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Little India
English Little India
Chinese 小印度
(Pinyin Xiǎo Yìndù)
Malay Little India
Tamil லிட்டில் இந்தியா
Shophouses in Little India.
Little India celebrating Deepavali.
Busy Sunday street.

Little India is an ethnic neighbourhood found in Singapore that has Indian cultural elements. Little India lies to east of the Singapore River—across from Chinatown, located west of the river—and north of Kampong Glam. Both areas are part of the urban planning area of Rochor.

Little India is distinct from the Chulia Kampong area, which, under the Raffles Plan of Singapore, was originally a division of colonial Singapore where Indian immigrants would reside under the British policy of ethnic segregation. However, as Chulia Kampong became more crowded and competition for land escalated, many ethnic Indians moved into what is now known as Little India. (The Chulia Kampong district no longer exists as a distinct area.)

The Little India area is reported to have developed around a former settlement for Indian convicts. Its location along the Serangoon River originally made it attractive for raising cattle, and trade in livestock was once prominent in the area. Eventually, other economic activity developed, and by the turn of the 20th century, the area began to look like an Indian ethnic neighbourhood.

Although ethnic Indians no longer tend to stay solely segregated in one place as previously arranged under the modern People's Action Party (PAP) policy of racial harmony, for the sake of cultural heritage, many of the ethnically Indian commercial or cottage industry usages are concentrated in Little India, although Indian-dominant commercial zones are also found in HDB estates. This neighbourhood has the patronage of people of all races who wish to eat or buy something specific to Indian culture, such as curry or Indian clothing. One of the more prominent examples of cross-cultural patronage besides those regarding food is that many Chinese parents go to shops in Little India to grind rice to make congee for infants. In such cases, the shops have machinery primarily meant to grind spices into powder for use in Indian cuisine.

Veeramakaliamman Temple, Little India.

Serangoon Road is the main commercial thoroughfare in Little India. It intersects Rochor Canal Road and Bukit Timah Sungei Road. Along Serangoon Road is the Tekka Centre, the Tekka Mall, the Little India Arcade, Serangoon Plaza, and the Mustafa Centre (on a side-road). Farrer Park Fields is located in the district. Several Hindu temples, mosques, and other place of worship include Foochow Methodist Church, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Angullia Mosque, Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple, Jalan Mosque, and the Central Sikh Gurdwara. The Abdul Gafoor Mosque, built in 1859 and named after a South Indian lawyer's clerk, features Arabian- and Renaissance-style architecture. Its prayer hall, decorated with Moorish arch-work, displays a tableau featuring the history of the Islamic religion. The Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, along Serangoon Road, features a high gopuram (tower), and was built in 1855. The Buddhist Sakyamuni Buddha Gaya Temple, also along Serangoon Road, originally established by Thai monk Vuthisasara in 1927. Leong San See Temple is dedicated to Guanyin, the Chinese Boddhisattva of Mercy.

Little India's Petain Road, named after French Marshal Philippe Pétain, was built in 1916 on a drained swamp, and features examples of Singaporean Chinese architecture.

The area is served by the following MRT stations: Little India,and Farrer Park

Panoramic view of Little India. Taken from Farrer Park View Housing Estate.
Panoramic view of Little India. Taken from Serangoon Road.

External links

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Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Singapore/Little India article)

From Wikitravel

Asia : Southeast Asia : Singapore : Little India
Detail of the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple
Detail of the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple

Little India is, as the name promises, the center for the large Indian community in Singapore. While a rather sanitized version of the real thing, Little India retains its distinct identity without degenerating into a mere tourist attraction and is one of the most colorful and attractive places to visit in Singapore.

Get in

The North-East MRT line's Little India and Farrer Park stations, near Serangoon Road, are convenient entry points into the area. Bugis station on the East-West line is also within walking distance (see Bugis).

Getting taxis in Little India can be difficult, especially on weekends. It's best to either book by phone or head to the major roads on the edges to flag one down.

Get around

Little India's main drag is Serangoon Road, which starts at Rochor Canal Rd and continues northward to Serangoon itself. The action is tightly concentrated a few blocks on either side of the road, and can be easily covered on foot.

Map of Little India
Map of Little India

Little India's primary attraction is the town itself. Here too you can find the gaily painted shophouses that are an icon of Singapore, but now the Chinese signs (almost) disappear to be replaced with Tamil, Hindi, Bengali and other more exotic Indian scripts. Stores hawk saris and gold bangles, spices and incense waft in from the doorways and Bollywood's latest soundtracks blare from every other alleyway.

  • Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, 141 Serangoon Road, [1]. Little India's busiest and oldest temple, dating back to 1881 — although the present structure was completed in 1986. The temple is particularly busy on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Be sure to take your shoes off before venturing inside. Free.  edit

Do

The most extreme thing to do in Little India is to join the festival of Thaipusam, held yearly during the full moon in the lunar month of Thai (usually Jan/Feb). Male devotees attach ornate shrines to their flesh with piercing hooks known as kavadi and walk across town in a day-long procession. Female devotees would usually just carry a pot of milk on their head and join the procession. The procession starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and proceeds to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple at Tank Road.

Around Deepavali, the Hindu festival of light, Serangoon Road is festively decorated (with lights, of course!) and open-air markets are set up to sell Deepavali goodies. Like Thaipusam, the exact date is set by the lunar calendar, but it takes place in October/November and is a public holiday. Near the beginning of Deepavali, the fire walking festival of Thimithi is held, where many male devotees will walk across a platform of burning coal. Though the actual fire walking takes place at the Sri Mariammam temple in Chinatown, the procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and makes its way to Chinatown early in the morning where the fire walking commences.

A more low-key event happens every Sunday evening when a half-million workers from the subcontinent turn up in Little India to hang out on their day off. Most of the crowd is friendly enough, but inevitably a few get into drunken fights and there's a heavy police presence about to keep an eye on things.

Buy

The central streets of Little India are packed with stalls selling all sorts of Indian goods. Two giant shopping centres, however, are unique not just in Little India but all of Singapore:

  • Mustafa Centre, 145 Syed Alwi Road (off Serangoon Rd near Farrer Park MRT), +65-62955855, [2]. Singapore's supreme discount department store: floor after floor of absolutely everything at rock-bottom prices, ranging from Rolex watches and washing machines to fresh mangoes, bags of lentils, tailored suits and airline tickets. Open 24 hours; the exchange counters in front are probably the best place in Singapore to exchange any currency you can think of (and many you can't) at competitive rates. Note: There are now many mini-Mustafa outlets scattered along Serangoon Rd, but the original and by far the largest is the one facing Syed Alwi Rd.  edit
  • Sim Lim Square, 1 Rochor Canal Road. Not actually in Little India but right across the street, Sim Lim is Singapore's Akihabara, a giant electronics mecca squeezed into one building, with hundreds upon hundreds of tightly packed specialist stores offering some of the most competitive prices for computers and consumers electronics in Asia. The first floor is for tourists, the upper floors and the back corridors are where the real deals can be found. Watch out for pricing tricks (omitting tax, selling included accessories separately, etc) and the occasional outright substitution fraud; unless you know exactly what you're doing and/or need something unusual, you might want to shop at Mustafa instead. Check out the pricelists at VR-Zone [3], comparing shops in Sim Lim, before you go. Sim Lim Tower, just across the street, also has a few shops but pales in comparison sizewise.  edit

The other shopping options in Little India cater more to the Indian market:

  • Little India Arcade, Campbell Lane. A narrow pathway through a cluster of restored shophouses, filled to the brim with Indian clothing, accessories, incense and a rather good Indian sweet shop (#01-16).  edit
  • Naranjan Electronics, 154 Race Course Rd (Farrer Park MRT). Small shop for basic electronics like digital cameras and mobile phones, with bargain-basement prices. Try to check your goods before you leave though, as these guys have a strict (and theoretically illegal) no-returns-whatsoever policy.  edit
  • Tekka Mall (The Verge), 2 Serangoon Road. Little India's first and only modern air-conditioned shopping mall, and rather soulless when compared to the bustle outside. In the process of being rebranded as the IT-oriented The Verge in a bid to compete with Sim Lim, just around the corner. The adjoining Foodmore food court is not bad if you want something other than Indian food.  edit

Waiter, there's a fish head in my curry

One speciality of Little India is fish head curry, a uniquely Singaporean dish. It's one of the stranger-sounding and admittedly stranger-looking dishes around: no, you don't eat the head itself, but there's plenty of meat to be found inside as the head in question barely fits on a plate! Cooked so long that it falls apart when poked at, just dig in and pile up the bones on your table. Eyeballs are not eaten, but the Chinese think the connective tissue behind it is the best part of the dish.

There are two types of fish head curry in Singapore, Chinese and Indian. Little India's fish head places unsurprisingly mostly serve the Indian kind, which is usually spicy and hot. Most specialty restaurants are on or near Race Course Rd, conveniently located between the Little India and Farrer Park MRT stations.

The thing to eat in Little India is obviously Indian food. Both southern and northern cuisines are well represented, food is cheap even by Singaporean standards, portions are generous and vegetarians in particular will have a field day. Note that these are authentic Indian places and people around you will be eating the way Indians do, namely by hand — it's best to shed your inhibitions and dig in, although cutlery can be provided on request.

  • Jaggis North Indian Cuisine, 34 Race Course Rd, +65-296-6141 (fax: +65-296-0780), [4]. Caters to meat-eaters too with a selection of tandoori dishes. Set meals available, or mix and match at the counter. $3 and up.  edit
  • Kasturi Restaurant, 1 Roberts Lane, +65-62995510. North Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisine, meals from $2 upwards.  edit
  • Komala Vilas, 76-78 Serangoon Road (and other branches around town), +65-6293-6980, [5]. 11:30AM-10:30PM. A Singaporean institution featuring purely vegetarian Indian food. Downstairs is fast food, head up for restaurant-style seating and serving. Sets start at less than $3 and even the largest platter of breads and dips will cost less than $7. Note that gourmands prefer the original outlet over the many franchised fast-food copies, and that not all dishes are available all day. South Indian set meal upstairs is $6.50 with top-ups.  edit
  • Saravana Bhavan, 84 Syed Alwi Rd, +65-6297-7755, [6]. 8 AM-11 PM. The Singapore branch of a restaurant chain from Chennai, serving up vegetarian Indian food. Get a massive set lunch for $4.80 or just order your favorites for a few dollars a piece. Try the rava dosa, a steal at $2.60.  edit
  • Sagar Ratna, 103 Syed Alwi Road (just across from Mustafa Cafe). Opened in the second half of 2005. Franchisee of a South Indian restaurant from Delhi, and serves up decent fare for reasonable prices. Set meals ($5-7) are good value, ordering a la carte will cost you more. The rasam (spicy lentil soup) in particular never fails to impress. Pure vegetarian.  edit
  • Banana Leaf Apolo, 54-58 Race Course Rd. 10 AM-10 PM daily. A well-known place for all sorts of South Indian food; no prizes for guessing what serves as the plate. Most visitors come here for the fish head curry, even the "small" size is enough for 3-4 and will cost you $18, plus $2.50 a head for rice, pappadams and dips.  edit
  • Khansama, 166 Serangoon Road, +65-62990300. Cheap coffeeshop-style eats downstairs (under $5) and a midrange air-con restaurant upstairs (mains $5-10). Generous portions if you don't mind their touts. Best known for its tandoori dishes and a wide selection of chaat appetizers.  edit
  • Lagnaa, 6 Upper Dickson Road (East off Serangoon Road, on the Southern side of the street), +65-62961215. Delicious Indian food from a very friendly owner. Upstairs is barefoot only with a very relaxed atmosphere. Offers cooking courses and also a "slave" deal: work for 3 hours to have one wish granted. Mains around S$9 (a la carte).  edit
  • Muthus Curry, 72-78 Race Course Rd. 10 AM-10 PM daily. Muthu's has a respectable claim to coming up with the idea of fish head curry; now run by the founder's son, this shop continues to draw the crowds. Fish head $16-25 (serves 3-4).  edit
  • Delhi Restaurant, 60 Race Course Rd (2nd branch on Serangoon Rd). Offers a more upmarket experience with vested waiters and a stack of awards posted on the wall. The menu features northern Indian food and has non-vegetarian selections as well; order a couple of Kingfisher beers to get pappadam with an excellent mint dip on the house. $30.  edit

Drink

Race Course Rd has some funky pubs and bars. Desker Road is Singapore's dingiest quarter of ill repute and best avoided, especially on Sundays.

Little India has quite a few sarabat stalls offering local drinks, especially teh tarik ("pulled tea", a Malaysian variant of sweet, milky Indian chai), also available in iced. A particularly popular one can be found at the intersection of Perak and Dunlop Rds, next to the mosque.

  • Prince of Wales, 101 Dunlop St, +65-62990130, [7]. Brightly painted Australian corner pub/hostel transplanted in Singapore, with Gippsland Gold draught beer shipped in, near-nightly live music and bizarre theme nights (eg. free drinks for guys in skirts). Drinks around $10, dorms $20, windowless double rooms $42/50 fan/aircon.  edit
Barbershop sign in Tamil
Barbershop sign in Tamil

Along with neighboring Bugis, Little India is Singapore's backpacker district and has many hostels offering cheap lodging, as well as some of the most affordable hotels in town. Note that some of the cheap hotels around Desker Rd cater to the sex trade.

Budget

Hostels

  • Ali's Nest, 23 Roberts Lane (off Serangoon Road, near Farrer Park MRT), +65 62 91 29 38, [8]. checkin: 28-04-09; checkout: 30-047-09. Possibly the cheapest hostel in Singapore, but for a reason: some travellers complain of bedbugs. No sign outside so look for the number. Price includes breakfast of toast and tea/coffee. Ali is helpful and well traveled. Dorm $12, rooms $20-30.  edit
  • Empire Residences, 202A Syed Alwi Road (corner of Jalan Besar), +65-91009123 (), [9]. New hostel located at the northern fringe of Little India, near Mustafa but rather far from the MRT. Free wifi and free breakfast. Dorm $22-$35, single $80 up.  edit
  • Fragrance Hostel, 63 Dunlop Street (2nd block East of the intersection with Clive Street), +6562956888 (), [10]. A new and clean, if slightly crowded, backpacker hostel/hotel. Rooms are 6 bunk dorms, but all have aircon. A member of the Fragrance Hotel Chain, which has branches of differing levels all around the city. Only a short walk from Little India MRT station, and right in the middle of Dunlop Street and the engaging madness of the Little India district. Dorm $20.  edit
  • Hangout @ Mt.Emily, 10A Upper Wilkie Road (7 min uphill from MRT Little India exit A), +65-64385588, [11]. No frills, just fun!", proclaims the recently renovated Mt. Emily Hostel. Sparkling clean primary colors and IKEA furniture make the rooms feel more like Oslo than Singapore. Free internet PCs, rooftop bar, laundry facilities, lockers, etc. Dorm $40, doubles $120.  edit
  • The Inn Crowd, 73 Dunlop Street, [12]. A friendly backpacker hostel with an excellent website. Prices include breakfast and internet access. Dorm $20, double $59.  edit
  • Mackenzie Hostel, 114-A MacKenzie Road (near Little India MRT), 68372887, [13]. dorm $15, single room $35, double room $40.  edit
  • Pass By Bed and Breakfast, 245 Jalan Besar, +65-63960812, [14]. Nice, clean and friendly staff. All rooms have aircon. Free simple breakfast and Internet. Be warned: the mattresses are covered in plastic, with a sheet on top. Dorm $18, twin $45.  edit

Hotels

  • Ambassador Hotel, 75 Desker Road, +65-63923944, [15]. Self-proclaimed charming boutique hotel, but it's smack dab in the middle of Singapore's dodgiest red-light district. Dingy inside - part of the same chain as Aspinals and Claremont. $90.  edit
  • Aspinals Hotel, 83 Syed Alwi Road, +65-63923944, [16]. Budget hotel near Mustafa. $90.  edit
  • Claremont Hotel, 301 Serangoon Road, +65-63924855, [17]. Recently renovated mid-range hotel, around the corner from Mustafa. $90.  edit
  • Penta Hotel, 33 Birch Road (Farrer Park MRT), +65-62996311. checkin: 02/11/2008; checkout: 07/11/2008. Rooms are air-conditioned and the location near Mustafa and the MRT is fairly good. $70.  edit
  • Shing Hotel, 165 Kitchener Road, +65-62912565, [18]. Basic but adequate accommodation within striking distance of Mustafa — and Desker Rd. $40-70.  edit
  • Tekka Boarding Service, 462 Serangoon Road, +65-62975038, [19]. Brand-new hotel promising minimalist design and maximum comfort. The prices certainly are among the cheapest around. $35/45 single/double.  edit
  • Tekka Hotel, 22 Belilios Lane, +65-62253378, [20]. No-frills hotel in the heart of Little India. Internet connectivity in rooms. Cockroaches aplenty. $59/69 single/double.  edit
  • Royal India Hotel, 88 Syed Alwi Road (opp Mustafa), +65-62977488, [21]. Another cheap hotel that's perhaps a small cut above the rest — their website advertises "homogenous tiles flooring", and offers discounts for advance booking. $100.  edit
  • Albert Court Hotel, 180 Albert Street, +65-63393939, [22]. Tastefully converted from pre-war shophouses, this boutique hotel is located diagonally opposite the Little India MRT Station, a block from Sim Lim Square and right beside the newly opened Lasalle College of the Arts. $120.  edit
  • Parkroyal on Kitchener, 181 Kitchener Road, +65-64283000, [23]. Probably the most upscale hotel in the neighborhood, 5 minutes from Mustafa and the Farrer Park MRT. Good value if you're willing to pay a small premium. $135.  edit
  • Perak Hotel, 12 Perak Road, +65-6299-7733, [24]. A tasteful, small, private guesthouse in a renovated Peranakan-style building. $150-180.  edit
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