PHUKET: Travelling is my thing. And chances are itís yours too. For many of us it was the love of travel that brought us here to Phuket.
But whatís the point of living on one of the worldís most famous islands if you end up leaving it every weekend? Khao Sok, Khao Lak, Phang Nga, Phi Phi... all very tempting. But once in a while itís good to stay back, explore and find out that Phuket has more to offer than just beaches and nightlife.
One of the places where I liked to spend my weekends when I was still living in Bangkok was India Town, a small area where the air is filled with the aroma of paan and frying samosas, where you can have a cup of Indian chai and stock up your masala supply. Sadly, there is no India Town in Phuket. Luckily, there are Indians. You can look for them in Patongís tailor shops or local Indian restaurants, but I decided to look elsewhere Ė in Phuket Town.
Itís easy to find the Gurudwara Ė the Sikh Temple. Just ask for Wat Sikh. The massive building is hard to miss due to the golden domes topping its roof. It has been here for about 70 years. In the beginning, it was just a small structure; in 2002 it was developed into a three-storey building.
Donít be shy, leave your shoes on the door step and enter. One thing is for sure, youíll be welcomed with a smile. Walk around, take pictures, admire the intricately decorated ceilings, the carpets in the main prayer hall and the golden throne in the center. Accept a glass of water or a cup of tea when offered. Enjoy the atmosphere. But as with all travels, the best, most fascinating thing youíll encounter is the people. Sit down and have a chat, let one of the portly, bearded men introduce you to Sikhism, the worldís eighth biggest religion with almost 30 million followers that for many, remains mysterious and confusing.
"We Sikhs are not very good at marketing," Sharon Singhsachakul, a member of the local Sikh community, tells me. "The essence of Sikhism is one God that is present everywhere. Heís inside everyone and everything. Thatís why itís impossible to hate someone as God is in everybody. Thereís no hatred, no fear, no heaven or hell, God is everything," he proceeds to explain.
As hard as it is to miss the Gurudwara in Phuket Town, itís hard to miss a Sikh man on the street. The large turban, the long beard, the dagger dangling at his side. I ask Sharon what this is all about and he explains the meaning behind the symbols of Sikhism Ė the long hair hidden in the turban and the uncut beard (Kesh
) symbolizing holiness, strength and detachment from bodily matters; the dagger (Kirpan
) designed to protect the weak; a steel bracelet (Kara
) representing God without end or beginning. Thereís more Ė Kanga
Ė a wooden comb, Kachha
Ė special underwear. Together they make the 5 Ks of the Sikhs. At the end of his short lecture, Sharon invites me to come back on Sunday to see the prayers and take part in the Langar,
a traditional temple meal.
Iím back the next day, leave my shoes outside, cover my head with a piece of cloth and take the elevator to the third floor. When the doors open, I enter the vast prayer hall and sit at the back to observe the ceremony. Women are seated on the left side, men on the right Ė all facing the golden throne on which rests the Guru Granth Sahib,
the holy scripture. But what strikes me most is the traditional music, originating in the Indian state of Punjab. Itís live, performed by a "band" from a small stage on the side of the throne. Drums, harmonium and a male voice of incredible power and scale. Itís simply beautiful.
Once the service is finished, Iím invited to the ground floor to eat. All food here is vegetarian and all delicious. A toothsome combination of Indian and Thai curries, rice, noodles and sweets. Everybody dines sitting on the floor to underline the equality of all. The food tastes great, the setting is unusual, the atmosphere remarkable. When Iím invited again, I already know I will accept and go.
The Sikh Temple is located at 8 Suthat Rd., A. Muang, Phuket 83000. This article first appeared in current issue (August 17-23) of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.