The Little India Heritage Trail is the 16th heritage trail by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and it features over 40 heritage sites with 18 heritage markers across four kilometres that detail the history of the precinct which dates back to the 1800s. It goes the extra mile by having specially curated thematic routes to cater to visitors, and the three bite-sized thematic routes are:
'Serangoon in the 1900s' (40 minutes) – This route takes visitors on a historical trail to learn about the early communities that settled in the area in the early 20th century. The route starts with a visit to the Indian Heritage Centre, before heading to familiar sites like Tekka Centre, the Former Kandang Kerbau Hospital, and the Former House of Tan Teng Niah – the only remaining Chinese villa in Little India, which is a reminder of the early days where small Chinese cottage industries thrived alongside the Indian-dominated cattle trade in the area.
'Walk of Faiths' (1 hour) – This route features the many different places of worship on the Little India Heritage Trail, and provides insight into the different religions and communities that have co-existed in the precinct since the early days. This trail will help visitors to gain insight into the different religious spaces, architecture and practices found in the precinct. It is the longest route on the Little India Heritage Trail, and it covers iconic National Monuments such as the Abdul Gafoor Mosque and the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. Other sites include the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church and the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple – a Thai-Buddhist temple built with donations from the founders of the Tiger Balm ointment that houses a 300-ton statue of Buddha.
'Shop Till You Drop' (30 minutes) – This route allows visitors to enjoy the myriad of retail offerings in Little India, while learning more about the traditional businesses in the district. The trail offers visitors a chance to try authentic Indian food at Singapore's oldest Indian vegetarian restaurant, purchase traditional clothing and even look for bargains at the various shops lined along the streets.
Heritage visitors in Singapore can now enjoy an augmented experience via their mobile devices. NHB kick started its pilot Physical Web experience for its heritage trails with Bluetooth technology.
A handful of us were invited to experience the first-hand launch of the Little India Heritage Trail Physical Web Experience. Before starting on the trail, we were advised to prepare our mobile devices.
For iOS users, you will have to download Chrome, add it as a widget, and then enable the ‘Physical Web Function’. For Android users, just grant Chrome location permission and set privacy to ‘Physical Web’ before turning on the same setting! Beacons installed at each trail marker transmit a Bluetooth signal, which can be picked up by Android and iOS devices that have enabled Physical Web.
The Little India Heritage Trail brochure and map is available in four languages and can be downloaded from NHB’s Heritage Portal, ROOTS.SG. It will allow visitors to embark on their own self-guided trail, and select the route(s) that most interest them.
Printed copies of the trail brochure and maps are also available for pick-up at the Indian Heritage Centre. In case my explanation above wasn't very clear, Visitors can follow the following link to set up their devices to enable the Physical Web. They can also participate in a promotion to redeem gifts. More details are available here: https://roots.sg/physical-web
A range of merchandise, featuring landmarks along the Little India Heritage Trail, is also available for visitors looking for mementos of the trail experience. Developed by NHB’s MUSEUM LABEL, the merchandise will be sold at the various MUSEUM LABEL shops.
We kicked off our first visit to Little India Arcade, which is now a prominent landmark in the Little India district and houses an array of eateries and boutique shops offering sweets, curious items and other knick-knacks.
We used the Bluetooth beacons installed on the heritage markers along the trail, and it was a hassle-free experience! Through our mobile devices, these beacons enabled us to explore the history and stories around each marker in greater detail. It helped us identify the other heritage markers close by, and features simple directions to help us get to our next destination.
As we approached the marker, we received a notification on our mobile devices, allowing us to access exclusive content about the location we were at. The Physical Web experience also guided us along the trail by recommending nearby heritage sites. Integration with Google Maps ensured that we could find our way to get there easily.
We visited quite a number of heritage buildings during the heritage trail, and I will share with you guys on some of the heritage sites which left a deep impression on me.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is Singapore’s first temple dedicated to Veeramakaliamman or the goddess Kali, a fierce incarnation of Shiva’s wife and ‘Destroyer of Evil’. Hindus also believe that she destroys ignorance and protects her devotees by maintaining world order. Many pioneering Indian settlers here turned to her for a sense of security in a foreign land. They also asked the goddess for help in getting promoted or to be free from illness, while barren women sought her help to regain their fertility.
During the Japanese Occupation, the temple sheltered over 20 vagrants nightly and provided them with food. Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is a conserved building today.
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial
The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial was built following a visit by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950. Nehru himself laid the foundation stone on 18 June 1950. For Indians all over the world, Gandhi was a powerful symbol of peace as well as a national-cultural icon for his efforts during India’s struggle for independence. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic opposed to his concessions to those from other religions, particularly Muslims. Thereafter, memorials to commemorate Gandhi were built all over the world and serve as a reminder to Indians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus that they all belong to one brotherhood. The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial is a conserved building.
Foochow Methodist Church
The beginnings of the Foochow Methodist Church can be traced to the work of the German Methodist missionary, Dr HLE Luering, who started a mission in 1897 for rickshaw pullers, coolies and barbers from Foochow residing near Middle Road. The church was damaged during World War II when a shell exploded on the north-western corner of the building. In 1947, during the repairs to the church, its front was completely rebuilt. In 1950, the back of the church was rebuilt to match its front. Today the church runs a kindergarten, as well as various social welfare programmes.
Former House of Tan Teng Niah
Built in 1900, the Former House of Tan Teng Niah is the last surviving Chinese villa in Little India. Tan Teng Niah was a towkay (Chinese businessman of good standing) who owned several sweet-making factories along Serangoon Road that used sugarcane to produce sweets. The house was restored and conserved in the 1980s for commercial use, and the restoration project was awarded the Singapore Institute of Architects Honourable Mention in 1991.
Former Tekka Market
Built in 1915, Tekka Market was one of the most prominent landmarks along Serangoon Road during the first half of the 20th century. By the 1930s, Tekka Market had become very popular for its wide variety of fresh meat, vegetables and seafood. It was frequented mostly by people from the working class, hence it became known as the 'people’s market’.
When Tekka Market was demolished in 1982, most of the store- holders relocated to the new 'Zhujiao' Market across the street, with the new name being a hanyu pinyin rendition of 'Tekka' in the Chinese transliteration system. However, the market was later renamed Tekka Centre in November 2000 to reflect the history of the place after public feedback that 'Zhujiao' bore little resemblance to its old name.
We ended our heritage trail with a sumptuous lunch at the famous Indian restaurant, Banana Leaf Apolo. This eatery place keeps core values of ancient tradition by serving food on a freshly cut banana leaf, and this has become their signature. It has an excellent selection of Indian favourites, and the food is served on a traditional banana leaf which adds to the taste and flavour. It is also environmental friendly as it is organic and fully biodegradable.
Banana Leaf Apolo is one of the best restaurants that served delicious Indian cuisine, and I love the Fried Cauliflower, Papadums and the Fish Head Curry best! Thanks so much for the kind hospitality, and I was pleased with the efficient service too!
We had a well-guided day tour exploring Little India with the help of the Little India Heritage Trail Physical Web. Do make a trip down soon with your loved ones and friends to experience the goodness of the Physical Web yourself!
Thanks for having me at the meaningful event, which I learnt to appreciate the past that lead to what we have now today! Thanks Tactics PR and NHB for the invite, and do visit www.nhb.gov.sg for more information.