10 Things To Expect Living Abroad In Punjab
Updated: Jan 11
If you have made the move to India you will know that there are many adjustments you will need to make, not just culturally, but in everyday tasks. Many things in the western culture that make our life more efficient we take for granted. For most Indian's particularly in Punjab, they live a relatively simple life and do not possess many material items opting for spiritual meaning in life or simply just cannot afford to live the frivolous life. This makes even the simplest of tasks challenging to those who are used to the more efficient way of life.
Here are the biggest challenges you will face when attempting to ease into the daily life as an expat in the countryside of Punjab. Noting that each point I make is only a small part of living in India as there are so many beautiful and breathtaking sights to see. So don't be discouraged by this by any means - as with all my writing it is just a small part of Indian Life! Yet don't be beguiled by India so much so that your expectations just aren't anywhere close to reality as you will be in for a culture shock.
Also keep in mind that city life will most likely be much more westernised than living in the countryside of Punjab. Just as North and South India will have different cultural aspects to everyday living. South India has many more tourist destinations and therefore you will find that it will be a lot cleaner. Unlike Punjab which can appear dirty to some tourists as it has litter strewn everywhere and is very dusty. If you are making the move abroad then keep in mind where you will be living demographically as to what challenges you will most likely face. Read about Krista's experience living as an expat in Punjab in the article, My First Year As An Expat In Amritsar Punjab.
Related Article: My First Year As An Expat In Amritsar Punjab
1. There Is No Garbage Collection
Imagine if your home town didn't have a garbage collection service. Where would all the rubbish go? Unfortunately the Indian Government does not provide these services leaving residents to dispose of their own rubbish. Which means that rubbish is littered anywhere and everywhere. Each day when I emptied out the garbage I simply threw it over the balcony onto the adjoining vacant block of land, which had been turned into a dumping ground. It was so difficult to do as I had been raised to always put your litter in the bin. However you will see people littering all throughout India as it has become the cultural norm. I absolutely hated having to litter but there simply was no alternative.
India would be an even more beautiful country if it cleaned up all the litter that is floating around. I have visited beautiful lakes that are drowning in garbage, national parks that have litter floating throughout the scrub, roads that have rubbish piled up, vacant blocks of land in nice neighbourhoods that have been turned into a dumping ground. It really is a shame that the government won't do anything about this.
2. Electricity Voltage and Service Is Irregular
This can be very irritating when you are wanting to have a day at home on the couch watching television, then suddenly the electricity goes out. This can be for minutes at a time or hours and even on rare occasions for days. What is even more frustrating is that Punjab supplies the rest of India with electricity and yet they probably have the worst service by far. Every household in India will have a backup generator for those very occasions however they are not industrial strength and therefore only really used for turning lights on at night.
So you can say goodbye to that day on the couch watching television as not a day goes by when the electricity does not go out. If you need to get ready for a special occasion and need to use a hair dryer or any other appliance, it is always best to get ready early. Never leave it to the last minute as there is no doubt the electricity will go out and you will be attending that wedding with bedraggled hair. The same can be said for keeping your mobile and laptop fully charged whilst you are at home so that if the electricity does go out you won't be left with a flat battery.
3. There Is No Sewage And Grey Water Plumbing
Unfortunately in Punjab there is no plumbing, storm water drains or sewage pipes like that of civilised countries. When walking down the back streets be careful not to walk on the very far edges of the road as there will normally be what appears to be a man made gutter. This is where everyone's grey water from their house runs off into. There are usually people who clean it out and all the sludge is shovelled to the side of the gutter. So don't step in it as you will smell for days. Though you cannot escape the smell as usually it will waft into the house on a breezy day.
The waste from your toilet also does not go through plumbing to a sewage treatment plant but rather it simply goes beneath your house or street into a vast deep hole. When houses are being built sewage holes are dug underneath. They are similar to the old fashioned septic tank for those of you who may still have one that needs to be manually emptied every so often. However these tanks are never emptied and remain under streets or houses. You could imagine the mess if you live near the fault line and experience an earthquake.
4. Majority Of Kitchens Will Not Have Modern Appliances
If there is one thing I miss about the western kitchen it is the oven. An oven has endless uses from baking cakes and and fresh bread to roasting and much more. A kitchen in majority of homes across Punjab is usually very simple with just a portable gas top burner that you would take camping and few other cooking utensils such as saucepans, pressure cooker and a tawa - roti pan. This is all they need to cook with as their staple food consists of curry with roti. Other appliances I miss would be the microwave, kettle, toaster, blender and other cooking utensils that make cooking easier for example a garlic crusher. Despite being able to purchase these items many Punjabi's prefer the simple way of cooking without these appliances.
It is also not uncommon to cook outdoors with their tandoor oven or prepare food as a community outdoors in the yard. Because they are such a family oriented culture everyone lends a helping hand. Which renders most kitchen appliances useless and the need for an extravagant large kitchen.
5. There Are Poor People Everywhere
It is a popular misconception that the entire country of India is made up of slums which just isn't the case. However there are certainly beggars and slums almost everywhere across the country including Punjab. It is not uncommon to see lavish palatial houses and then across the street will be slums. The moment you land in India you will notice beggars are attracted to you immediately as a foreigner and it is the children who are sent to beg. It is difficult to not want to give all the children everything you have however you have to remember this is their way of life. Whilst many are poor due to circumstances there are also many who live a life of begging as it is a lucrative business for them.
Therefore you will have most likely given away your entire savings by the time you exit the airport if you were to help every child who approaches you. If you can't handle seeing children begging and slums on the side of your neighbourhood street then perhaps help in another method. There are several charitable organisations that you can volunteer at to give back to the poor. This will likely help them more rather than perpetuate the cycle of begging.
When we were driving from The Delhi Airport to my husband's family home, each time our car came to a halt in the Delhi traffic our car was surrounded by beggars. It literally was like a zombie movie when you see a car filled with people trying to escape the hoards of zombies that are clambering all over the car. I had to hide in the backseat as it slowed down our ten hour trip. It is heartbreaking to see however you need to remember that you cannot fix all of India's problems.
6. Beds In India Are Extremely Hard
My husband told me I would get used to sleeping on a hard bed but I still to this day wake up every morning with my back bent in pain. You will find that the most common bed in Punjab is simply a wooden box with a thin sheet of foam laid across it. Unlike what I am used to which is a luxuriously soft spring mattress ensemble which is raised off the floor on a bed frame. Sleeping in an Indian bed the foam is not usually very thick and therefore when you sleep your spine is dead straight.
Now the human spine isn't actually straight as many think but rather curved. So keeping it dead straight for 8 hours on a hard surface is not comfortable. I am lucky that my in laws bought us a mattress to lay on top of the bed frame so at least it is not as hard as it was on my first stay.
7. Houses Are Not Painted
Punjabi houses tend to look a little dull set amongst the dusty environment. This is because houses are rendered with concrete on both the exterior and interior. Due to the harsh weather no one paints their house as the paint will simply peel away with time. I believe it has something to do with the high salt content in the water that seeps up through the ground. Correct me if I am wrong as my husband was not sure what it was translated into English. You can see the dry salt build up with time on walls from it being excreted out of the concrete. People need to constantly brush their walls to rid them of this excrement otherwise the walls will be covered in this white substance. Those who do paint their walls usually will apply tiling to the bottom third of the wall as this is where the problem is worst.
8. Most People Live As Vegetarians
If you love meat than you better start becoming a vegetarian before moving to India as you will be a vegetarian and not by choice. Due to the array of local faiths many meats are sacred and therefore not consumed such as beef and pork, though you can buy chicken and goat as a substitute. However you will find that most meats are halal which in my belief is cruel, but it also changes the texture and flavour of the meat.
The process of making meat halal requires the animal to be blessed before they then bleed out the animal. This means the animal is alive to enable it to bleed out. Just by knowing that you may become a vegetarian by choice as it is such a cruel way to slaughter an animal.
9. Driving Is A Nightmare
Driving anywhere in India is a nightmare, as the roads are chaotic with all kinds of traffic, horns blaring at one another, transport overcrowded with too many passengers, stray animals loitering on the road and pedestrians randomly trying to cross the road weaving in and out of traffic. So you could imagine that by the end of your road trip you will have whiplash and a headache from all the braking and weaving between traffic.
There simply are no road rules and it is each man to himself. You will also notice that since there are no road rules that vehicles are overloaded with passengers or heavy loads of whatever they can carry. It is not unusual to see a scooter with a fridge tied to the backseat, buses crammed with too many passengers like a sardine tin or a car with a load of sugarcane popping out of the boot.
Related Article: Welcome To Driving In India
It is best to take public transport as much as you can or hire a driver whilst you are becoming accustomed to the driving. Though even taking public transport has its own set of challenges however you can at least rest assured that the driver will have more experience weaving between traffic more so than yourself.
You also need to be cautious as a pedestrian otherwise you may find yourself in hospital and don't expect anyone to stop to help you if you do get injured. People fear being wrongly imprisoned if they were to help someone who is in an accident and near death. So most people have no sense of urgency to help another person who is severely injured.
Since there are no crossings, you simply have to race through the traffic dodging as best you can. Usually there are no breaks in the traffic therefore most times you just have to walk in front of traffic to be able to get to the other side. If you watch locals crossing the road it appears as though they have a death wish as they brazenly walk in front of traffic, but that is the only way you'll be able to cross in most instances.
10. It Is Very Very Dusty
The moment you hop of the plane you will notice just how dull everything appears to be, and that isn't because you have your sunglasses on. If you live North the environment is arid compared to the south where they experience monsoon weather, so it is exceptionally dusty. The dirt is also soft like powder therefore it is easily blown in the wind creating the dusty environment that is Punjab. This might sound disgusting but you need to clean out your nose daily as the air is that polluted with dust and smog.
Although Punjab is ironically considered the green state of India due to it being the agricultural state. You will still find that green grass doesn't just grow on the side of the roads. There are fields of green crops and lush green trees throughout the countryside. However having lived in England where absolutely everything is green and there is not a hint of dust, to a foreigner Punjab is dusty.