Little India is the hub of Singapore’s large Indian community
A typical “home away from home” emotion engulfs the moment I enter the Park Royal Hotel in Singapore.
“Because of our location in the heart of Little India quarter, this hotel is extremely popular amongst Indian tourists,” tells the Singapore-born Tamil receptionist.
Little India is the hub of Singapore’s large Indian community and it’s most vibrant and culturally authentic district. The area was developed by the British in the early 19th century as a settlement ground of Indian convicts that included Tamils, Telegus, Bengalis and Punjabis. It today gives outsiders the impression of an old-time India.
I pass women in colourful saris and men in white dhotis; spot signage in Tamil and Bengali; smell the aroma of curries blended with the fragrance of flowers and incense sticks; hear the cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells, loud Bollywood music and vibrant chatter of residents, interrupted by the ringing of temple bells. I come across roadside tailors working in the open air using decrepit sewing machines; astrologists getting a green parrot to pick up a fortune card from a box; parantha-makers in corner stalls juggling paper-thin dough in the air before tossing it into the frying pan and hair-dressers inside dilapidated salons, massaging shoulders with gusto, as if they are wrestling.
The tempting smell of frying samosas lures me inside a noisy street side café where, I overhear a Western couple saying “If this is Little India, how thrilling it will be in Big India”. They are spot on.
The charm of Little India, which stretches couple of kilometres on both sides of Searngoon Road, lies in this high energy, out-of-date ambience. The two-storey shop-houses with their ornate plasterwork facades lend the quarter its unique character. Within these you will find everything that’s considered typically “Indian”—rice, lentils, flour, spices, herbal medicines, cooking utensils, earthen lamps, costumes, jewellery, framed pictures of Indian gods and goddesses and stacks of Indian magazines. “I feel hands on with my business when I put money inside this wooden box”, tells an elderly cardamom shop owner.
Getting indulged seems to be the central theme of holiday-makers, particularly the Westerners. Buying colourful saris, trying out Nehru jackets; wearing glittering bangles; painting hands with henna designs; dabbling in ayurveda therapy or eating hot jalebis and pakoras occupy the delighted attention of visitors.
A star attraction of the locale is the 24-hour open Mustafa Shopping Centre. Located next to the Park Royal Hotel, it is a favourite among visitors because everything you can think of is available under one roof— and that too at a price much cheaper than outlets in Orchard Road, Singapore’s premium shopping district.
The quarter is dotted with temples, mosques and churches which add a touristy flavour to the area. The Sri Veeramakalimann Temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali is the oldest Hindu shrine in Singapore. The Sri Perumal Temple looks like a postcard from Tamil Nadu. Their high towers crammed with statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. While locals pray inside, tourists keep taking countless photographs of the intricate temple architecture. The Abdul Gafoor Mosque which displays a unique blend of Moorish Islamic and South Indian arcitectural style demands an inclusion in any itinerary. As Little India goes to bed late, mornings are generally quiet and is the best time to visit some of these holy places.
Like in India, food is an obsession here as well. Almost every second shop is an eatery serving mouth-watering recipes from the kitchens from all parts of India—hot curries, biriyani, paranthas, dosas and Bengali fish curry being most popular among locals and tourists alike. Restaurants such as Komala Vilas for south Indian delicacies and Banana Leaf for fish head curry are legends of the district. As no meal in India is complete without a scented paan, this too is available in Little India, thus making the experience complete.
As they say, it happens only in Little India.
Getting There: Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) from several Indian cities direct to Singapore.
Stay:Park Royal Hotel (www.parkroyalhotels.com) on Kitchener Road