SINGAPORE - In a 3km stretch in Upper Serangoon Road stands three religious institutions that have stood the test of time.
The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Hougang Tou Mu Kung Temple and Haji Yusoff Mosque have a combined age of almost four centuries, with two - the church and the temple - gazetted as national monuments. The road itself is almost 200 years old.
These places of worship were among 18 sites on the National Heritage Board's (NHB) latest self-guided trail - the Hougang Heritage Trail - that was unveiled on Thursday (Oct 29).
The trail, the NHB's 20th, follows the launch of another heartland trail in Pasir Ris last December, when NHB said it was working to launch more such heartland trails to bring the nation's heritage to the doorsteps of Singaporeans.
The new Hougang trail also features the highest number of community contributions of all of NHB's trails, with 28 individuals familiar with Hougang contributing their stories through interviews and photos. Previous trails mostly had between 10 and 20 community contributions.
Such contributions help make the trail more interesting for visitors, said NHB deputy chief executive of policy and community Alvin Tan, as historical facts alone might have limited appeal.
Hougang, which was first announced as a new residential town by the Housing Board in 1979, gets its name from settlers who used the Teochew term '"Au Kang" (back of the river) to refer to Sungei Serangoon, which continues to run parallel to Upper Serangoon Road today.
Beyond the town's name, the Teochew influence on Hougang is evident in other landmarks like the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which traces its roots to the arrival here in the 1800s of Catholic Teochew immigrants.
To this day, the church continues to provide religious services in Teochew.
Mr Bernard James Braberry, a parish administrator and an Hougang resident since 1985, said: "What is special about the town to me are its people, and how spiritual they are.
"In the wee hours when our church gates were open before Covid-19 struck, many would come and offer prayers, no matter what religion they are from."
A diverse mix of other communities and cultures within the town that continues to accentuate its colourful character is also on show in the trail, which has three thematic routes to cater to varying interest.
The first takes visitors along a 3.5km stretch of Upper Serangoon Road, highlighting eight landmarks of Hougang, including religious sites and old businesses.
Those keen to find out more about community groups like charitable halls and clan associations can take the Institutions Of Service route, which passes by Ramakrishna Mission, which built a boys' home in Bartley Road in 1943 to house destitute boys affected by World War II, and the Serangoon Khiung Jai Co-Villagers Association, the Hainanese clan association that established the Guang Yi opera troupe. The route takes visitors to six sites.
Finally, those with a keen eye for building design features will enjoy the Architectural Gems route, which features seven built heritage sites along the trail.
Various building types are on show in this route, like pre-war shophouses, iconic housing blocks, and the Kancanarama Buddhist Temple that has an intricately carved roof.
Mr Tan said NHB hopes to encourage Singaporeans to explore their own backyards through its trails during this period of travel restrictions, and to rediscover local heritage delights.
"We hope that Singaporeans will come away with a renewed appreciation of what Singapore has to offer in terms of unique heritage experiences with a strong local appeal," he added.
Heritage buffs can expect three more such trails to be launched in 2021. The first will take visitors to another heartland town, Sembawang, while a second Harmony Walks trail that focuses on the Telok Ayer area will follow suit. The trail showcases Singapore's religious and cultural harmony.
The former's launch was slated for this year, but has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Details about the third trail remains under wraps, but Mr Tan hinted that it would be one "everyone will enjoy".
The Hougang Heritage Trail's companion guide and map are available in four languages, and can be downloaded from NHB's heritage portal, Roots.sg.
Although some of NHB's previous trails had a mobile app companion, the board said that it has phased out the app as Roots.sg has been optimised for mobile viewing, which will be more convenient for users.
Hardcopies of the guide will also be available at NHB museums, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (Hougang Office), as well as the Hougang, Punggol, Paya Lebar Kovan, Serangoon and Eunos Community Clubs, and Aljunied and Kaki Bukit Community Centres.