5 safe ways to drink water in the Himalayas

It is not only the altitude that people dread when it comes to wandering the remote and exploring the wild. Concern about hygiene is another big fear that put some people off when it comes to trekking the high altitudes, specially the Himalayas. Staying healthy in the Himalayas is certainly a big challenge in itself, but if done the right way, you are unlikely to have any troubles and the rewards are spectacular. Bearing this in mind, we have 5 safe ways that will enable you to have clean drinking water in the Himalayas, no matter how high it gets!

1. Water filling stations

Water filling stations in the Himalaya: Annapurna Conservation Area Project
Water filling stations in the trekking route to Annapurna

Water filling stations in the Himalaya are a great way to top up your water source at various points through your trek. The downside being they are not available outside of the popular trekking areas of Khumbu and Annapurna and they can cost between 25-100 Rupees a liter. There has been some argument that the filling stations cause deforestation for fuelling the boiling process, however, the boiling is done using yak dung or solar methods. It is considered to be, environmentally and sanitarily, a great option for getting safe, good tasting drinkable water on your trek.

2. Boiling

Boiling water thoroughly is likely your best option for water treatment as it is highly effective in removing both viral and bacterial pathogens. In areas below 2000m holding water at a rolling boil for 1 minute would be sufficient. However, in altitudes over 2000m, it is crucial that a rolling boil is held for 3 minutes at leastYou can boil the water night before and use it as a hot water bottle if it’s been a cold night. You’ll wake up to a cool bottle of water in the morning!

Boiling water best option for water treatment in Himalaya
Boiling water best is the option for water treatment in Himalaya

3. Disinfecting

This is an effective way to eliminate harmful micro-organisms that can cause gastro intestinal illness. However, variables such as contact time, water temperatures, water pH and the turbidity (cloudiness) mean this method is rarely 100 per cent effective as a stand-alone treatment. The two most common disinfectants are chlorine or iodine based and can be purchased in tablet form. If used properly and in conjunction with a good filtration system, it can be an effective and low cost way of producing drinkable water, although the process can leave the water tasting kind of nasty. This can be mitigated with a powdered hydration supplement or simply flavoring. (Note: Pregnant women should avoid the iodine tablets.)

4. Filtration

Water Filter Hand Pump; one of the safe ways to drink water in the Himalayas
Water Filter Hand Pump

Most good water filters are hand pump with carbon filters and are effective against removing protozoa, bacteria and chemicals/toxins but are not effective against viruses, hence the water will still need to be treated virally with aforementioned disinfectant. This combination of filter/disinfecting is preferred if boiling is not possible, and is an excellent option for those trekking independently.

5. Ultra Violet

UV filters can be used as a pathogen reduction method against microorganisms. Again, this must be used in conjunction with an anti viral method such as a disinfectant. The most common problem with UV is the reliability of the technology and battery life, which, to their credit, most companies have picked up on and now offer solar chargeable versions. Another problem is that they are generally unreliable and are not field serviceable like a filtration pump is. So if they bust when you need them most, you’re in some serious trouble.

Suggestion: Travel Sustainably

With hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the Himalayas, the waste left behind has been polluting the landfills and causing great harm to the Himalayan ecosystem. So, we urge you to travel sustainably. Carry a water bottle with you every time and refill them in the hotels and tea shops. If you purchase plastic water bottles, do not litter. Carry them back and dispose of them safely in the designated spots set by the local authorities working for waste management. Bring back only memories, leave only footprints. 

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