Women in their colorful sarees with painted foreheads prancing about, bargaining with street hawkers selling fragrant incense, spices and flower garlands to serve the Hindu deities resting inside temples that rise amidst all the bustle and chaos as sculptural marvels – this wee locale is truly a melting pot of Indian culture and heritage.
Complete Travel Guide (Shopping, Hotels, and Restaurants):
Little India has become quite a popular tourist destination for anyone who wishes to experience the unique lifestyle, art and delicacies of India in under a day.
Little India located near Serangoon river, is one of the oldest districts in Singapore. It originated in 1855 and was built up by the Tamils – Natives sent from south east India, who were primarily prisoners under the British rule and chose to stay back after they were released.
Trade flourished in little India back in the 1900s mainly because of cattle trade and its significance has been reflected in the naming of several roads in the colony such as ‘kerabu road’ (kerabu in Malay means Buffalo).
As the demand for places of worship among the community grew, temples such as Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and Narasinga Perumal Kovil were constructed, adding to the socio-cultural development of the district.
A large portion of the present day population comprises of laborers from Tamil Nadu who were offered jobs in Singapore. Through its rich, unique cultural heritage and history, Little India had been a significant contributor to the development of Singapore as a country.
How to reach:
Little India, more popularly known as ‘Tekka’ in Singapore is quite popular and easy to find. It is located right across from China town and can be reached by moving east along the Singapore River.
From the city, it can be easily reached by riding the MRT to Little India station and by taking exit E to race course road.
What to see:
Little India has a wide range of activities that attract varying groups of people. Be it a family on a vacation or a group of young energetic nomads who wish to unwind. There is always something for everyone.
The ambiance of this place is a unique combination of south Indian and Chinese traditional architecture. Picture perfect downtown alleyways abutted by colorful building facades
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Photograph by Cidi M.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is located in Serangoon Road and is one of the oldest, most culturally driven and most visited places in Little India. It is characteristic of the Tamil’s style of temple architecture, being built by the laborers who settled here in 1881. The migrants wanted a strong presence before their eyes to make them feel at home while at a foreign land and what better reason to construct a temple?
It features the great powerful goddess Kali as the main deity because the people believed Kali to be the Destroyer of Evil and they needed to feel safe while being away from home.
Most of the people who visited this temple were the ones who worked at lime kilns and thus, they named the temple “Soonambu Kambam Kovil” which means “Temple of the lime village”.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple:
In the late 1800s, a few influential community leaders who had contacts with the East India Company wanted to build a temple specifically for Vaishnavites – the ones who worship Lord Vishnu, and that resulted in building the ‘Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple’.
This is also located in the Serangoon Road. Due to its unique architecture, this temple was declared as a National Monument by the Preservation of Monuments Board in 1978.
The temple would have festivities in full swing on the days of Brahmotsavam (last week of September/first week of October, Vaikunda Ekadasi (December).
Temple of Thousand Lights:
Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, also known as the temple of Thousand Lights was built by a Thai monk in 1927. It is located in the Race Course Road in Little India. The architecture of this building combines features from India, China, and Thailand.
Due to this uniqueness and the originality, this temple is one of the most visited and the largest Buddhist cultural monuments in Singapore.
House of Tan Teng Niah:
Sitting proudly at 37 Kerabu road, right at the centre of the neighborhood, it is clearly one of the most vibrant and colorful attractions in little India.
Although the house is of Chinese architecture reminiscent of Chinese colonization of Singapore, credit goes to the Indian community for its renovation, maintenance, and repainting. The picturesque, lively mansion is an ideal spot for selfies and photo shoots and is the only traditional Chinese survivor in a predominantly Indian locale.
Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub
The next thing you would need after a dose of culture is a place to relax and unwind with your spouse or friends.
Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub in Dunlop Street- an Australian pub located 450m from the MRT station has a very relaxed ambiance.
This place has one of the cheapest liquor and food that you can get in the locality. It also supports the Independent Music Scene so you can get to see local bands performing here regularly.
Where to eat:
Be it mouth-watering, freshly made south Indian thalis or fragrant biriyanis with luscious cooked meat on beds of soft rice this tiny district is truly a tantalizing joy ride for your taste buds. Little India’s hotels and street stalls offer a wide spectrum of pocket-friendly dining choices for all predilections.
The curry culture:
If you’re someone who enjoys authentic Indian cuisine and would want to experience its unique flavors and sheer variety without burning a hole in your pocket, then curry culture is the right place for you.
This restaurant, located on the village road, offers a wide range of scrumptious of Indian delights from fish curry to chicken tikka masala across the varied scale of spiciness – 1 being tolerable for a European native to 10 – a hardcore desi. With appropriately sized delectable portions, discreet, friendly service and sheer variety, this restaurant is guaranteed to offer you a memorable dining experience.
The banana leaf apolo:
One of the most popular and highly recommended restaurants, banana leaf apolo is almost always crowded during peak hours. However, it’s an excellent choice for a small group gathering. The restaurant, located at 54 race course road, lives up to its name and serves its food on fresh plantain leaves- an eco-friendly alternative to plates.Some absolutely yummy dishes offered in this restaurant include the fish head curry, biriyani, kolhapuri and masala chai.
Khansama Tandoor restaurant:
Located at 166 Serangoon road, this restaurant offers enjoyable tandoor buffet lunches as well as a la carte dishes at reasonable prices. If you’re feeling so hungry that you could eat a whole lamb, then fret not! Try the legendary and delicious whole cooked leg marinated lamb at this quaint restaurant.
Located at Serangoon road, this restaurant boasts of authentic south Indian breakfast. Famous for its idli and Dosa sets, it also has a splendid selection of north Indian food. This restaurant is more suited for takeaways.
Be sure to try the mouthwatering chaat sold here, especially the bhel puri – made with spices and puffed rice, and the flavourful pani puri. This eatery is a favorite among the recent immigrant Tamils who miss home – cooked food.
The Tekka centre:
Tekka centre located in the corner of Bukit Timah road and Serangoon road is a busy place with a great atmosphere. It contains, not only shops that sell sarees, fabric, and meat, but also hundreds of stalls serving a variety of affordable, traditional, freshly made Indian food.
If you want to rest and unwind after a day of relentless shopping, you could opt for dinner with beer which is just 10 dollars here. With the bustling crowd, Bollywood music echoing from stalls and storefronts and the faint aroma of curry and meat in the air, this place is what one might call ‘a true Indian experience’.
If you’re a fan of biriyani – which is fragrant rice cooked in a tasty curry made chicken/ mutton or boiled egg, this small outlet which boasts of being the ‘Biriyani specialist’ would definitely tantalize your taste buds. Allauddin’s biriyani is located inside tekka centre. It is one of the most pocket-friendly stalls there and it’s known for its fast and friendly service.
Where to shop:
Although the shopping scene in Singapore is dominated by Gleaming mega malls with swanky showrooms set in air conditioned spaces, little India presents a very different experience that would leave you with a lasting impression.
A wide range of Indian and Asian products, souvenirs and artifacts, just as diverse as the people there being sold in bustling street markets would make you redefine your shopping goals.
Being one of the most vibrant yet crowded roads in the locality, Buffalo road is the best place to go if what you’re in search of is dried spices and fresh farm produce.
Bounded by multicolor facades of the Indian and Malay influenced architecture, Buffalo road truly comes to life at dusk with fresh street food and loud guffaws of socializing locals.
The MRT station opens out directly into Buffalo road, making it one of the first places to explore once you reach little India.
Located at the Sungei road – half way between Little India MRT and Bugis MRT, the odd name of this place stems from the fact that back in the day, this bustling road hosted flea markets selling stolen goods. However now, all the goods on sale are legitimate and regulated.
Thieves market is the right place for antique enthusiasts and bargain hunters. Flocks of people come here to browse through lines of street stores selling vintage clothes, trinkets, souvenirs and artwork.
From its inception in 1973 as a small 900 sq.ft shop space selling a variety of electronic items at Serangoon road, Mustafa centre has seen exceptional growth till date. Years of slow and careful planning and the growing clientele is responsible for this place developing into the ‘shopping paradise’ it is today.
This huge complex of buildings containing narrow isles packed with stalls selling a vast assortment of Indian and south Asian specialty goods would require a day or two to explore thoroughly. There is a unique abundance of designer products at low prices, be it watches, bags or textiles. It is infamous for it jewelry showrooms where gold and silver products could be bought at inexpensive rates. It is also known for its souvenir gift shops selling traditional Asian artifacts and hand crafted accessories.
In a nutshell, Mustafa centre is a shopping hub known for its plethora of goods ranging from rare Indian spices and essential oils to high tech electronics, from Chinese and Indian wooden artifacts to designer watches and saris, from small food stalls selling Asian specialty dishes to swanky bars and restaurants. It is a must visit place offering a unique and varied shopping experience.
Little India arcade:
This playful array of shops at Serangoon road has within it, a selection of stalls and open markets selling everything Indian- from beautifully sequined sarees to dried herbs and exotic spices, from traditional artwork and crafts, to fragrant incense and sweets.
You could also get your hand painted with intricate henna patterns or try your hand at tie dye and traditional Indian block printing. Once could also purchase fresh vegetables and farm produce in bulk at the cheapest prices.
Where to stay:
If you’re a fan of wonderfully weird hipster themed boutique hotels then head to hotel wanderlust at Dickson road in Little India.
If you’re more of a luxe traveler who doesn’t mind the trading cost for the class, then Parkroyal on the Kitchener road or Village hotel Albert would offer you a classy and comfortable stay.
Head to hotel 81 Dickson or hotel 81 Rochor if you’re in search of more pocket-friendly options.