Our last day in London had arrived. After our serene and peaceful early-morning kayak tour on Regent’s Canal we freshened up quickly, grabbed a bite to eat and got ready for our final adventure in London: a guided tour of Southall, one of London’s many fascinating ethnic neighbourhoods.
Beautiful dresses at reasonable prices
Punctually at 11 am our personal tour guide, Anne Mark, picked us up and whisked us onto one of the modern double-decker buses that form the backbone of London’s above-ground public transit system. Donning a colourful Shalwar Kameez (a traditional Indian dress), Anne was perfectly dressed for our excusion to Southall, often referred to as “Little India”, a suburb with a population of about 90,000 people on the western end of London.
Anne Mark, our cosmopolitan Blue Badge tour guide
Southall is also the location of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the largest Sikh Temple outside of India, an impressive white marble and granite building with stained glass windows and a gilded dome. More than 54% of the population hails from India, while another 11% have come from Pakistan. These immigrants have brought the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of their homelands with them, and we were ready to sample a slice of South Asia on the west side of London.
A great place for fashion shopping
While we were riding on the bus, enjoying a great view from the upper deck, Anne gave us a bit of an idea of her own eclectic background. Anne founded a company called Marksman Tours that provides personal sightseeing tours in London as well as throughout England and the UK. Anne is an official Blue Badge Guide, a prestigious designation that is awarded by the Institute of Tourist Guiding. The training for London Blue Badge Guides takes on average eighteen months and includes an extensive curriculum of the history, architecture and the social development of the country.
Street scene in Southall
Anne is an interesting story herself. She had always loved math, and after completing a degree in economics, she became a successful investment banker. After many years in that career she became a Museum Finance Director before finally deciding to become a full-time freelance tour guide. Today Anne Mark is certified to provide tours in five languages: English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish. She also speaks some Portuguese having lived in Brazil. Given my love for foreign cultures and languages, it was a pleasure to meet this cosmopolitan individual with this beautiful openness to the world.
As a matter of fact, Anne had just recently travelled to India herself, and the striking Indian dress she was wearing was a purchase from her recent trip. We were obviously dealing with someone who has a great deal of respect and admiration for South Asian culture, so Anne was the perfect expert to show us around Southall.
Colourful foot fashion
After riding on two double-decker buses we had finally reached our destination and hopped off on High Street in Southall. The bright colours of the South Asian stores immediately jumped at us, and we started slowly walking down the main street. The first store we stopped at was called Chhappan Bhog, a South Asian pastry store. The young lady behind the counter kindly showed me the entire assortment of sweet pastries that was on display in the glass case.
Great customer service at Chhappan Bhog
She explained some of the main ingredients in these sweets which include, for instance, chick pea flour, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and lentil flour. One section of the pastries was exclusively composed of milk products. Other non-sweet choices included samosas (stuffed pastries) and batatas (potato balls).