Throwback: I “broke” into a Chiang Mai Gurdwara

Given the title of this post, I probably sound like an incredibly bad person. Absolutely downright awful. Just terrible. But hold on and hear me about. It’s a story with a memorable ending. After all, traveling is all about creating new memories.

Thailand has about 20 Sikh temples, or Gurdwaras. My trip to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) was 19 days long;  a visit to the Sikh temples in Bangkok and Chiang Mai was a part of my planned itinerary. Coincidentally the trip also was during the time of Bandi Chor Diwas. Sadly, we did get a chance to visit Gurdwara (GW) on that specific day. Our travel group had a planned dinner at a local’s house. The food and hospitality were downright amazing. But that’s another story for another blog post. So now back to this post. Big question. So did I really break into a GW? Not really but you can credit that tagline to my younger sister. Read on. The setting is in Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand. A beautiful earthy city situated amongst the mountains and featuring many bustling night markets and bazaars.

I really wanted to visit the two GWs located in Chiang Mai. We were only in the city for three days so my sister and I decided to visit both on the same day. It was our of self-guided Gurdwara tour. Both were luckily walking distance from the centrally located Le Méridien hotel. Our first visit was to the Namdhari Sikh Temple! Fun fact – it’s also referenced in Thailand’s Lonely Planet! We were warmly welcomed at the GW and offered chai (South Asian milk tea) and snacks by the Gurdwara’s bhai saab . He asked about our trip, what we’ve seen so far, how we like Thailand. We also shared stories about life in America and how we many gurdwaras in NJ and NY.  Bhaisaab also gave us milk cartons as parsaad. We were really happy to spend some time with Sikh locals. Unfortunately there was no diwan taking place at that time. After the Sikh Temple, we continued on our mini GW tour. Next stop? The “Siri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara” which is over 100 years old. It built and established in 1907 by a few Sikhs who had migrated to Chiang Mai. We proceeded to walk across the Ping River’s Chansom Bridge to the east side of Chiang Mai. It was easy to identify the GW facade from the bridge as it was easily distinguishable among the other buildings located in its vicinity. Here’s a fun fact: a description of the bridge’s history was provided in three languages: Thai, English and Punjabi.I was really excited to see the sign in Punjabi and attempted to read it out loud like a crazy girl. My sister videotaped the entire thing and it sure is embarrassing. Definitely not for the Internet. Needless to say, I was still so excited and my sister was naturally amused. Now comes the interesting part. We reached the GW’s entrance located on Charoenrat Road and see that the front door is locked. We can’t get in! I am pretty disappointed. We try to look in and see if there’s someone around but no luck. Not one to quit so easily, I walk to the side of the building and look around. There’s a side door there. I try to see if it will turn and open. No luck. Then we hear birds chirping. Birds chirping?! As I try to figure out a way into the GW, my sister stands quietly behind me. I think she’s telling me we should just turn around and head back. I am almost ready to leave (alas!) but we finally see someone approaching the side door.  My sister in somewhat sarcastic tone is like “Wow, great. You broke into the Gurdwara”!  I remember thinking “wow, that sounds terrible but also funny.” So we basically woke up the GW bhaisaab; the “birds chirping” sound as an alarm and it probably woke him up; he had the doors locked for his protection since he was alone. Bhaisaab lets us into the GW. We greet him with a “Sat Sri Akal” and he returns our greeting. Bhaisaab introduces himself as Charanjeet Singh. There’s no  diwan program going at the time but we still pay a visit to the main hall and sit down for a short bit. After visiting the hall, we come back downstairs. We start asking questions about the history of the Gurdwara and the local Sikh community. Bhaisaab tells us the special diwan program for Bandi Chor Diwas the next day (which we sadly could not attend) and how they recently had a kirtan and paath (service) for the late King who passed away recently. So what really struck me about our conversation? The mention of different communities living in peace and harmony in the Chiang Mai area. In what seems like an incredibly divided world at times, this was a wonderful thing to hear about. We’re told that many non Sikhs attend GW and many Sikhs attend services hosted by other religions and cultures. So there’s this great exchange of beliefs and cultures.

Now switching to a somewhat lighter topic. In terms of deco, the interior of the GW include many photos of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej who passed away on October 13 2016. There were a lot of posters on Sikhism on the inside walls as well. On the outside: the main entrance of the GW had the black and white ribbons as a way to honor and remember the legacy of the late King.

I would have loved to attend an actual diwan while in Chiang Mai. I’d love to see how it compares to the United States: Is SikhiToMax used and is it also provided in the Thai language? Are GW announcements made in Thai and Punjabi? Which language(s) does the community generally converse in? All these questions mean I need to visit Thailand and Chiang Mai again.

All in all, it was a memorable day and I’m glad we (two sisters) were able to take our mini self-guided tour in the lovely northern city of Chiang Mai. Even if it meant “breaking in”. Which I didn’t really do.

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