Majnu Ka Tilla

Majnu Ka Tilla (Mini Tibet)


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“A man’s worst enemy is his own empty stomach,” said one of my professors quoting Norman D. The statement brings to light the ever worsening situation of the poorer sections in light of increasing prices of food everywhere. Despite this, one could never get over ​Majnu Ka Tilla, ​a locality situated 10 minutes away from North Campus (New Delhi), and the cheap wares it offers. This area has cemented its legacy as fostering historically-relevant political discourses, birthday parties, group study days, impromptu dates, and whatnot! The setting has its own little monastery and a Gurdwara which is located on the banks of the Yamuna. What was initially mooted as a disputed refugee colony is now a vibrant tourism hotspot. It’ll be unfair to jump abruptly to the contemporary era and blabber about the scrumptious culinary savouries it offers before discussing the history of this rather unusual area.

Blessings in the form of a beautifully woven Myth

There’s an exquisite apocryphal story behind the place’s rather peculiar name. Around 1505 CE, during the reign of Badshah Sikandar Lodhi, Abdullah, a Sufi saint of purportedly Persian origin, frequented the barren area. While we have testimonies lending credence to the aforementioned Lodhi regent’s intolerance towards heathens, the fact that this tale still survives the ravages of time tells us a lot about the folk traditions of that era. The lost soul, Abdullah, was camped on a mound abutting the banks of the river Yamuna. He was contemplating over the meaning of God, but to no avail. In his endeavour to get closer to God, and to find his “wajood”, the raison d’etre behind his existence, he used to ferry citizens  for free across the turbulent river. As the story goes, this was the only manner in which he  used to find a figment of solace amidst the turmoil afflicting the mortal realm. Due to his perpetually lost disposition and devotion to “The One”, he was branded with the epithet of “Majnu”, which means lover in Hindustani. According to the story, he finally met Guru  Nanak towards the end of July, 1505. The Baba was so smitten and moved by his piousness that Majnu’s deeds were immortalized on account of his association with the former. Hence, the modern-day place, New Aruna Colony, is typically referred to as Majnu Ka Tilla (“Majnu’s mound). Guru Nanak’s doctrine on spirituality was contingent on the Ek Onkar (“God is one”) notion, which found a sense of legitimization through this story.

Another story goes on the similar lines. With the main character still being Majnu, the interpretation of him being “crazy” is seen as him, lost in love of a girl. Hence, a lot of songs are perceived on the same notion of a man and his never ending love for a girl. Thus, he became a mark of intense sufi literature.

 

Moving forward from the medieval era to the contemporary one, this settlement was first floated by the Britishers in the early 1900s. Owing to its close proximity to the then under-construction Central Secretariat structures, Majnu ka Tilla was developed by the Raj officials as a residential complex to lodge the labourers. Some 5000 dwelling units were first built in the Old Chanderwal Village, after which construction commenced in the Aruna Nagar Colony.

 

Post independence, the Indian Government proclaimed its intentions of relocating the incoming Tibetan refugees in this area during the mid-1950s. Tensions were running high as the People’s Republic of China invaded and subsequently annexed Tibet, forcing His Highness the Dalai Lama to go into exile to Dharamshala, India. After its disastrous decimation in the Sino-Indian War in 1962, India’s position became even more precarious when the refugees who were hitherto encamped in the fringes of the nation’s borders were settled here. The area had often been a bone of contention for the area’s residents and the governmental officials. Yet, it is listed as one of the 895 to-be-regularised colonies by the Aam Aadmi Party dispensation in Delhi. Notwithstanding the notification, the colony’s status is in a limbo.

 

Today, its residents sulk over the government’s incompetence and compunction in declaring the status of this beleaguered colony: either as an illegal settlement or a regularized colony. The argument is furthered by the fact that in 1984, the tenants were given an option to pay for the charges of development and get the plots permanently.

 

What started as a settlement teeming with chaos and discord soon transitioned into a semi-formal colony that stands tall nonchalantly. Furthermore, the place is popularly known as “Chungtown” amongst the University of Delhi students who often throng to its cloistered alleys and bylanes for sumptuous Tibetan food, cheap clothes and to experience Tibet’s environs inside Delhi itself. Unlike the refugee colonies, this place is often known as “Mini Tibet” or “Little Tibet” and makes one feel as if he/she is traversing through Manali or Dharamshala, towns boasting of a considerable Tibetan diaspora population.

 

The limitation of the transformation can be noticed in the problematic architecture of the area which is prone to fire hazards and floods on account of its unplanned nature. The settlement  has endured periods of intermittent flooding in the recent years on account of the rising  levels of the Yamuna, flowing parallel to the colony, endangering the structural integrity of the areas rickety buildings. The laudable change can be noticed is its evolution from a sleepy, fatigued refugee colony to a lively hub of sprightly energy and bustling enterprises.

We can come to similar conclusions through the change in the narratives of the presidents of the New Aruna Nagar Colony RWA. Milkhi Ram Sharma, former President of the same was of the opinion that the government ws being biased and discriminatory. He was quoted saying, “While refugees at Tibetan camps are unauthorised occupants, we were properly resettled under a plan by the government of India. I have nothing against anyone as everyone has the right to a shelter.

But if government is planning to regularise their colony, why are we being not treated equally?

PRESIDENT MR. KARMA DORJEE (RWA MAJNU KA TILA)

On the contrary, the current President of the New Aruna Colony RWA, Karma Dorjee gives us a very positive response to the government. He has been living here since a very young age and got elected as the President by popular votes. Furthermore, Mr. Karma Dorjee has left no stone unturned to make Majnu Ka Tilla a comfortable place to live in. Posing “cast issues” as a major problem, he drew parallels between China and India.

INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT MR. KARMA DORJEE 6 (RWA MAJNU KA TILA)

 

Question: What is the history of Tibetans living in Majnu Ka Tila?

Answer: During the Indo – China war and China attempting to conquer Tibet, the governments worked on “Bharat Mission” wherein the Tibetans were given refuge in the different parts of the country. Every border, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh saw the influx of Tibetans.

 

Question: How did you come to India?

Answer: Like the others, my parents too came in the 1960s where they earlier lived in Arunachal Pradesh and came to Delhi due to China’s attack in Arunachal Pradesh and since then, four generations of his family has lives in Delhi. Delhi feels like home. When outside Delhi, I feel like an outsider.

 

Question: Have you ever felt subjected to racism?

Answer: In Delhi, there is limited racism. Other places, YES.

 

Question: What is the family structure here, in the colony?

Answer: 365 families live in here which is the population of 3000 -4000. A Lot of people live here on rent and it’s a lot of dealing with things. Few social workers live here without paying.

 

Question: How does the colony work?

Answer: The Tibetan tradition is very egalitarian in nature. The office started from 1965. The place is divided into 12 blocks and 2 people per block are chosen. The selected 24 people will then choose 12 out of them and more people will be shortlisted selectively to 7. All this happens over a period of 2 days. The elections took place after every 3 years.

 

Question: The other day, I witnessed a sort of prayer going on in the monastery. What is that all about?

 

Answer: 2018 is the year of Thanking India praying for India, hence, we call it ”Pray For India” owing to the completion of 60 years. Also, September 2 is celebrated as the Tibetan Democracy Day. both of these times, people pray continuously for 24 hours.

 

Question: How is the life like, here?

Answer: A lot of people have their own restaurants, travel companies. Other than that, people work on daily wage basis. The locality has its own school. The school has the authority and the permission to teach their own language in order to preserve the culture of the community.

Furthermore, this authority has been provided to us by the government wherein such schools in Dharamshala, Dalhousie, Shimla, Mussoorie can teach Tibetan culture.Question: Are there any troubles that you have to face in the legal terms while living here?

 

Answer: The government is supportive. It gives us incentives as well. Interestingly, rather than the government creating troubles for us it is often the local people who do that. Yet,  The people living here are highly educated and they know how to deal with these issues.

The government doesn’t provide us with ration cards or bank accounts at times which still remains a topic of contention.

Question: What is the importance of the monastery in the locality?

Answer: It is a ‘tirtha sthana’ for Tibetans. While the locals practice Buddhism in the monastery twice a day. The early morning prayers and the evening prayers but other than that, Wednesdays, special prayers take place. Moreover, during the months from September to February, people from all parts of the world go for a “Tirtha Yatra” wherein the people visit Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar and so in including the monastery at Majnu Ka Tila.

 

Question: How did the place became a famous tourist attraction, despite being a refugee colony and a lot of people deeming it as unsafe?

 

Answer: The food here is a major attraction! It’s different and very cheap. A Lot of people from Delhi University come here. Also, people from other parts of Delhi also come here. The food is clean and hygienic as well. The taste is very different so is the culture here.

The reason behind the surging popularity of the place is the mouthwatering savouries it has to offer to revellers. From hastily cooked zesty street food to the exquisite dishes doled out by fine cuisine restaurants , Majnu Ka Tilla has everything to offer. Delhi University students who flock to this place every now and then lavish it with plaudits. Dayo, a student of Miranda House, originally hailing from Shillong, says, “It feels like food from home,” while her friend Risa calls it “comfort food”. “The eateries are in abundance and each has its own inimitable wares to offer. One can even surmise that Tibetan delicacies are also a nice break from all the North Indian spiciness and the piquant sensation accompanying it. According to Risa, “It’s a little parcel of Oriental Asia we are looking at. The street food is clean and hygienic.” An amalgamation of many cultures, Majnu Ka Tilla has savouries from Korea, China, Tibet, Japan, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and other Asian countries to offer. To further the argument of diversity in food, one can even find food from the northeastern states like Assam and Nagaland. The article will further focus on the kinds of cuisine provided on the streets and as well as in the restaurants.

STREET FOOD

 

1.Laphing:

Majnu Ka Tila is quite ubiquitously known for this dish. ‘Laphing’ translates to ‘cold noodles’ and is often eaten in various ways. The dish is infused with spices which are not commonly found in markets. One can find Laphing being sold on carts which are quite teeming in the locale.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MR. TENZIN KALHANGE

 

Question: What is your name and where are you from?

Answer: I am Tenzin Kalhanhge and I hail from Lhasa. I am nineteen years old.

 

 

Question: How did you end up here?

Answer: This shop is being owned by my brother-in-law. I learnt the art of making laphing from my sister.

Question: What all kinds of Laphing do you sell?

Answer:

 

  • Dry White Laphing: The essential ingredients of this dish include cornflour, starch, red chilli, MSG (popularly known as ajinomoto), oil, soy sauce, and vinegar. It is served as slabs of starch with a generous topping of spices.

 

  • White Laphing with Soup: The essential ingredients of this dish are similar to that of dry white laphing. The only additional ingredient is cold water. This gives it a soupy and slurpy consistency.

(iii) Dry Yellow Laphing: This variant of laphing has been a favourite for a lot of people. While a few constituents like oil, MSG (ajinomoto), soy sauce, and vinegar exhibit their presence quite conspicuously, yellow food coloring and white

(iv) Yellow Laphing with Soup: Ingredients are same as that of the aforementioned dish. The new addition includes water which gives it the characteristic tinge of soup.

(v) Dry White Laphing with WaiWai Noodles: This kindof laphing is a special creation of this cozy shop whereinthe dry white laphing is mixed with dry noodles and a mixmaker. This lends the bars of starch a distinct taste.

(vii) White Laphing with Soup and WaiWai Noodles:WaiWai noodles are a very crucial component in this local fare. The noodles are boiled and subsequently mixed with this dish.

(viii) Dry Yellow Laphing with WaiWai Noodles: When cold noodles are added to the yellow laphing, they give it a very eccentric taste in addition to the soya chunks distinct flavour.

(ix) Yellow Laphing Noodles with Soup and WaiWai

Noodles: Yet again, the noodles are boiled in a cauldron of Chinese ramen noodles to give thedish a very ingenious Tibetan tint.

2. Shaphalay: As soon as one enters the colony, perhaps the first thing he/she will stumble across are the little stalls hawking fried patties that have a suspicious resemblance to momos. Atthe onset, while one may misconstrue the dish to be a simple meat-puff pastry, there is more than what meets the eye on account of its variations. Shaphalay is a breakfast culinary savoury which is usually devoured along with a cup of piping Tibetan butter tea.The  constituents  are  buff  meat mince mixed with onion (keema),and ginger garlic paste, which actsas a filling. The outer layer is madeof white flour and fried in refined oil. This is kept specifically for meat lovers. On Wednesday, devout Hindus, owing to religious obligations, are usually treated to a filling of potatoes, which replace the meat mince, while other ingredients are essentially the same. This scrumptious mince delicacy is served with a dip made of red hot chillies and Tibetan herbs.

Mr. Ajay and his brother has been successfully running a shop of shaphalay. After entering The Majnu Ka Tilla, the first shop that comes about is his.

INTERVIEW WITH MR. AJAY

Question: What is your name and how did you end up here?

Answer: My name is Ajay and I am from Gaya (Bihar). My age is 22. This is my brother’s shop.

Question: How did your brother find this place?

Answer: He came here in search of employment. Initially, he worked at a nearby hotel where he mastered the art of making this mouth watering dish. He opens his shop early in the morning and continues it till 2 pm, saying, “The purpose is to treat people with good breakfast before them going for work.”

  1. Gyuma

It is a winter dish that can be found on the tapering streets of Majnu Ka Tila managed by women. Gyuma looks like little meat rolls. They are made of buff or pork. These sausages are usually homemade and carry a very strong taste of meat with them. This is often due to the fact that the meat is properly marinated for a couple of nights. The texture is thick and full of fat which explains the reason of it being a winter delicacy.

  1. Butter Tea:

A local drink that can only be found in the winters owing to its ingredients. Butter mixed with salt and milk is what is found in Majnu Ka Tila but in a conversation with local people it was found that back in Tibet, black pepper was grinded and added to it to give it a different taste and provide the body with the heat it requires to sustain in the colder areas.

 

  1. Salaphine:

It’s a dish not known by many people and is yet rather famous amongst a lot of college students who frequently visit the locality. Often found in winters, yet again.. It is basically a type of hot soup which has an intense set of spicy tibetan herbs and flavours with noodles made of starch in it. A high dose of green onions and a lot of nuts.

 

RESTAURANTS

 

 

KOKO RESTAURANT

INTERVIEW WITH MR. SHEWANG

Mr. Shewang has been one of trend setters when it comes to Majnu Ka Tilla for a place of eateries. He introduced the authentic eating etiquettes in the restaurant. The ambience is kept very traditional and feels like one is sitting in Tibet.

 

Question: How did you start this restaurant?

Answer: I started the it six years from now. I have a Tibetan origin but born in Nepal who arrived in Majnu Ka Tilla in 2008 to look for opportunities.

Question: What is the ideal way of

living the life, according to you?

Answer:     “Simplicity” .This in fact is the reason I introduced the traditional Tibetan way of eating food on the floor. I take pride in the fact that I am the trend setter for introducing the original customs, here in the colony.

Question: How has this place been from the business point of view?

Answer: From the business point of view, this place has proven to be very beneficial for me as it has provided me with abundant opportunities. We need to understand that over the years, Majnu Ka Tilla has become a major hub of the Tibetan Culture and is often treated as a pilgrimage site. When we look at such a situation, it leads us to ponder into the fact that the Tibetans and University students who often have lower purchasing power come and feast here. Hence, the prices are very economical.

Question: How supportive is the government?

Answer: I can’t emphasize enough, on the fact that the government had been extremely supportive of the ventures taken by people in the area. Furthermore, on the contrary to normal notions of tax evading cases, I have been fighting a case since past 8 to 9 years to get license to pay taxes as I believe that it is very important to pay taxes to flourish as a nation as well as an individual.

Question: What is the speciality of your restaurant?

Answer: The speciality of the restaurant is Shapta, Thenthuk and Thukpa. Shapta is a kind of curee which usually contains pieces of chicken and buff meat with a mixture of spring onions, herbs and a strong taste of garlic. The curry is often paired with Tingmo. Tingmo refers to the steamed bread  which looks like lumps of dough that are fluffy in nature and has a lot of layers to it while having a little moisture in them. They help in balancing the flavours of spicy Shapta.

BUSAN KOREAN RESTAURANT

 

INTERVIEW WITH MRS. PEMA

 

Mrs. Pema started the restaurant with her husband after taking the inspiration from korean style food and owing to the fact that the culture of South Korea has been liked by majority of the younger generation. Above all, they started with this fad when there were hardly any korean restaurants.

Question: When and how did you come up with the idea of a Korean Restaurant?

Answer: My husband and I started the restaurant four years back at a time when there was no Korean Restaurant around. My husband went to Korea for work and stayed there for five years and came back with a plethora of ideas and contacts. One of the major reasons to open a Korean restaurant in particular was because of the rising popularity of “kpop” and the love for Korean culture amongst the youth and

 

also, the very important fact that there was no Korean Restaurant in the area on the very beginning.

Question: Where are you from and why did you choose Majnu Ka Tilla in particular to open a restaurant?

 

Answer: I am of a Tibetan origin and I learned the importance of how huge a market hub was, Majnu Ka Tila due to him (her husband) living in the place for several long years now.

 

Question: What are the special delicacies of the restaurant?

Answer: When talking about food, Pork grilled, bulgogi tumbak with rice, buff , grilled items and Korean Shin Ramen has always been on the top of the demand list. Bulgogi Tumbak is a delicacy made of steak thoroughly marinated in oyster sauce, soya sauce and sesame oil. Brown sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger and green onion gives a deep taste to the steak. Kimpup has also gained considerable amount of recognition. It is the Korean version of Sushi.

Question: How do you maintain the authenticity of the Korean food that is being served?

 

Answer: To maintain the authenticity of the food, all the seafood like prawns, crabs, squids, sauces, herbs and chillies are imported from Korea itself. Due to the economical prices for the customers, we often go into loss I focus more on the love and respect I gain of the customers.

Question: What do you think is the unusual attraction of the restaurant?

Answer: The special thing about the restaurant is its placing. Seated and blessed with the beautiful view of Yamuna coupled with the authentic, traditional seating style of Korea gives the amalgamation of cultures a whole new feel. Another fancy things about the place is that Busan offers a set of complementary five dishes with green tea after the food is served. The five dishes change everyday with a plethora of variants. This, according to the owners validates the authenticity to the food even more.

 

RIGOS RESTAURANT

 

INTERVIEW WITH MR. JIGRI PAV

 

 

Mr. Jigri Pav is a young kid who has been in Majnu Ka Tilla for employment but now has taken Majnu Ka Tila as a way of life. Waking up, going to pray at the monastery and then running for work has become so habitual to him!

 

Question: When was this place opened and what is the main attraction here?

 

Answer: The place was opened almost seven years back. The speciality of the place has always been Tibetan and Chinese food with the new addition of Italian food.

 

Question: How did you start working here?

Answer: I am Jigri Pav, a fellow worker in the restaurant aged 21 had been working there since past 4 years. I am originally from Nepal and came here in search of employment and learnt to cook food here. I stay with my friends and we all do similar chores to earn the daily bread.

 

Question: What is amongst the most loved food here?

Answer: According to me, Shaphalay, Thenthuk and Momos have been the speciality since forever when it comes to asking for Tibetan food. Tibetan Butter Tea, Ginger Tea are the two beverages very popular back in the native land of Tibet but has undoubtedly found its place in Majnu Ka Tila. Chinese, I think is very popular amongst the youngsters with Devil Momos, Chilli Garlic chicken, Manchurian Rice and Chilli Potato. These kinds of food is very favoured owing to the heavy influx of youngsters.

LOTUS HOUSE RESTAURANT

 

INTERVIEW WITH MR. KARMA

Mr. Karma was solely here for employment and is having a great running business, currently. He also has a tourism agency as a side work. He is in his near 40s and has successfully created a little space for himself in Majnu Ka Tila.

Question: Why Majnu Ka Tilla amongst all the places around?

Answer: So I am originally from Uttarakhand and came here in search of employment hence, I opened my restaurant here. The place is always filled with people and also the nature of the natives is very loving

Question: How long has it been since you opened the restaurant also what is the main attraction that you follow here?

 

Answer: This new addition to the family of the restaurants of Majnu Ka Tila was opened just six months back. Yet it has turned out to be a well-liked one by the visitors.

 

Question: What cuisines do you serve?

Answer: While Tibetan, Chinese and Indian still remain the most popular cuisines of the place, Thalis are the way to go when choosing this restaurant! The interesting thing to note about his kitchen is that all the cooks are Indians and have learnt the art of cooking from the natives of the respective places.

 

Question: Sir, How did you come up with the unique idea of Thali culture?

Answer: I owe this Thali culture to my ancestors who taught me the importance of the same. Tibetan Thali continues to top the charts regardless of anything. It constitutes of a loophing Shah which is basically an amalgamation of fried corn flour noodles, potatoes, meat and spinach. This is then served with chinese cabbage, shredded potatoes, veg fried momos, rice and a piece of Tingmo. Salad is a constant and hence, complementary to every food ordered.

 

Nepali Thali consists of chicken curry, chicken fried rice, daal and rice. Bhutanese Thali is quite different. The first dish called, “Ema Datshi” is made of cheese and a curry of very hot green chillies with an essential taste of garlic and onion. “Kewa Datshi” on the other hand requires cheese and mashed potatoes with a minimum of spices. Rice, Chatni and salad is also provided with it. The food in general is available in both buff and chicken meat. With all this being so popular, Kothay momos have been a favourite when it comes to side dishes.

Walking around the by-lanes of the refugee colony one often forgets the context of the same and how it came about.As mentioned in the very beginning of this article, the place has its roots from a sufi saint named “Majnu” and his interaction with Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak ji. To commemorate tis event and the presence of Sikhism in Delhi, the Sixth Guru Guru Hargobind made a Gurudwara at majnu Ka tila in 1783 and also stayed there long after. Two major highlights of this historic shrine are the festivities that take place and the idea of disposal of books.

While all Guru Purabs are celebrated here, Baisakhi is the main highlight. The Gurudwara recounts the day when the Khalsa Panth was founded by the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, which dates back

to almost three hundred years now. Pilgrims from the surrounding places assemble in the several areas of Gurudwara but majorly the main hall to listen to kirtans and quality discourses, take part in varied discussions.

People from different castes, creed and backgrounds come together to cook langar. Langar or free food is provided there as well which constitutes of a simple daal roti with halwa as the devotional offering made to God which is later shared by all the devotees.

An unusual act of kindness is bestowed at Gurudwara. It is the regular process of discarding the old and damaged copies of Guru Granth Sahib. They are relegated to a fire in a especially built qilm with due respect, reverence, solemnity and dignity.

 

On similar lines, there are 2 monasteries present inside the lanes of Majnu Ka Tila.

 

While one is brightly lit in silver lamps, the other one just had artificial lights. The offerings given to the God differed humongously! The monastery with butter lamps had offerings like that of fruits while the other one had packets of chips, aerated drinks and even beer bottles. When asked about the history of the same, the monks explained about the concept of Bodhisattva and the objective of trying to attain a middle path.

 

From the vibrant prayer flags to the food and the local markets, each part of this “refugee colony” makes one feel like home and is always protected by the sacred prayers. The striking color on the streets will make sure that nobody unseens this beautiful part of Delhi, also known as, “The mini Tibet”.

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