Photo: Geri McCormick

Dear Friends,

I originally wrote this article shortly after the first time my daughter and I visited Little India. We've been back many times. Every time we went, I updated, deleted, and added to that first report, inserting the news from every visit in a different color type. After a while, the text was more than a little messy. I've streamlined the article, continuing the "first visit" concept-- because it was SO fun. I've incorporated the news from my most recent visit. Little India was bustling, growing-- and fun as always. Remember, if I mention a specific item, call to make sure they still have it before hitting the freeway. Little India is the exact opposite of The Mall-- items are one of a kind, with no duplication. If you see something you like, buy it-- it may be gone when you go back. Be aware that all the shops are closed on Mondays. Above all, have fun!

I've made a few innovations on this update of the article. Maps! Three different kinds, as a matter of fact, showing you how to get to LIttle India. I've also broken the site in half. It's such a big article that my web software lost about half of it. Just hop over to Part Two using the link at the bottom of the page. Use your browser's back arrow to come back here.

Last but not least, I've added Buy buttons to allow you to purchase my books from this page. It's been a thrilling year for me as a writer. I've won eight national awards, had a signing at Book Expo America, the largest book trade event in the USA. My new book is out. You may recognize the face on the cover of Numenon. That's right it's a Shiva Nataraj, Photoshopped a bit. How does the nataraj figure in a Tale of Mysticism & Money? You'll have to read it to find out.

All the best,

Sandy Nathan

    SOMETHING NEW: Many people are interested in Indian culture and want to visit Little India. This is great, especially if you live on the west coast. If you live in Kansas or Florida, accessing the wonderful stores there is hard (unless they have a web site-- and I have attempted to include those below). For the convenience of those who can't get to Little India in Artesia, I've included a link to

    EXOTIC INDIA is a wonderful site with a huge variety of quality products. I've purchased from them and have been very satisfied.

    DIRECTORY: For your convenience, I've included the following directory to shops and philosophical/cultural topics mentioned in this article.

    A perfect combination.

    There are many reasons for moving to Southern California. Right up at the top of my list is Little India. What is Little India? It's the second largest ethnic Indian community in the United States, just behind New York City. Little India is located on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, roughly between 183rd St. and 187th St. In those four blocks, you have the feeling of being in India-- or as close as possible using a suburban strip mall as a base. My daughter, Lily, and I made a weekend foray to Pioneer Boulevard recently. I'd like to share our experience with you.

    My love affair with India began 25 years ago when I began practicing a form of meditation from that country. India began working on my soul, body and stomach all at once. I meditated at an Ashram in Oakland, CA. In addition to Indian philosophy, they served Indian food. (My own Indian cooking efforts have been limited to chai, a spiced tea. Here's my Chai Recipe.) I discovered and was hooked by the sari shops on University Avenue in Berkeley. And then there's Indian philosophy, music, and culture. All intensely beautiful and powerful. I was in love with India long before Mira Nair's movie "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love" came out. (This is a movie everyone should see. It is beautiful and beautifully produced. This is an erotic film-- be forewarned.) All of a sudden, after thousands of years of civilization, India and things Indian are hip and stylish!

    This is very good for the merchants-- but it has some negative impacts.

    The symbol of enlightenment.

    The problem with becoming popular: I read a newspaper article by a teenager of Indian descent. She talked about walking through a mall in Southern California and seeing bindis (more about these later) sold on cards in shops, crowded together with junk jewelry and chain chokers. She talked about her feelings seeing American movie stars sporting delicate mehndi (henna painting) on their hands. And young women wearing sheer sari fabrics made into skimpy clothes under their grunge jeans. She recalled her mother's, aunts' and grandmother's colorful saris and their traditional ways. She said, "I got mad when I saw the pictures of celebrities using Indian traditions to be fashionable. ... They were robbing something valuable from my culture without understanding the meaning of such traditions. Saris, mehndi, and bindi have been a part of Indian women's lives for thousands of years..." ("From Saris to Mehndi, the Indo-Craze Catches On", Meera Rangachar, Los Angeles Times, 11/29/97.)

    Yeah. This is a problem. Other cultures experience this as they are picked up by the mainstream-- our Native Americans, for instance. They become caricatures with the heart and soul cut out. What I'd like to attempt here is an article about Little India-- which I love-- and a bit of cultural exploration. Right away, we have a problem. I'm no expert on Indian culture. I doubt anyone is-- India is a huge place peopled by many, many distinct groups with many languages and dialects and several major religions. What is Indian culture? It's a composite. But I know a little bit. I'd like to insert what I know as we move through Little India. (Please, please: my readers from the Indian subcontinent-- If I'm wrong in anything I say below, correct me. I can change the text easily and would appreciate your input. You can e-mail me right here.)

    You may feel like you got there like this.
    Photo: Geri McCormick

    Okay. Let's go to Little India. Readers have written me requesting that I add a map! What a good idea. Unfortunately, this writer uses a 1945 operating system––my brain is old and so is the rest of me. I never expected to be attaching maps to anything. Not only did one reader say he wanted a map, he wanted Map Quest and Google. Well … I'll be lucky to get one up, but I'll try.

    The value of a map is obvious. Here we go …

    I googled the Little India Chamber of Commerce, which is right in the middle of the action. 18600 Pioneer Blvd; Artesia, CA 90701; (562) 809-8000, and got a beautiful map. When I followed their directions to attach it I got an 'forbidden access" message. I suggest just getting on Google searching for the above. Ditto for Yahoo.

    Now to try MapQuest.


    The world marches on: I have a Magellan now, a little map screen thing that you program with your destination. It gently reminds you of where to turn before you end up in Iowa. That's the best way to get around.

Little India is irresistible. It's also really hard to get to, at least from where I live. It's a three hour drive from the Santa Ynez Valley, all on the famous Southern California and LA freeways. An adventure, if you're a country girl. Little India's "host city", Artesia, is deep in LA County, close to Orange County. Its distance from my house is the only reason I've only been there-- what?-- many times. Otherwise, I'd be camped out most weekends. But-- getting there is not impossible!

    Another important detail: If you're planning a trip, the first thing you should do is call up your credit card company and have your credit limit extended. This trip will cost you.

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    My daughter and I arrived on Pioneer Boulevard about 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. We learned what I already knew: If you're going anywhere on the LA freeways, be there by 3 or 3:30. The traffic was bad, but not as bad as I expected. Still, we needed sustenance. And chai. We went to a little restaurant I'd heard about-- AMBALA DHABA. It's a tiny little place tucked at the end of a strip of stores. It's a very nice place, but not fancy. They serve on Styrofoam dishes, for instance. We got there early enough so that the restaurant wasn't packed. I noticed a newspaper article up on the wall-- a good review by the LA Times. Also a plain white card with the letter "A" on it in the window. I had not seen this before: The County of LA Health Department inspects restaurants an rates them based on conformity to health standards. AMBALA DHABA got the highest rating, an A, which means a 90 to 100% compliance.

    We didn't know what to order, so the proprietor suggested a number of things. I ended up ordering what the LA Times reviewer got-- a chicken dish. My daughter ordered a mahi-mahi dinner. Wow! Unbelievably good-- both dishes. And huge. My chicken was marinated in what seemed to be a yogurt sauce with spices (lots), then broiled or roasted, and served over sliced onions. Lily's mahi-mahi was similar. The dishes came with either naan-- a delicious and gigantic flat bread-- or rice with peas and spices. The food was wonderful. And the chai. If you do not love chai now, a few hours in Little India will convert you. At any rate, we had a lovely meal and I highly recommend AMBALA DHABA-- we eat there every visit to Little India and never have been disappointed.

    A great place to eat. This is the great mural painted on the wall outside the restaurant.

    Lily and I walked around Pioneer Blvd. after dinner. My daughter had concerns about visiting this Little India-- especially with me. She's seen me go into a shopping frenzy before. Lily ended up loving the place. She is an artist and could have spent many hours sketching here. (She has her own website, Little India is a visual feast. The ethnic Indian character on Pioneer Blvd. is very strong: Women in saris and salwar kameez (tunic and pants outfits) are the rule. Many men are turbaned. Signs are in Hindi (?) and English. The stores are uniformly ethnic. Store windows display brilliant colors, glittering jewels, interesting spices and other gear. It's a family orientated place: You'll see grandparents, parents and grand kids walking together. We felt absolutely safe and welcome wherever we went. Everyone was very warm and cordial, and answered our (dumb?) questions graciously.

    One of the colorful boutiques on Pioneer Boulevard

    Our evening walk yielded what will be referred to below as the "Parable of the Shoes." We stopped in a number of stores. One of them had a large selection of traditional shoes for men an women. These look like harem shoes or horse's hooves if they haven't been trimmed in a year: They turn up at the toes. The shoes are highly decorated: embroidered, mirrored and so on. Lily really wanted a pair she found. We decided, "Let's look around some more. Tomorrow, we'll buy." Remember this.

    The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, commissioned by Shah-Jahan in memory
    of his wife in the 1630's. It represents the flowering of the 330 year Mughal dynasty.
    Photo: Geri McCormick

    Plan enough time: My previous trips to Little India were marred by the fact that I was tightly scheduled and staying on the other side of town. This time, Lily and I were smart. We stayed overnight in nearby Cerritos. Many motels can be found in Artesia, but I found the Sheraton Cerritos Hotel at Towne Center on the Internet. It offered a great weekend deal for posh accommodations. The Hotel was wonderful. While cheaper places are available, you might as well stay here. You'll max out your credit card in Little India anyway. What's a few dollars more? You can reach the Cerritos Sheraton at (562) 809-1500. The address is 12725 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, CA 90703. The hotel offers lovely, quiet, large rooms, a pool, spa, and a gym. Everything you need after a day of shopping and eating at Little India. They're also right next to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. Wynnona Judd was playing there the night we stayed. You might want to plan your Little India trip around what's playing at the Performing Arts Center.

    We spent all day Saturday tramping Pioneer Boulevard. (Wear good walking shoes.) We hadn't planned on staying that long, but we got hooked. Sari stores! Oh, God! I love them! When I was a teenager, I made many of my own clothes. I have a deep and abiding love for handcrafts and textiles. The clothes in these stores! So beautiful! The workmanship, the ornamentation! The variety! You have to see them. The saris, salwar kameez and other traditional clothes are displayed in racks, as in our familiar Western stores. They can also be displayed hanging from the ceilings and high on the walls. Most stores are packed with goods. You walk into a brilliant rainbow of color and pattern coming from all sides: Rich fabrics. Glitter and gold. Beads. Sequins. Intoxicating!

    Traditional Indian clothes could be worn many more places than they currently are. I wore a salwar kameez to a family party at Christmas. Salwar kameez outfits consist of a below-the-knee tunic-- usually ornamented--the salwar. And harem pants, the kameez, plus a scarf. The sets range from unbelievably fancy, embroidered, sequined, and beaded silk to everyday stonewashed denim and cotton. Salwar kameez ouitfits are beautiful, and very practical. Also flattering to any figure.

    I was introduced to the outfits as "Punjabis," which is a misnomer. A Punjabi is someone from the state of Punjab. The British applied the word "Punjabi" to the salwar kameez, later transforming "Punjabi" into "pajamas." However the garments got their name, they feel like wearing pajamas to me. Relaxed. Comfortable. My mother was captivated by the salwar kameez I wore at Christmas. She wants one-- to wear to her country club parties.

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    Photo: Geri McCormick

    The brilliant variety went on, shop after shop after shop. I'm going to talk about some specific stores below. These are stores where we bought something-- they just pulled us in. Many other stores exist in Little India-- ours is by no means an exhaustive list. This place is a treasure trove. Every corner is worth exploring.

    First on our shopping list was groceries. If you read the Recipe section on this website, you will note that I recommend visiting an Indian or Chinese store for chai spices. They have them in Little India! Indian grocery stores are another visual feast-- and a feast of smells! And sounds! Merchants play traditional and modern Indian music everywhere. And the shelves loaded with exotic stuff: Condiments! Vegetables! More types of lentils and beans than you've ever seen! Spices you've never heard of, but are worth buying just for the color! We loaded up on cinnamon, coconut, star anise (throw a few of these into my chai recipe), a packet of a brilliant saffron yellow powdered spice, golden raisins. Other things. Most of the groceries offer similar goods. PIONEER CASH & CARRY at 18601 Pioneer Blvd (phone 562-809-9433) is a favorite grocery of ours. They offer great spices and produce (and many other items) at very good prices. All the groceries offer slightly different things, you should visit them, too. You'll find many unusual items by poking around. Many grocery and variety stores offer very interesting stainless steel cookware and dishes. I didn't need any pots or pans, but I certainly would look carefully if I did.

    Many stores offer magnificent Hindu devotional statues.
    From left to right, these sculptures depict a Dancing Ganesh, Seated Ganesh, and Lord Krishna.

    Some groceries and other stores offer Hindu devotional pictures. Others have rudrakshas. (I'll talk more about these later.)You will see Hindu devotional statues all over Little India. God appears in many forms in Hinduism-- some study is required to know the names of all the deities whose images are depicted. Two of the most famous are the Shiva Nataraj and Ganesh.

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    The Dancing Shiva in Shadow and Petals
    Photo: Zoe Nathan


    Dancing Shiva is shown in many forms. Click on the photo to be transported to this lovely sculpture for sale on Exotic India.

    What is the Nataraj? Who is Ganesh? The statues are artist's depictions of Hindu deities. The heart of Little India's Hindu identity. The Nataraj is one of the most famous religious images in the world: The dancing Shiva, representing the dance that is life. A dancing four-armed figure standing on one foot, encircled by a ring of flames. Ganesh, the son of Shiva, himself a God. Ganesh is the destroyer of obstacles and the deity to be worshipped when beginning any new task. A playful fellow who removes obstacles on the spiritual path, but also puts them in your way just for fun. Fully understanding these two would take a scholar or a saint a lifetime.

    When you see Hindu statues and pictures in Little India, understand that they represent arguably the oldest religious system in the world.

    The ancient quality of Indian culture is reflected in Little India's stores, especially the jewelry stores. The jewelry could have come from long lost palaces. From temples or tombs. Jewelry stores abound on Pioneer Blvd. They're almost as enticing as the sari stores-- and most sari stores offer jewelry, too.

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    Lily Nathan tries on some earrings while shop owner, Sudhir Mehta, watches.

    After shopping all over, Lily and I ended up buying pure silver necklace and earring sets from SHREEJI JEWELERS, 18628 Pioneer Blvd. (562) 402-1016. These pure silver creations seemed very good buys, especially when compared to the costume jewelry sold elsewhere. This store has lovely, well-priced items, many with an antique quality. We couldn't resist. Proprietors Sudhir Mehta and his wife also carry a complete line of diamonds and pearls. Since that initial trip, I've purchased a gorgeous pair of pure silver earrings washed in 24 k gold and another necklace and earring set. My last trip I bought an incredible, ornate silver, Gothic style cross covered with blue stones-- perfect with a choker length chain. After many visits, we always come back to Shreeji Jeweler. The service is terrific: on one visit, one of daughters fell in love with a necklace, but didn't buy it. She continued to talk about it for months. As her graduation approached, I realized it was the perfect gift. I phoned Sudhir and asked him to send it to me. He correctly remembered and sent it! Thanks, Sudhir! (I was delighted to learn that our family and the Mehtas have the same meditation teacher.)

    Jewelry alone is reason to make a trip to Little India. If I was shopping for a wedding ring or something extraordinary, this is the first place I'd head. Numerous stores offered 22 K and higher gold jewelry and every gem you can imagine. The workmanship was superb. So elegant! So ornate! And if you're looking to have your nose pierced, this is the place. Lord's Jewelry will do it for you.


    TO PIERCE OR NOT TO PIERCE? Our first, and maybe second through fifth, visits to Little India, my daughter thought about having her nose pierced. And thought again. On 11/29/00 she took the plunge, having her nose pierced at LORDS JEWELERS. (18608 Pioneer Blvd. (562) 809-9378) Lord's is a beautiful, posh jewelry store with an extremely friendly, competent staff. They use 24k piercing pins and do the piercing by hand. This allows the best placement and is more sanitary than using a gun. The customer selects a piercing pin and it is sterilized. Before piercing, the "piercee" holds a bag of ice and water to her nose for 15 minutes. The ice numbs the nose and apparently softens it as well. We were at the end of our allotted time at Little India and wanted to keep shopping, so Lily took the ice bag and walked around to a few other stores, icing her nose as she went. We returned to Lords when the 15 minutes was up.

    The actual piercing took less than two minutes start to finish. Lily reports, "It didn't hurt AT ALL, but it did feel weird." Also: the man piercing her nose was very gentle. He obviously had done it before. The result? Lovely. And no problems. While we can't guarantee your experience would be so trouble free, I may get my nose pierced next trip. Maybe. And Lily's delighted. Her dad wasn't even mad. Oh, yes, it cost $40, including the 24k pin.

    We originally came to Little Indian looking for things for the home, rather than clothes or jewelry. Lily was redoing her room and searched for the perfect bedspread. Her room has an elegant tone: A red Chinese rug, a brass bed, an antique Venetian glass chandelier. And her own rich paintings and drawings. Exotic stuff. Where to find a suitably lavish bedspread? In department stores and malls? Nope. We couldn't find a thing.

    Lily found exactly what she wanted at Fashion Galleria, owned by Archna Puri, 18327 Pioneer Blvd. (562) 402-7525. The Fashion Galleria is primarily a very beautiful sari and clothing shop-- but Archna also has bedspreads, wall hangings and pillow covers which looked like they were made of antique salwars––the highly ornimentated tunics worn over pants in the salwar kameez. The slendid-- sequined, beaded, embroidered, tasseled, metallic, you name it-- cuffs and neckpieces of salwars were sewn together in incredible patterns. The finished pieces look like the art of Gustav Klimpt, who did the well-known painting, "The Kiss." They were opulent and perfect for Lily's room. Several visits later, everyone in our family has a bedspread from Fashion Galleria-- every type of patchwork and color, light and heavy weight. Drop dead gorgeous!

    Fashion Galleria is another "must visit"--we stop by every time we go to Little India. The service is wonderful-- reminds me of shopping in San Francisco in the old days when the staff actually helped the customers. Alterations are available: I purchased a wonderful velvet dress, which they had altered and mailed to me. My "special fit needs"-- being every inch a grandmother-- were accommodated by the staff, who brought me the most comfortable salwar kameez (tunic and pants outfit) I own on my last visit.

    FASHION GALLERY has opened a new store for house wares and furniture. See AAKAR HANDICRAFTS & FURNISHINGS below...

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    Click on the photo to be transported to this lovely statue, for sale at Prasiddhi

    WHO IS LORD KRISHNA? I bought two beautiful paintings of Krishna from Fashion Galleria. Many of Little India's stores carry Hindu religious images. These look strange to outsiders, but they represent one of the oldest religions on earth. Pictures of Krishna abound-- usually he's a blue skinned man playing a flute, or an adorable bluish child. Most non-Indians only know about Krishna from the Hari Krishna folks at the airport, if they know him at all. Krishna was an historical personage, like Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus. Krishna lived about 5,000 years ago and has been adored by millions of people all over the world for thousands of years. Some of the greatest religious writing in history has been inspired by his life. Lord Krishna's story appears primarily in two texts: the Shrimad Bhagavata and the Mahabharata, both worth reading, but perhaps dauntingly long.

    There's an easy way of reading about Krishna. The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna might be described as an inspired "cheat sheet"-- like those books that summarize great books so you can take tests on them when you haven't done your homework. Play of God's author, Vanamali, pulled together the references on Krishna's life and presented them in a very readable form. (You can order any of these titles from by clicking on them. All Amazon rebates from this site are given to charity.) Play of God captures the feeling of the Mahabharata-- which is one of the great adventure stories of the ages. It also captures the devotion and love that Krishna inspires. Krishna's life story has everything: Violence, treachery, action, beautiful women, warriors, sex, intrigue. War. Supernatural events. Demons. The Mahabharata is a must read for every literate person.

    The Bhagavad Gita lies embedded in the Mahabharata like the crest jewel in a crown. The Bhagavad Gita, which means "The Song of God", is one of the most exquisite and concise religious texts in existence. It's short: 18 brief chapters. I carry a pocket edition that's smaller than a deck of cards. (Pocket Bhagavad Gita) There it is: The heart of Hinduism, as spoken by Lord Krishna to his cousin, the great general Arjuna, on the eve of a decisive battle. The Gita is an astonishing text that one could devote a lifetime to studying.

    Jnaneswar, a 13th century Maharathi saint, did spend a lifetime studying the Gita. . His Jnaneshwari-- comments on the Bhaghavad Gita- are brilliant illuminations that make the text understandable to all. Many versions of the Janeshwari exist. I would like to recommend Janeshwar's Gita: A Rendering of the Janeshwari, by Swami Kripananda, State University of New York Press. In addition to presenting the Gita and Janeshwari in their original language, this book pulls together the English translations so that they capture the aliveness of the originals and are understandable to modern readers. Reading a work such as this-- which is more beautiful than any piece of jewelry or tapestry I have described above-- is essential if you want to understand Indian culture.

    The photo gives the tiniest indication of the range of merchandise available a Aakar Handicrafts.

    AAKAR HANDICRAFTS & FURNISHINGS, 18612-1/2 & 18618 Pioneer Blvd., (562) 809- 9093. This is the home ware shop opened by Archna Puri and her family. You read about her clothing store, Fashion Galleria above. AAKAR HANDICRAFTS is a dynamite store loaded with things for the home. Very hip, very stylish. So many things: Embroidered, sequined, quilted pillow covers and bedspreads. Furniture made in India and upholstered with embroidery and patchwork. All sorts of religious statues. Paintings. Embroidered hangings that would make great window valences. A fantastic silver candelabra about 3' high. A silver coffee service. Much more I can't remember. I bought a pure silver antique-look necklace that I cherish: I buy something there every time I go. This is one of the best places for Hindu religious statues and paintings in Little India.

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    I'm going to arbitrarily cut this article here. I discovered that my web software could not handle the size of this article, so has been cutting it off here. Click on the link for part two.




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    Click the covers above to go Sandy Nathan's books on the Amazon Kindle store. All Kindle books are 99 cents.
    They are also available as print books at Amazon.
    The Angel and Numenon are also at the Nook store. The Angel is an iBook, as well



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