Calling all daredevils.
As those winter chills become increasingly prevalent, who fancies a walk over four metres of burning hot coal to keep your extremities warm? Could be a great alternative to an electric heater…
While we agree it’s not for everyone (and definitely not for us…we have a low pain threshold and prefer to keep our limbs intact), the Thimithi (also spelt Theemidhi and Theemithi) Fire Walking Festival is certainly a sight to be seen if not participated in. In 2010, this famous Hindu festival will be held at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore’s Chinatown on the night of 24 October.
Think you can handle the cringe factor? Book a hostel in Singapore and check out the fire-walking action for free. Just remember to bring your camera – it’s only €1.66 to take some quality pics and, believe us, the minimal cost is more than worth it for those smouldering memories!
Why Fire Walking?
As with the majority of these unusual (read: incredibly-painful-sounding) festivals, the Thimithi Fire Walking ritual is steeped in centuries old tradition.
This annual ceremony is celebrated in honour of queen Draupadi of Mahabharata who, legend has it, once walked over a bed of burning coal to prove her innocence and purity. So the story goes, this worshipped queen came out of her ordeal completely unscathed – not a burn or scald to speak of.
Today, barefoot Hindus young and old walk across a bed of white-hot embers in honour of their worshipped queen. The procession begins from late evening of 24 October at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, where devotees take ritual baths before filing together on a trek to Mariamman Temple. At around 2am, the chief priest will be first to walk across the burning coals with the Karagam (sacred water-filled pot) balanced on his head. Following him will be a procession of male devotees intent on fulfilling personal promises, proving their faith and remembering the trials of Draupadi. It is said that if a fire-walker is not pure, he or she will fail the test and burn.
The most striking aspect? The majority of devotees come out of the red-hot coal bed completely unscathed. Umm…what? If someone could tell us how exactly this works, we would be more than grateful…Is there a scientific explanation? Or can this really all be related back to blind faith?
Chinatown Street Scene
While you’re definitely going to need a few hours sleep after all those overnight fire-walking festivities, we expect you could also do with a stiff drink, a nice cup or tea or both. Luckily, Chinatown offers up both such beverages, in addition to a range of other culinary and consumer delights.
Tea: There’s not much that a soothing cup of tea can’t do to calm those nerves and quell your internal cries of ‘oh-my-god-OUCH!’ Our best bet for afternoon ambience and a soothing cuppa is Tea Chapter on Neil Road, which offers everything from basic pots and introductions on brewing to tea art lessons and a range of interesting snacks, including a ‘Lychee Tea Jelly’ and a Chef Recommended ‘Tea Egg’. Perhaps even better for quality (although slightly lacking in ambience) is the nearby Yixing Xuan Teahouse, which comprises a typical tea artefact shop, teahouse and restaurant in one. A hot tip: make sure you ask to try the house Oolong tea, Beauty of the East.
Food: Needless to say, there is plenty of traditional Chinese food to go around in Chinatown! For a 24-hour post-fire-walking venue, check out Akbar Restaurant – a friendly coffee shop on Lim Teck Kim Rd offering a wide variety of Malay and Muslim Indian fare. Other great options for a budget meal on the go are the delicious steamed buns from Da Dong on Smith St, chicken rice with trademark chilli sauce from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at the Maxwell Centre or the famous freshly-baked egg tarts from Tong Heng bakery on South Bridge Rd. Inspired by all that fire-walking action and want to face your fears? Check out the Day & Night Herbal Soup shop at the Maxwell centre – they offer everything from six flavour chicken to pig brain soup…
Bars and pubs: While the ubiquitous karaoke boxes do still predominate, there are a number of upmarket wine bars and cocktail clubs dotting the streets of Chinatown near Club St and Ann Siang Hill. For a cozy and romantic option complete with generous sized cheese platters and an extensive wine list, check out Beaujolais Wine Bar. Budget seekers will also love O’Bama’s Irish Pub near Tanjong Pagar MRT, which offers a range of traditional Irish fare, live music, full GAA sports coverage and the cheapest pints in town!
Where to Stay
Fire Walking at the Thimithi festival is aptly held in Singapore’s traditional Chinatown district – an area of traditional medicines, riotous colours, expensive teas and oversized noodle bowls. Luckily you will find a range of budget hostels located smack-bang in the midst of this cultural arena. Our top pick is the centrally located A Beary Good Hostel, which offers spacious 12-bed dorm rooms complete with security, free wi-fi, net books, guest lounge and basic breakfast from €14.31 per night. Other good local options include the ServiceWorld Chinatown (Chin Swee) Hostel and Fernloft Hostel – Chinatown, both from €11.01 per night.
Keen to stay closer to Singapore City? Your best bet is to book a hostel near a local station from which you can take the MRT direct to Chinatown.
For more about what to do and see in Singapore check out this Singapore Travel Guide