Have you heard of Bobigny, France? Probably not. I hadn’t either until June 2015. That summer, my mother, younger sister and I paid a visit to Paris for just three short days as part of a longer London trip. We of course visited the major cultural sites in and around Paris – Eiffel Tower, Louvre, North Dame, Versailles – all in summer heat and humidity. So what took us to the outskirts of Paris , to the town of Bobigny? Thanks to Google, I discovered there was a Sikh Gurdwara in Paris! Paris but not really Paris. Bobigny is about an hour from the main center of Paris by the Metro 5 line. A 10-15 minute walk or light rail train ride will then take you inside the northeastern suburb of Paris. That suburb in turn has a large Sikh community and features a large Sikh Gurdwara located on 16 Rue de la Ferme. Bobigny in all honesty reminded me of Queens, New York. It was just outside a major metropolitan city, was more residential, featured immigrant communities. The pace and vibe was very different from Paris with its crowds and famed tourist attractions. For example there were many cash and carry South Asian grocery stores in Bobigny. I felt at home in the area, as did mom and sister. It was nice to escape the energetic, lovely but touristy parts of Paris and instead experience peaceful, everyday life of the French, many of them immigrants trying to establish themselves in a new land.
When I arrived at the footsteps of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha France, it was surprising to see how large it was. I stood in awe of its beautiful yet simple mustard yellow facade. I was expecting smaller for some reason but was pleasantly and happily surprised. Bobigny features a good sized Sikh community in the several thousands so a large Gurdwara for Sikhs to center their lives makes sense. Inside the Gurdwara, we saw many young Sikh children speaking in France which brought a smile to our face. My mother, sister and I were welcomed with open arms and we couldn’t have been happier. The sewadars (volunteers) shared the history of the Gurdwara, invited us to eat langar (vegetarian meal) with the sangat (congregation); we went at a very opportune time when there was small diwan going on with a good sized sangat so we were able to take it all in. The hall was beautifully decorated with a predominately blue and yellow color scheme; one of the distinguishing features was an elaborate ceiling with decorated art and an ornate dome with painted khandas and Gurmukhi scripture. [photo on left] We were especially happy to eat food and drink which reminded us of home: roti (flatbread), daal (prepared lentils) and warm chai (spiced milk tea) even in the warm summer heat. My mother especially could not get over her excitement of eating roti and daal. Langar makes mom happy!
The visit to Singh Sabha enhanced, elevated our short trip to Paris and made it a bit more personal. Since it was summer in France and there was sunlight until well after 11pm, we ended our day in the center of Paris (where we were staying) and visited the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the famous Champs de Elysees. We were so happy to experience two different worlds and cultures in one short evening. It enriched our travels. Our lives. An unforgettable three days in France.