A short walk through foot over bridge in Vidhan Sabha would take you to the market of Majnu Ka Tila. Majnu Ka Tila, which is known for its cafes and restaurants, has emerged as a popular hangout zone for Delhi University students. Days are spent leisurely here with authentic Tibetan culture and coffee.
However, what one doesn't notice easily is the diaspora held deep within its narrow lanes and a century-old history. Officially known as New Aruna Nagar, it is home to nearly 3,500 Tibetan refugees nestled in a corner in North Delhi. For most of them, the way home is not the way back.
The migration of Tibetans to India happened in 3 stages. One, after the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 and Dalai Lama's exile to Dharamsala, second when China opened Tibet to foreigners, the third in 1996 which still continues.
Most inhabitants of Majnu Ka Tila are second-generation Tibetan refugees who have only heard of Tibet in stories. While they are true to their Lhasa roots, they have lived in India throughout their life. As destiny had it, the present is an intercultural friendship of Delhiites with what seems like a 'Little Tibet'.
As you enter, the main courtyard is brimming with light. What you see is a Buddhist temple: enchanting and gracefully silent. The worshipers bow their heads and later take the time to turn the wheel of Dharma adjoining the temple. The bells clink, and the humdrum of the city goes on pause. Quirky like the place itself, the prasad includes Oreo biscuits and Thums Up.
When we dig deep, we come across a completely different world: tiny stalls of funky bags and jewellery, a shop specialising in incense, candles and perfumery. Cafes offer a wide range of Tibetan cuisine along with Chinese and Indian. There are hotels with unique names, like ' Le Dragon House' and 'Lhamo International'.
Travel service offices with banners written in English and Tibetan can also be seen. The hotels offer an economical stay and dining, much to the liking of the local students. The general stores get a distinct flavour with commodities like chopsticks, yak cheese, and spicy ramen.
One simply cannot talk about Majnu Ka Tila without mentioning 'laphing'. A mixture of a moist wrap, stuffed with gluten and spicy red chilies, this Tibetan snack is only available in these quarters. For the ones with a penchant for spicy food, it is another palpable reason to visit the market.
The regular visitors are students who unabashedly sport new trends and unconventional styles. So a man with long hair and piercings, and a girl in purple lipstick are common sights. Not to forget, little lamas in their red robes are a pleasant spectacle.
As an unauthorised colony may expect, the place has its share of problems. Town planning and development reach here late, and evidently have not paid a visit in a very long time. The way to this refugee settlement is through considerable squalor.
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Every monsoon, the entire place becomes a puddle of dirty water and waste. The place has tiny houses with kachcha floors, insanitation making it a breeding ground for diseases. A stench like rotten food, and standing water make one uncomfortable for some time.
Why has the Delhi Municipal Corporation abandoned this place? When will these Tibetan refugees who have now spent almost a lifetime in India, get a permanent authorised home? These are questions that demand attention. However, on most days, we forget about the problems and enjoy the range of desserts in AMA cafe, with a cup of freshly brewed cappuccino and pancakes.