The collective name for the cluster of villages on and around the SMR south of Edinburgh, CARAPICHAIMA, like its neighbours, is home to a predominantly Indian population, whose forefathers settled here to work on the vast sugar estates that once covered the area. For the moment, at least, this is still prime sugar territory: fields of cane undulate in the wind and graceful royal palms tower over the road as they have done since the early plantation days, when the land was owned by the Tate and Lyle sugar producers. Present-day Carapichaima is wholeheartedly Trinidadian, however: along the central Waterloo Main Road, the Church of Zion and Presbyterian school sit side by side with a healthy quota of rum shops, while Hindu prayer flags flutter next to trees strung with blue plastic bottles that traditionally ward off maljo, or bad luck. Nowhere else is the creative potential of Trinidad’s cosmopolitan cultural mix more clearly visible than at Carapichaima’s Carnival celebrations, where the length of the main road is lit up with lanterns each night, and a masquerade of traditional carnival characters such as robbers, jab jabs and jamettes, combined with Indian drumming and costume, draws hundreds of visitors – this and other aspects of Indian culture are covered at the also excellent Indian Caribbean Museum.
As well as the museum, Carapichaima is home to two of Trinidad’s most spectacular Hindu sites, the towering Hanuman statue and the unique Temple in the Sea, while the coastline here offers excellent birdwatching, with both Waterloo and nearby Brick Field good places to see skimmers, wattled jacanas, long-winged harriers, ospreys, neotropic cormorants, plovers, ruddy turnstones and the striking red-breasted blackbird. Courtenay Rooks of Paria Springs organizes regular birding tours in the area.
Hanuman Murti and the Sri Dattareya Yoga Centre
Surrounded by a cluster of neat 1920s bungalows built for sugar estate managers, the majestic Hanuman Murti is the largest representation of the Hindu monkey god outside of India, its 26 metres towering over the attached temple. Consecrated in June 2003, the statue was a gift from Ganapati Sachchidananda, a Swami (spiritual teacher) from Mysore in southern India. Its workmanship rivals anything to be found in Asia, with beautifully detailed and colourful relief work courtesy of twenty expert craftsmen sent over from India by the Swami.
In Hindu teaching, Hanuman is an immortal guru who observes your actions and offers protection from wrongdoing; interestingly, literature available at the temple informs that Hanuman came to the rescue against kidnappings in ancient India, a reference to the recent spate of abductions of prominent East Indian business people here in Trinidad. The complex’s bright pink temple is both the largest in Trinidad and the only one in the ornate and long, single-storey South Indian style, its entrance flanked by two elegant concrete elephants and its interior awash with superb and brightly coloured bas-reliefs of Hindu deities. The temple is home to the Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre, a very active yoga and meditation centre.
Maha Sabha Indian Caribbean Museum
Waterloo village is home to the Maha Sabha Indian Caribbean Museum, the only permanent exhibition of its kind in the region. Put together with extensive research from both local and expatriate sources, it’s a thoughtful and absorbing collection that documents the Indian experience in Trinidad across Hindu, Muslim and Christian religions, something that often gets overlooked in a society whose culture can be dominated by the calypso, soca and steel pan of the Afro-Trinidadian population. Exhibits include letters and photographs of early Indian arrivals on the island and models of the ships that brought the first immigrants, while sugar is a running theme throughout, with agricultural tools and photos documenting rural life and indentureship, and information on the phasing out of sugar cane attesting to the psychological importance of the crop to Indo-Trinidadians. Traditional clothing, paintings and musical instruments are all well represented, as are marijuana pipes – cannabis was originally brought to the Caribbean by Indians, and according to many Hindus it was only outlawed when rum factories were built, so as to promote consumption of the new drug of choice.
Religious festivals and icons form a sizeable part of the collection, from displays on Diwali and Phagwah to tassa drums and photos of early Tadjas from the Muslim Hosay commemoration, as well as a translation of the Bible into Hindi by nineteenth-century Presbyterian missionaries. The construction of Hindu schools from the 1950s holds particular significance, as this is seen as the point at which Hindus began to be accepted into Trinidadian society. The museum’s knowledgeable curator is on hand to answer any questions about the exhibits or wider issues.
Waterloo Temple in the Sea
Waterloo Main Road meanders towards the sea, with some pretty wooden buildings intermingled with the concrete; on the right-hand side, look out for the former train station, once a stop on the Port of Spain–San Fernando line. Just before you meet the sea, the old Anglican cemetery on the right includes a plot reserved for Muslim burials, and just beyond this, a car park and information board (and, through a hedge, traditional Hindu cremation pyres at the water’s edge) mark the site of the unfailingly impressive Waterloo Temple. A gleaming white onion-shaped dome, it sits at the end of a concrete causeway surrounded by the Gulf of Paria at high tide, and at low tide by extensive mud flats. It’s a stunning setting, inordinately peaceful and spiritual, with the shore littered with broken coconut shells and fruits left by Hindus during puja ceremonies, and legions of flags (jhande) – representing prayers and offerings – flapping in the breeze.
The octagonal temple – used by the local Hindu community for weddings and puja ceremonies – covers an area of over 100 square metres, with coloured-glass windows that enable you to see the brightly painted stone and marble gods inside. Anyone can enter the temple, provided they remove their shoes first. The causeway, meanwhile, is a good vantage point from which to view the birds, including terns, gulls, whimbrels and skimmers, which feed in the mud flats throughout the year.
Back at the car park, there’s also a life-size statue of Sewdass Sadhu, an Indian labourer whose zeal and persistence enabled the temple to be built. Sadhu constructed a temple on the shore here in 1947, on land owned by the state sugar monopoly Caroni, but the government bulldozed the structure five years later, and sent him to jail for fourteen days. He then decided to rebuild his temple in the sea, where no permission was required, and struggled single-handedly for the next 25 years, using a bicycle to carry the foundation rocks out into the water and placing barrels full of concrete on the sea floor at low tide. Help finally came in 1995, when the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Trinidad inspired the government to declare the temple an Unemployment Relief Project. With labourers paid by the state to rebuild the structure, the causeway was added and the temple swiftly completed.