Not Your Usual Staycation: Every Colour Thinkable In Little India
STORY: Nicholas Yong
17 November 2020
There’s a certain charm to Little India. It’s vibrant, colourful, and full of character, shaped by its history and heritage. Its distinctive sights and sounds can’t be found anywhere else in Singapore.
Today’s Little India still nods to its past with its historical temples, Indian jewellery stores (Kareena Kapoor ads at the MRT, anyone?), flower shops, and sari makers, yet blends in with the new alongside hipster cafes and modern street art throughout the area.
What better time to put Little India at the top of your Singapoliday list, especially with the recent Deepavali (Festival of Lights) celebrations. And if you missed out on those, Pongal and Thaipusam in January are good occasions to visit this lively (ok maybe a little bit more muted because of COVID-19) and colourful enclave, too.
WHERE TO STAY
The Great Madras is like an Instagram dream come true. This hotel looks like it travelled here from the past, as the owners had to retain the façade of this Urban Redevelopment Authority-protected building.
Inside, however, you’re greeted with splashes of pastel colours, neon-light signages, and vintage furniture – such as the three vintage brass cinema seats from the old Capitol Cinema.
No wonder people have compared this place to Wes Anderson’s filmmaking style (I’m getting serious “The Grand Budapest Hotel” vibes here).
All the 34 rooms in the Great Madras are uniquely decorated. The Luxe Hostel (from S$78/night) is in a co-living space, but each room comes fitted with king-sized beds and sliding doors to create a private room.
Otherwise, go all out and splurge on the Great Suite (S$308) with a circular bathtub, perfect for a romantic rendezvous. Take in the sights and sounds of Little India from The Balcony Room (S$158) with a view of the Main Street as the sun sets, or you can opt for the Courtyard Room (S$258) that comes with its namesake for a little extra privacy.
Hostel rooms start from S$78 while private, or en-suite options start from S$118 with the Good Room.
WHAT TO DO
Little India may be synonymous with bargain hunting at Mustafa Centre for most Singaporeans, but there’s so much more to this place.
Start your day by visiting the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a place of worship that has stood the test of the time, even surviving World War II! Dedicated to the goddess and destroyer of evil Sri Veeramakaliamman or better known as Kali, the temple is covered with intricate statues and detailing of deities.
Another Hindu temple to check out is the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, built way back in 1955. Be mindful to remove your shoes and wash your feet before you enter this sacred area.
Signs of Little India’s multicultural heritage can also be found in other places of worship in the area. There’s the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, which was constructed in 1859, the Buddhist Temple of 1,000 Lights (Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya) with a 15-meter tall statue of a seated Buddha covered in murals, and the Leong San See Temple, home to a statue of Guanyin from Fujian province with carvings of dragons and flowers adorning its roof.
After lunch, take in the sights and sounds of Campbell Lane. Pose for a photo by the rows of booths selling colourful flower garlands, trinkets, and dresses - and, of course, buy something! This pedestrian lane becomes livelier near Deepavali and other Indian festive seasons.
Stop by Johti Store and Flower Shop and browse the Indian-centric items on offer such as cosmetics, cooking utensils, traditional lamps, and more. You can also purchase artificial and fresh flower garlands right outside the store entrance.
Next, trace the roots of South Asians in Southeast Asia at the Indian Heritage Centre in 5 Campbell Lane. The permanent galleries on levels 3 and 4 are arranged chronologically, spanning 1st century CE to the 21st century.
Check out The Chettinad Doorway, one of the oldest historical artefacts in the centre with 5,000 minute carvings of mythic motifs, as well as the Multan façade dating back to the 1890s that showcases the connections between Muslims and South Asians.
The Indian Heritage Centre also highlights the Indian community in Singapore and their contributions towards nation building. Admission is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents.
As you’re strolling along the streets and back alleys of Little India, you’ll find impressive murals that express the history of the area. Feeling unsure on where to start? Let the recommended walking trail guide here lead you to uncover parts of Little India you’ve never known about.
You will be passing by the House of Tan Teng Niah - some deem this the most colourful house in Singapore, plus the famous Tekka Market with its splendid array of hawker fare, wet market, and tailor shops on the top level.
WHERE TO EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
Get breakfast at Ananda Bhavan, an Indian vegetarian chain of restaurants. The OG restaurant, which opened in 1924 is here in Little India at Serangoon Road. The Prata, Thosai, and Idli here are really good, but don’t forget to wash it down with a cup of sweet milky spiced Masala Tea.
For lunch, head over to Greenleaf Cafe for a delicious vegetarian meal that even your doctors will approve of. Its menu explains what goes into the food and how it’s 100% South Indian vegetarian menu is healthy for you. Try the Thali with Chappati, Chili Paneer, Rainbow Dosa, or ask the friendly wait staff what you should have. There’s a weekday lunch buffet too.
As you’re exploring Little India, take a break at Moghul Sweet Shop when you pass by Little India Arcade.
This spot makes authentic sweets from North India, like Laddoo, Gulab Jamun, and Burfi – if you haven’t heard of these before, then even more you should give them a try! Many of the desserts here are made using pure cow’s milk for a rich and buttery taste.
Don’t leave without tapao-ing some samosas, available by the side of the shop.
By nightfall, park yourself at Meatsmith Little India. You can’t miss the big pillars screaming its name at the entrance. Unlike the Telok Ayer outlet, Meatsmith Little India specialises in grilling Indian-influenced BBQ meats. Under head chef Kurt Sombero, the Indian fusion dishes here are truly one of a kind.
Order the Crab & Tobiko Briyani (served nigiri sushi style), Butter Chicken, and the Suckling Pig Briyani, the latter combining Indian spiced rice with American spit-roast pork.
Make a reservation early. Tip: If you’re the indecisive type, level 2 serves a S$85 tasting menu with the best that Meatsmith has to offer.
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