Sikh Gurdwara in Phuket Town
Phuket, as I keep trying to say on this blog, has lots of history and culture, lots of festivals, a wide variety of people and religions, which is not surprising when you look on a map. Phuket is on the Andaman coast, would have made an ideal stopping off point on sea journeys with sheltered anchorages on the east coast, and then there was the tin mining boom and finally, in the last 30 years, the tourism explosion. All manner of people live here, work here, travel here. I am happy to say that Phuket is melting pot of different peoples and different religions. Most of the local people are either Buddhist or Muslim, with a large minority of people who are Buddhist but who also believe in old Chinese gods which becomes apparent during such events as the Vegetarian Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival. Phuket is full of Buddhist temples, Chinese shrines, Muslim Mosques and Christian Churches too! Having lived here for 12 years, and unless any local can offer me a hint to the contrary, I have to say there is no religious tension here. And let's not even start with the "Buddhism is not really a religion" argument. Everyone seems to get on just fine, no matter what they believe.
I noticed the Sikh temple (Gurdwara) in Phuket Town many years ago. It was opened in 2001, though the very first Sikh Gurdwara was built back in 1939 by "Sikhs who had come to Phuket to do Tin Mining and Railway Engineering under the supervision of the British". Tin Mining I can understand, but there is no railway in Phuket :)
For some reason, while driving around town a couple of weeks ago, I decided to stop and take a couple of photos of the Gurdwara. It's on the north side of town with "Monkey Hill" (Khao To Sae) as a backdrop. And there's a Hindu shrine just 100m south on the same road which I also visited (it was open, but there was nobody around). This new Gurdwara was built in 2001. There are quite a few Sikhs living in Phuket these days, many coming here to work in the hotel and tourism industry.
Actually, I had no intention of going inside, and the gate facing the street was shut .. but the door was open and someone was inside. Probably a little surprised to see my nose poking around. But I tell you what, if Thailand is the land of Smiles, then India is the land of "Come in!" .. the Sikh man who invited me inside was from India, but he said he'd been in Phuket for 6 years. Thanks for letting me inside. I asked to take a few photos. No problem. The ceiling was really amazing.
And then I found out that the Gurdwara has an elevator! An oddly modern contraption to be found in the worship place of ancient religion. Well, beats the stairs and fits neatly into a small building. I enjoyed the signs on the wall. Another sign said "Give a lot of time to improvement of yourself, then there is no time to criticize others". I like that. Well, I guess all religions have the same theme of basically being nice to people. Judge ye not. Not that you have to be religious to be a nice person. Debate ends here.
I was escorted in the elevator up to the Darbar Sahib (Prayer Hall).
We only stayed here a few minutes, after which I was asked to hold out both hands to receive a piece of sweet food, which I have found to be called Kara Parshad - a whole section on the guidelines for visiting a Gurdwara is in the SikhWiki website. Wish I'd read this before! And by complete coincidence, I have just right now (by looking at the aforementioned Sikhwiki website) found that tomorrow (April 13th) is International Turban Day!
After visiting the Darbar Sahib, we descended to the downstairs hall where 2 other Sikh guys (who were very quiet) went to make tea. I was told they had only been in Phuket for 1 month and had only been out of the Gurdwara once, on a quick drive around Phuket. They were also from India. The tea they made brought back some memories. I went to India for 1 month when I was 16, part of a "cultural exchange visit" organised between my school and a youth group in Bombay. The sweet, milky tea was a daily ritual. The tea in this Sikh Gurdwara in Phuket tasted just the same. Memories and new experiences. Such friendly guys. Sometimes a treasure can be found by looking more carefully at your own doorstep. Not sure if Confucius said that, maybe I just made it up, or maybe it was in a movie. But it's true.
I only poked my head around the corner, but was invited inside as a (clearly) non Sikh, and indeed a self confessed infidel and non-believer. Thank you to the volunteers at the Sikh Gurdwara in Phuket. Thank you for 30 minutes of peace. Something new and 25 year old memories of sweet tea. And yes, I did not realise that the cloth they gave me to cover my head made me look so silly. But you do have to cover your head in a Gurdwara. This was an unexpected experience, but you can only find something new by exploring. Even your own back yard has places you have not seen. And Phuket is a big back yard!
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