddenly struck me. “Tiger turd.”

It was only then I remembered the guide telling us not to go out into the compound unescorted during the hours of darkness. Leopards regularly commute through the grounds to drink at the river’s edge; and they were best avoided.

Too right.

I could not see any sign of life at the guard hut anyway, so self-preservation got the better of my thoughts for others and I made a bee-line back to the chalet. It’s the thought that counts, anyway.

Jackie fully understood my priorities, bless her, and she was almost back to normal by breakfast next morning.

Other guests reported hearing “something prowling around in the middle of the night”. I chose not to disillusion them. It might not have been me anywayÖ

Between us we missed five days out of the twelve day tour – me three and Jackie two.

Luckily none of our illness days overlapped and one of us was always able to put in an appearance with the rest of the group.

It is our way of taking separate holidays!

Five days lost out of a combined 24 paid for, and we still felt we had value for money.

And the good news was that we usually put on weight on holiday: this time we came back half a stone lighter!