Not far from Delhi University’s North Campus, the Tibetan colony at Majnu ka Tilla offers an attractive option to explore. Attractive for a variety of reasons – food, shopping, hang-out and most importantly because it offers an experience of not quite being in Delhi without venturing out miles away. While momos have pervaded the streets of north campus and the eating joints of Kamla Nagar, MKT (as it is popularly known) offers a different experience altogether. Not surprisingly, it seems to attract a specific kind of crowd. The place is just a rickshaw ride from the nearest Metro station (Vidhan Sabha). If you are heading from the university, you can either take an auto-rickshaw or a cycle-rickshaw.
Before reaching the colony, you can catch sight of a gleaming white structure adjacent to a traffic junction. This is the Gurudwara, a very old one – I have been told. Why and how the place came to be associated with Majnu – the love-struck hero of a tragic romance based in North India – is not known. Story has it that the place derived its name from a fakir who regularly visited this Gurudwara. Little was known about him. Majnu Ka Tilla area is bifurcated by the Delhi-Chandigarh highway. The Tibetan colony is spread out on one side of the highway. The main shopping area is located underneath the flyover. You have to enter it through a gate that appears to have been carved off the concrete of the flyover. You can get jackets, bags, jeans, shoes and food here.
I usually head for the colony instead of the market in my visits to MKT. The rickshaw would drop me off at the pool. I cross the highway through the overbridge lined with flags to reach little Tibet. While the market is lined with shops, the colony is a crowded place where shops and vendors share space with residential areas. The monastery stands in the midst of the colony. It remains hidden from view from the alleyways leading to it.
As we walk towards the monastery, the alleys open out to a little space in front of a red and yellow building with decorated pillars and flags flying atop it. It also has the dharmachakra between two deers. This building is the office of the cultural centre and the monastery stands to its left – a structure similarly designed with the same symbols, albeit taller. Like a little town square, the open space in front of the monastery and the cultual centre is filled with people. There are snack counters, vegetable vendors mingling with people who have come to offer prayers at the monastery or simply sitting around.
Dharmachakra flanked by two golden deers – a buck and a doe is a symbol that draws on Buddhism. It can be seen adorning the roofs of particular buildings but not the individual homes. It represents the Buddha’s first sermon which he gave to the deers near Sarnath.
You cannot miss the flag that seems to be everywhere: right from the over-bridge to the monastery and other market items. From what I could find on the internet, the snow lion flag started off as a military flag that later on became a symbol of ‘Free Tibet’ movement. Like the golden deers, the flag also has its Buddhist connection through the triple coloured jewel in between the two snow lions as well as the yellow colours on three sides of its borders.
Feel like having something different? Head off to MKT: The place has a special attractive for me for its difference from the usual hubs around the campus. Food remains a special attraction – then and now. Surrounded by all sorts of oily and spicy cuisines, the items here offer a respite with its range of cuisines.
Beyond food, it is the display of colours and things along the alleys that I love to explore. Fascinating indeed to find ‘Moreh’ items here along with other items from Tibetan kitchens . That’s the term that we, from Manipur, associate with the imports that reach the state through the Southeast Asian route via Burma/Myanmar. Cloths and electronic ‘Moreh’ items can still be found in other markets of Delhi but it is the food items and Korean popular dramas & movies that caught my attention. So hallyu seems to have quietly rippled through Delhi!
Tibetan hand-knitted woollens usually multi-coloured or patterned seem to be popular winter items around Delhi. There are caps, socks, mufflers, leggings, gloves etc….
Mugs and bowls of different sizes and designs can be seen in several of the shops. I caught sight of these cute little figurines standing behind the clay wares …….
…. and a band of musicians overlooking bowls of luscious fruits in another shop window
Wherever you go there are the ‘I love …….’ items waiting for tourists to pick them up. So yes, there are the ‘I luv Tibet’ items but then there are also the ‘Free Tibet’ items for those who wish to show support for the Tibetan cause.
Perhaps not as tourist, perhaps not as a political supporter, but MKT is a nice place to explore.