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View of Silicon Valley from Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple San Jose California

Visit Sikh Gurdwara Sahib Temple in San Jose

The city of San Jose, California has many hidden gems within the valley. Often overshadowed by it’s neighbor San Francisco, some of the great places can become ignored. What this really means though, is that you can have a more intimate experience where you won’t be beleaguered by tourists. We recently stumbled upon the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib Temple, and it is fantastic.

A Sikh Temple Overlooking the Silicon Valley

First and foremost, one should note that Gurdwara Sahib is an active Sikh temple. It was founded in 1985 by the then growing Sikh community. In 1995, leaders bought land outside of the city to begin construction of what would become the largest Gurdwara in North America at 90,000 sq ft.

Kyle and Briana in front of Gurdwara Sahib

Visiting Gurdwara Sahib

We really had no idea about the temple. Briana managed to stumble upon it as a picture on the internet, and instantly our thoughts were, “We have to go there.” With a little research, we soon knew what we needed to know.

The temple stands above the valley, about halfway up a mountain at 3636 Murillo Ave San Jose , CA 95148.

The drive is simple enough to make, and the temple is so prominent that you cannot miss it when you pass by.

Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple

There is plenty of parking, and unless you are visiting during a morning prayer, you should have no difficulty finding a spot.

Enter Gurdwara Sahib, a Place of Worship

At first, we weren’t really sure how to go about visiting. We enjoyed the front fountain and the views of Silicon Valley before us. This spot is a great selfie-spot, and attracts many people. Luckily, the friendliness of the families and worshippers quickly made us feel comfortable enough to proceed in.

Briana posing by the fountain
Fountain view of Silicon Valley

The front building is where you should enter. In here you will find a place to store your shoes, divided into men’s and women’s areas. I wasn’t aware of this, and actually stored my shoes in the women’s section – luckily it didn’t seem to be a big deal.

Shoe locker in Gurdwara Sahib

Then, we took the fresh linens called rumaals provided to cover our hair. Both men and women are expected to cover their heads. Men wear a turban, while women wear it as a shawl. But as a visitor, the only important thing here, is to do your best and cover it. If you aren’t sure, there should be an attendant or someone who will help you.

Covering up for Gurdwara Sahib

As well, there is a poster on the walls that will instruct you on exactly what you need to know.

Gurdwara Sahib Instructional Poster

Be aware that you should dress conservatively here. Wearing pants, and covering up your shoulders and knees should be fine though. We saw a few people who were wearing shorts, but you should err on the side of respect.

Interior of the entry hall at Gurdwara Sahib San Jose

Chants and Songs of Praise

We then proceeded through the back doors of the front building, leading to a covered walkway lined with flowers, that brought us to the main prayer hall. The prayer hall is huge. Upon opening the doors, you are greeted to the welcoming, yet completely foreign sound of Punjabi singing.

Flowers at Gurdwara Sahib
Prayer Hall of Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple San Jose

Sitting down, you find that the floor provides you with the softest carpet. It’s very easy to simply sit and listen here. On the wall opposite the entrance, there are large projection screens that show what is being sung with English translation. It is a nice touch that provides context to visitors such as us who have no clue to what is going on.

Who are Sikhs?

Sikhs are followers of the Sikh faith based on the teachings of Guru Nanak. The faith is a relatively recent religion that developed out of persecution in the Punjab region of what is today northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan around 1520 CE.

The Travels of Guru Nanak

Sikhs believe in one God, who is omnipresent. They are very tolerant of other religions, with a basic belief that all religions are worshipping the same God, just through different interpretations. The important emphasis is to have a union with God, to provide service to the community, and to promote justice and equality.

The Three Pillars of Sikhism

Of course, this is only an incredibly brief summation.For the curious, check out a far more in depth explanation here. Or, ask a Sikh! San Jose is home to a very large Sikh population, many of whom will be glad to provide further insight.

Quick Facts:

  • 5th largest religion in the world
  • Sikhs have been in the United States for 100 years
  • 99% of all people wearing turbans are Sikh
  • 700K Sikhs live in the United States
  • 25 million Sikhs practice world wide

View through the arch

Familial Hospitality and Delicious Food at the Langar Hall

Now I must admit, that a significant reason why I wanted to visit Gurdwara Sahib was the Langar Hall. What is the Langar Hall? It’s the food hall. Present at all Gurdwaras, Langar Halls provide food to anyone who visits, free of charge.

We exited the prayer room after listening for about twenty minutes. In the back right of the complex is another large room – the Langar Hall. You grab a metal tray, get in line, and get served absolutely delicious food.

Interior of Langar Hall Gurdwara Sahib

As per the religion, the food is vegetarian. It is also traditionally Punjabi. For those unfamiliar with what that means, it’s simply Indian food that you are most likely familiar with – with the exception of chicken tikka, that is actually British. We were served a thali set of Aloo Matar, curried beans, roti, rice pudding, and a sour yogurt curry I can’t identify. It was incredibly delicious and filling.

Thali Plate in the Langar Hall

Now, while the food is free – we suggest that you leave a donation in the donation box as we did. We feel that the Sikh community is very humble, and expected nothing of us, while offering us extraordinary hospitality – the least we could do was donate. Another option, is that you can volunteer to serve there as well.

We sat on carpets on the floor to eat. Ultimately, we were welcomed to the temple and we truly enjoyed the experience and the food. The food does change day to day, so we cannot tell you what you will get when you visit. Just be sure not to take more than you can eat.

Langar Hall Dining Carpet

Closing Sunset

We made our way out of the temple just as the sun was beginning to set. This was Briana’s primary desire for visiting. As we had seen before when we arrived, the fountain overlook provided for excellent views.

Sikhs watching the sunset
Looking towards home
Briana Looking over Silicon Valley
View of Silicon Valley and Spider

After the sun disappeared behind the Santa Cruz mountains, we made our way to the car and drove home. The Gurdwara Sahib temple is a wonderful place to visit in San Jose.

Check their website for hours and day to day events.

~K~

Kyle wearing a bandana

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Guarded by a giant golden statue, with the cacophonous yells of monkeys, you’ll find the Batu Caves looking down upon Kuala Lumpur. Weathered and rugged limestone hills steeply climb upwards, adorned with festoons of jungle foliage, giving way to one of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world outside of India.

Upon coming to Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves was one of – if not the – top thing that we wanted to see. The caves are very easy to access. You can take the metro directly to the town of Gombak where the shrine resides for RM 4.40 (~$1.50) from KL Sentral Station. However, we had to take an Uber to the caves, as we were in Petaling Jaya which did not have rail access. This was not an issue though – it was cheap, quick, and efficient.

Consecrated Gold Statue of Lord Mudrugan

Upon arriving to the caves, you will first notice the golden statue of Lord Murugan. It towers above you at the entrance to the long staircase. Which brings me to the second thing you’ll notice immediately – the stairs. There are 272 concrete steps bringing you to the cave complex within the hill.

Batu Caves Stair Entry

The Batu Caves are an active religious site, and you should come dressed appropriately. This means wearing shirt sleeves and covered knees for me, and to covering shoulders and legs for women. If you don’t meet these requirement, you cannot enter – however there are usually attendants at the base of the stairs renting out sarongs for only a few RM each. Actually entering the cave complex itself is free.

We began our climb in the late morning under the surprisingly warm January sun. We took our time climbing the stairs, but it only took ten or fifteen minutes to reach the first landing. Along the way, we took time to admire the jungle and local inhabitants of the caves – namely monkeys.

Climbing the Stairs
Monkeys Just Hanging Out
Mischievous Monkey

The monkeys keep their distance mostly, but as we’ve learned in other locations, they are wildly unpredictable, curious, and will take a swipe at any opportunity. On the way up, we saw a baby monkey had managed to swipe an entire ice cream cone.

Monkey With Ice Cream
Monkey Stealing a Waterbottle

Dark Cave

We took our first stop at the landing of Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is an undeveloped part of the cave complex, which offers tours. There is a 45 minute guided tour for RM 35 (~$10) running every 20 minutes. For larger groups and advanced notice, you can book a 3 – 4 hour tour, further exploring the cave complex for around RM 80 (~$22) a person.

Dark Cave Entrance

We didn’t take the tour, because we didn’t have closed-toe shoes. If you have the time and opportunity it is a great tour though. The caves are home to the rarest spider in the world, endemic geckos, and other fauna found only here. The 2 km complex exhibits a wide range of geological formations with stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops, and other features. Instead of taking of the tour, we read the informative plaques at the entrance to the cave, and watched the antics of the monkeys – very entertaining.

Cave Map
Batu Caves Flow Stone
Plaque at Batu Caves

Temple Cave

After a half hour, we continued up the last third of the stairs to the shrine. When you arrive at the top of the stairs you will find a large landing opening to a large cave atrium. You will actually need to descend more steps into the main “room” which houses several small shrines.

Kyle and Bri on the Steps
Inside the main room
Shrine within Batu Caves

Various vendors will sell you trinkets, drinks, and other items while up here. Keep in mind that the drinks in the shrine are more expensive than at the base because everything must be carried up by hand – no elevator or wheel-chair access here.

Proceed further into the cave and you find another shrine in the back. Here the roof gives way and light enters the cave. This allows the cave to feel more open and inviting than many other cave complexes you may encounter.

Staircase to Interior Shrine
Shrine Within Batu Caves

Batu Caves is actually a rather recent development. The caves are estimated to be 400 million years old, and has been used by the indigenous Temuan people for centuries. Modern day usage of the caves began in 1860 with Chinese settlers  excavating guano for fertilizer. The caves then became famous after being recorded by colonial authorities and the American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

An Indian trader named Pillai was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance to the cave. In 1890 he founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple within the cave. Wooden steps to the temple were originally put in, but concrete steps were placed in 1920 to accommodate the heavy number of visitors.

Thaipusam

The Batu Caves serves as the premier place to be outside of India for the Hindu holiday of Thaipusam. We are still kicking ourselves for not visiting the temple during the holiday (we were in Kuala Lumpur during it).

The festival begins in the early morning hours and features devotees walking several kilometers from the the city. During their march, kavadi bearers pierce themselves will metal skewers, and elaborate shoulder carriers (Kavadi), as a display of their devotion. Priests tend to the devotees sprinkling consecrated ash over the flesh of the participants.

Thaipusam

This display is made to offer milk to Lord Murugan, the god of war within Hinduism – though he also features prominently within some sects of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India as well.

Thaipusam

Photo courtesy of: nina.bruja

While the display can come off as extreme and macabre, the surreal experience is viewed as a purifying bringing good luck in the coming year.

The festival is extremely crowded, attracting over a million visitors on the day (which takes place in late January or early February.

Thaipusam

Other Attractions In Batu Caves

At the base of the stairs, there are two other cave temples: the Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave. Both feature Hindu statues and paintings. For those interested in the history and lore of Murugan and other Hindu teachings, these are excellent places to check out – though not free like the cave temple.

Art Museum Cave

There are numerous shops and stalls surrounding the entrance to the complex selling souvenirs, clothes, food, and drink.

I enjoyed my first of many coconuts on our travels here. Briana also managed to grab some vegetarian food easily and for a very reasonable price.

Kyle with Coconut
Veg food at nearby stall

We really enjoyed the Batu caves and recommend it for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur. It’s a great activity for most anyone, especially families and active adults.

Things To Keep In Mind At Batu Caves

  • This is an active religious site, and as such you should dress and act respectful and modest
  • The complex is large and will take several hours to properly explore
  • The temple requires strenuous physical activity as there is no elevator or wheelchair access
  • Pay attention to the monkeys, we recommend not carrying food, and keeping water out of site when not actively drinking.
  • Keep all loose items on you or in a bag, don’t let the monkeys grab your stuff
  • Monkeys have personalities, some are far more bold and aggressive than others
  • Once a monkey has an item, it is no longer yours – don’t get bit by fighting a monkey 

~B & K

Briana Descending Stairs
Angry Monkey

Golden Gate Park San Francisco

After a decidedly wet winter here in the California Bay Area, we decided to take advantage of a nice sunny day by going to Golden Gate Park San Francisco. While we’d been to San Francisco several times previously, we had never actually been to GGP.

One reason that we had not been to the park before, was because of parking. Parking in San Francisco is not cheap, and it can be an absolute pain to find a spot. Many parking spots can range from $10 – $20 an hour and as such we make a point to not do that – we’ll take BART or find some free way to do it if we can.

On this outing, we elected to park in one of the few free places that we’re aware of – Land’s End. The Land’s End area is on the west side of the Peninsula with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin across the bay. It is a little removed from the Presidio which is connected directly south of the GGB. Land’s End is also a great access to the Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and Ocean Beach.

Lands End from the Parking Lot
Sutro Baths

By parking at Land’s End, we got a great view of the ocean and cliffs as we walked down Point Lobos Ave, along Ocean Beach, finally arriving at the west entrance to Golden Gate Park after about a mile.

Rock Outcropping

The wind that whipped up from the beach was pretty substantial and occasionally blew a little sand in our face, but it wasn’t a big deal. In all honesty, the beach looked pretty nice, with large flat expanses of sand for whatever you would want – playing sports, playing with pets, laying out, cycling, swimming, surfing – it was all there.

Ocean Beach

But that was not our destination. We turned into the park at John F Kennedy Dr with our first waypoint being the Dutch windmill. It’s pretty iconic, and difficult miss as it stands above the surrounding trees.

Windmill from the Beach
Kyle near the Dutch Windmill

At this point, we needed to use the bathroom, and thankfully, there are public restrooms throughout the park. We chose to go to the closest to us, which were at the Chalet Soccer Fields.

View of Windmill from soccer fields

Golden Gate Park is a large park developed in 1871, organized in a similar manner to New York’s Central Park – a long rectangular park. In comparison to Central Park, Golden Gate Park is 20% bigger at a measurement of 0.5 miles by 3 miles.

Purple flowers

After our quick restroom break, we continued on to our next destination which was the Bison Paddock. Golden Gate Park has kept Bison in the park since 1891, and at one point housed over 100 Bison. Today, the number is far lower at 5, but that makes the animals and their size no less magnificient. It stands as a testemant to the beauty of the west and American heritage.

Bison in Golden Gate Park

After a relaxed photo shoot of the bison, we proceeded on towards Strawberry Hill, where we planned to ultimately end our day’s excursion. But that was actually quite a ways away from our current position. As such we made multiple stops along the way.

Horse Tours
Dog Park in Golden Gate Park

The first of these stops was at Spreckles Lake. The lake was quite lively, with plenty of people and wildlife enjoying the lake. We even got to see a few impromptu boat (miniature) races. It was very reminsent of Lumphini Park in Bangkok.

Bri at Spreckles Lake
Seagull with a Muffin

Continuing on from Spreckles Lake, we walked along John F Kennedy Dr coming upon Lindley Meadow. It appeared that there was some sort of a Yoga event that was being set up for here. We could see some people practicing AcroYoga in various areas, booths selling natural products, and other such items.

Wanderlust Yoga Festival
Aerial Yoga set up

We didn’t make a stop at Lindley Meadow, but did take a break upon arriving at East Meadow. By this point, we’d walked several miles and were needing a break. It would have seemed that a whole host of families had thought the same thing, and the East Meadow was filled with families enjoying the day. It does make for a nice picnic spot.

Briana in the Forest Trail

After resting for roughly twenty minutes, we made the final push towards Strawberry Hill. Our (my) main interest here, was a waterfall. After passing under the Park Presidio Blvd, we made a quick cut through a forest path before arriving at the Stow Lake Boathouse. Here you can rent paddle boats for Stow Lake, which a small lake that surrounds Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill is by extension, an island. But that is no worry, because there is a bridge to get you across. Multiple trails meander around Strawberry hill, with a few culminating at the very top.

Stow Lake Boats
Bri on Strawberry Hill Bridge
Forest Trail Stairs

We were a little less interested in climbing the hill, so we put a focus on seeing the waterfall which is on the east side of the island. We enjoyed the falls for a few minutes before calling it a day and beginning our several mile walk back to the car.

Strawberry Hill Waterfall
Strawberry Hill Waterfall

Other Activities in Golden Gate Park

Our trip was pretty simple, but it should be duly noted that there is a tremendous amount to see and do while at Golden Gate Park. The park offers multiple days worth of activities and ultimately can’t be seen in one day.

Conservatory

Carousel

Botanical Garden

Hippie Hill

National AIDS Memorial Grove

Shakespeare Garden

Kezar Stadium

Polo Field

Archery Range

Golden Gate Nursery

De Young Museum

Academy of Sciences

Japanese Tea Garden

 

~K~

 

Turtles in Stow Lake
Duck and ducklings near Strawberry Hill
Black Bird On A Log
Goose In Golden Gate Park
Robin with worms