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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Exploring Little India as a Solo in Singapore

I had a fabulous day walking around the streets of Little India in Singapore. This is not solely an Indian neighbourhood. Chinese and Malays all live here too, but the architecture is predominantly Indian.

In colonial era Singapore, the Raffles Plan allowed for ethnic conclaves, but as the population grew, it spread out to where it is now. Walk towards Serangoon Road and you will find yourself surrounded by the wonderful aroma of Indian spices. It is a mix of sweet and savoury scents. I inhaled, trying to identify the smells. Curry for sure, garlic and onions – definitely. Breathing deeply, I am sure I can detect cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and possibly cardamom.

There is the sweet and woody scent of incense in the breeze. It smells like sandlewood, which is burnt for a peaceful environment.

Smelling the delectible food, it was definitely time for a trip to a local market to shop as the locals do.

The distinctive smell of seafood all laid out greeted me.

Singaporean residents tend to shop daily for fresh produce, and the local market was teeming with people. Chickens were being chopped up right before my eyes.

Colourful rows of fruits and vegetables, some familiar and some exotic, were a welcome sight, the stalls are packed in close to each other.

The hawkers market is like a food hall, where small stands sell a variety of sweet and savoury dishes.

Your meal is prepared right before your eyes. It is a pleasure to watch the rapid skill of the cooks as they make each dish to order in just minutes.

My meal was a roti prata, filled with egg and cheese. This was eaten using fingers and dipped into a delicious curry sauce that tasted like butter chicken.

Prata is eaten for any meal of the day, breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a flatbread, sort of a cross between a crepe and pancake. Traditionally they are plain or egg, but cheese, onions, and mushrooms are common fillings. Strawberry, chocolate, banana and various combinations of these are also popular.

There are so many delicious food choices in Little India. Pork and chicken seem to be popular choices. I wasn't too sure about the sound of "pig's organ soup"! Carrot cake in Singapore does not contain carrot. This fried chai tow kway is made of rice, white Chinese radish (often referred to as white carrot), eggs, garlic and radish. It is delicious.

Dragging myself away from the delectable food, I wandered through the rest of the markets. Again, the stalls were jam packed with goods, with no space left vacant. It is a bit of sensory overload, there is so much to see that it can be a bit overwhelming. However, all you need to do is ask the stall holder where something is located. They will escort you to it. It might look jumbled together, but they know where everything can be found.

These markets are the ideal place to buy your spices for home cooking.

Gold is cheaper to buy in Singapore than it is in the country of India. Little India has many stores that sell beautiful, shiny, gold jewellery. There is a wide choice of styles to suit almost everyone. Tourists can also claim the GST back if they spend over $100 in the same shop, so always ask the store if they participate in the refund scheme. Remember to bring your passport when you shop for anything, they will need the details for the refund. Gold bullion is also cheaper in Singapore, due to the country's tax-free regulations.

It was now time to walk the Little India Heritage Trail. There are three different self-guided routes that cover landmarks, places of worship and shopping. Over 40 heritage sites are spread over four kilometres. Choose to do one, both or all. A copy of the trails handbook can be found at the Indian Heritage Centre's Visitor Services Counter at 5 Campbell Lane, Singapore. Otherwise, many local companies offer guided walking and bike tours.

One of the properties on the trail is the former house of Tan Teng Niah. Built in 1900, this is the last surviving Chinese villa in Little India. Tan owned several sweet making factories along the main road. The two storey house originally had 8 rooms. It was restored in the 1980s and is now used as a commercial property. I adore the multi coloured restoration.

There are eleven temples on the Walks of Faith route. Most are open to the public, and appropriate clothing and behaviour is expected when in them. Each temple is very different in style and architecture from the others. Arya Samaj Temple was established in 1927. The Siddh Peeth Shree Lakshminarayan Temple is named for the Goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) and for the preservation and protection of the universe (Narayan). Finished in the mid 1960s, this temple is for Northern Indian Hindus to worship at. Muslims worship at the Masjid Aguillia, first built in 1890 and redeveloped in 2018.

For shopping, there is the Mustafa Centre, open 24 hours and its three storeys cover 37,000 m2. I don't think there is much that you cannot buy there. Again, like the markets it is very crowded and packed with throngs of people. I preferred walking the streets seeking a bargain, of which there were many to be had.

Vibrant street art is can also be found around Little India, depicting different aspects of the area's heritage.

It would be hard to decide what I liked most about Little India, there is so much to enjoy about this precinct. I found the best way was to walk the streets, and I felt safe doing so. The smells are enticing, the sounds of chanting from the mosques are uplifting, the food is delectable, and the different architecture is visually pleasing. This is a beautiful place to visit, where people celebrate the heritage, culture and modern day of Little India all blended perfectly together.

Happy Travels!

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