Little India Self-Guided Walking Tour
From the hostel, turn right and walk along Campbell Lane. Campbell Lane is named after Sir Colin Campbell, a British Administrator. In the old days, this was where cows were slaughtered for beef. Today, it is packed with shops and stalls selling Indian furniture, wood carvings, and fresh flowers.
Watch the garland-makers weave their red, yellow and white creations from roses, marigolds and jasmine. These colours symbolize love, peace and purity. On religious days, ladies adorn their hair with flowers. Widows are exceptions, as they are not allowed to beautify themselves.
LITTLE INDIA ARCADE
Where Campbell Lane meets Serangoon Road, turn left and enter Little India Arcade. This Arcade is a labyrinth of shops selling all things Indian, ranging from Indian sweets and snacks like gulam jamun (cream cheese balls in syrup), saris, Indian medicine, Indian arts and crafts.
There's also an Indian Cultural Corner within the Arcade. Admission to the Cultural Corner is free. It is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays, but closed on Sundays and public holidays. Visit the Cultural Corner for an introduction to Little India.
After you emerge from the Arcade, cross Serangoon Road to get to Tekka Market. Tekka Market is buzzing with activity. Outside, you will find fortune tellers with their psychic parakeets and trishaw riders waiting for their clients.
Within Tekka Market, there's a wet market and hawker centre on the ground floor. Upstairs, there are plenty of shops selling antiques and other bric-a-brac.
The wet market pales in comparison to the one at Chinatown. You can give it a miss if you have already visited the one in Chinatown.
Look for a drink stall in the hawker centre and order a glass of "teh tarik" (hand-pulled tea). Watch how it is prepared! If "teh tarik" is not your cup of tea, try some sugarcane juice. The freshly squeezed juice with ice is an excellent thirst quencher.
After visiting Tekka Market, continue walking down the left side of Serangoon Road. What is most striking is the number of goldsmiths along this stretch. Goldsmiths are well-respected by the Hindus as they are the image-makers of the gods. To the Indians, elephant hair is believed to bring good luck and it is often found embedded in gold rings.
SRI VEERAMAKALIAMMAN TEMPLE
Keep walking along the left side of Serangoon Road until you arrive at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. This temple is in many ways more spectacular than the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown. Built in 1881, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Kali, the Goddess of Power. On holy days (Tuesdays and Fridays), the streets are busy with devotees on their way to the temple.
As you enter the temple, look up at the tower over the entrance of the temple covered with figurative sculptures of gods and goddesses and mythological beasts. This tower is visible from afar so devotees can say their prayers without stepping inside the temple. Notice strings of fresh mango and coconut leaves hanging above temple doors. They are signs of welcome and purity. Remove your shoes before entering the temple.
At the door, devotees ask God to grant their requests by ringing the bells before entering. They also purify themselves by washing their hands and feet, and sprinkling water on their heads. Near the door, devotees break coconuts as a symbol of breaking their egos to reveal their pure and kind inner-selves.
Remember to walk in a clock-wise direction and only encircle the temple hall an odd number of times for good luck. At this temple, the main shrine contains a statue of Kali, with her sons Ganesha and Murugan on each side. Kali is represented as having many pairs of arms and hands, and in her hands she carries weapons of destruction. Ganesha, the Elephant God, is best known as the Remover of Obstacles. Murugan is often depicted as riding a peacock and his birthday is celebrated by the Thaipusam festival, a spectacular 2-day festival which usually occurs in late January.
Admission to the temple is free and you are not asked to pay to take photographs within the temple. The temple is closed from 12.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. everyday.
Continue down Serangoon Road until you see Mustafa Centre on your right. A visit to Little India will not be complete without stepping into Mustafa Centre. It's a 4-storey departmental store bursting at its seams with goods. It has arguably the most complete stock list in the whole of Singapore. The goods here carry fixed prices and they are cheap even without bargaining. Even if shopping is not your idea of a vacation, you'll enjoy the lively atmosphere here.
After you exit from Mustafa Centre, walk back down Serangoon Road. You will now be walking past the row of shophouses on the opposite side of the temple. As with the rest of Little India, the shops here sell a variety of goods from curry powder to Hindu idols.
OFF SHOOTS FROM SERANGOON ROAD
When you see Cuff Road on your left, make a small detour and follow your nose to one of the last spice grinding shops in Singapore. The betel nut-chewing spice grinders here will grind spice mixtures or mill flour at your request. The shop is open from 9.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.
It should be time for lunch by now. Return to Serangoon Road and continue walking down until you see Upper Dickson Road on your left. Upper Dickson Road is renowned for its vegetarian eateries. Stop for an eat-all-you-can curry meal for less than S$5 with rice and dishes piled high on a banana leaf. Eat off the banana leaf with your right hand (the left hand is associated with uncleanliness). Wash everything down a glass of refreshing lime juice.
After lunch, return to Serangoon Road and then make a left into Dunlop Street. Pop into the different provision and textile shops along this street. Apart from staples, you'll find products ranging from special Indian cosmetics such as kohl, henna dyes (for decorating the hands) and perfumed oils, to terracotta pots for cooking curries.
Keep walking until you arrive at Abdul Gaffoor Mosque. While most Indians are Hindus, some follow the Muslim faith. On Fridays, many will congregate here for prayers. Originally a wooden structure built in 1859, the mosque was rebuilt in brick in 1910. It now features a glass cupola, and an unusual blend of Arabic and Renaissance Architecture.
When entering the mosque, make sure your legs are covered to the ankles and remember to take off your shoes. Only worshippers are allowed to enter the prayer hall. Although the mosque is open all year round, visitors are advised to refrain from entering during prayer sessions in the evenings and all day on Fridays. Admission to the mosque is free.
SIM LIM SQUARE
With electronic gadgets and computer equipment spread over 6 floors under one roof, Sim Lim Square is every guy's dream. State of the art technology normally arrives in Singapore in advance of many other countries and the prices are very competitive.
A visit to Sim Lim Square is quite an eye-opener even if you're just a window shopper. To get there from Dunlop Street, turn right at Jalan Besar and you'll see the big blue building just across the road. Do not confuse it with Sim Lim Tower, which is opposite Dunlop Street.
If you intend to buy electronic goods or computer equipment in Singapore, it would be a good idea to get indicative prices from www.hardwarezone.com first, alternatively, visit the larger departmental stores.
After you're done shopping or browsing at Sim Lim Square, turn right onto Rochor Road and then left at Queen Street. Walk along Queen Street until it meets Arab Street. At the intersection, you will see a bus depot with long queues on your left. This is where buses leave for Johor Bahru.
Turn right onto Arab Street and keep walking until Muscat Street appears on your left. Muscat Street will lead you to Sultan Mosque, the biggest mosque in Singapore. This mosque was built in 1825. Admission to the mosque is free. It is open from 5.00 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. daily.
Arab Street and the area around Sultan Mosque have fallen victim to urban redevelopment. In its hey day, the area was bustling with traders. Today, the area appears subdued. Nevertheless, it's still worth a visit if you're into fishing equipment, silk, and rattan products.
The highlight of your trip to "Little Arabia" would be a meal at the Singapore Zam Zam Restaurant. Singapore Zam Zam is home of the best "murtabak" in Singapore.
Murtabak is a kind of Indian pancake with chicken, beef or mutton stuffing. It is eaten with Indian curry. Singapore Zam Zam is located in a purple shophouse at the corner of Arab Street and North Bridge Road.
Order a murtabak and roti prata (Indian pancake without the meat stuffing) and watch the chef work his magic on the hotplate at the front of the restaurant. You won't regret it! A murtabak which feeds 2 persons costs S$5.
After your meal, head towards Victoria Street. Turn left onto Victoria Street and keep walking until you see Bugis Village on your right. You'll spot a Kentucky Fried Chicken right at that corner. Bugis Village is a bazaar selling knick knacks, t-shirts, fake Rolexes, imitation Pradas, pirated CDs and VCDs. There's even a "sex shop" within the bazaar!
At one end of the bazaar, there are many fruit stalls and they sell the king of fruits, durians! If you haven't already tasted this fruit, you should. However, durians and alcohol don't mix. If you intend to have any beer or liquor later in the evening, you must leave the durian-tasting for another day. Durian is indigenous to South East Asia. Good quality durians are bitter-sweet, rich and creamy. Eat it with your hands and wash the pungent smell off your fingers by rinsing it with water run through the shell of the durian. You can't get the smell off otherwise! As a local, I love the fruit and can't get enough of it! Aside from durians, you should try mangosteen (purple with sweet, white flesh), rambutans (red and hairy with sweet and sour, white flesh), and jackfruit (sweet, yellow flesh). Some of these fruits are seasonal.
To return to the hostel from the bazaar, you can either walk or ride the MRT from Bugis MRT Station (EW1)
RAFFLES HOTEL & CHIJMES
If your feet aren't killing you yet and you've been aching to see Raffles Hotel, it's in the vicinity. Exit the bazaar from Victoria Street and walk in the direction of Middle Road. Turn left onto Middle Road and then right onto North Bridge Road. You'll see the grand old dame at Seah Street.
The Long Bar at Raffles Hotel is the birthplace of the legendary Singapore Sling. It used to be the place to go if you only have one drink in Singapore, but it's been receiving poor reviews lately. It's expensive and too touristy. What's worse is Sling is now pre-mixed and poured out of a jug. You're better off at Chijmes, which is just further down North Bridge Road on your right.
Chijmes was once the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and it was established in 1854. It now houses shops, restaurants, pubs and a dance club.
The leader of pack for after dark partying is China Jump's. It's open from 5.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m. daily, but as with most dance clubs, it's most crowded on Fridays and Saturdays.
City Hall MRT Station (EW13) is within walking distance of both Raffles Hotel and Chijmes. Arrive at the MRT Station by 11.30 p.m. to catch the last train.
~ Happy Walking ~