Like any other cosmopolitan, Delhi has its own secrets. There are random places which can put any book of history or culture to shame. And then there are places which seem like little entries in the princess diary hidden in cloudy puffs of cuteness. And that was one such place where I chose to spend my Sunday evening. This was Little Tibet, a Tibetan refugee colony near Majnu Ka Tila in Delhi.
A short ten minute ride from the Vidhan Sabha metro station takes you to this small colony of Tibetan refugees. The place reminds you of a smaller version of Dharamshala with all the prayer flags, photos of Dalai Lama, a beautiful monastery on the side of the road and lip smacking amazing Tibetan food. The first thing that struck me as I reached the colony were vibrant prayer flags hanging from every nook and corner of the narrow by-lanes of the colony. It is considered that the five mystical forces – air, water, land, fire and sky merge in these flags and they purify the air wherever they are hung, as wind carries the positive messages from these mantra powered flags to far and wide.
A little walk into the alley brings you to a common path where two monasteries wait. This in every detail is a place to enjoy the hubbub of this place, where families assemble to enjoy the evenings together and children for their play. It was interesting to note how different these two monasteries were in their decoration, offerings and the way devotees worshipped. While lamps lit with ghee were used in one, artificial lights were lit in the other, while one monastery accepted fruits as offerings, at the other even a bottle of beer was accepted as an offering to god. Seemed a cultural enigma to me!
What really overtakes you is the aroma of Tibetan food as you walk down the lane lined with curio shops. And as you walk down you are assaulted by the multiple hoardings of momos, thukpas, shabalay and thentuk. I stumbled up impossibly in the narrow alleys, following the aroma, past residences stacked on top of each other defying every rule of architecture but somewhat beautifully assembled and suddenly I was in the open facing the river. For a minute you seem to be in a mugger’s territory and the next you are out eyeing the beautiful curio of the Tibetan people. Tibetan life seemed breathing in and out through these shops, finding itself in the aroma of the Tibetan dishes, dancing as the flags fluttered.
There is an eclectic mix of shops, wonderful curio shops and knack off brand clotheirs line up next to a bloke selling mobile accessories. But every shop had a portrait of revered Dalai Lama, some even sold his speeches. Some shops were exclusively Tibetan with prayer wheels, Buddhist holograms, rugs, sculptures, Buddhist toys and carpets; in all if you are a shopping person, you can easily afford to spend some contented hours in these shops.
Though I was curiously taking rounds on these streets and doing some shopping and window shopping, my attention span was short lived; thanks to the distraction by numerous posters of Tibetan restaurants in the area. The street is just lined up with restaurants, but I always had my favourites there –
Every place seems to have a character, but I don’t what makes me go to Dolma house everytime I am here – could be there momos or could be the view I can have from there sitting next to the glass window. But there are many others and no restaurant in this street will ever disappoint you – try Tee Gee or Akama kitchen for good Tibetan and Nepali cuisines. The menu is limited but the taste will win your heart.
What to eat:
Shabalay – It is almost like a stuffed samosa or a succulent momo and served with intense fried sauce, to make your taste buds burn but tingle for more. Try both mutton and veg versions. They are like meat samosas or patties, more like a shepherd’s pie, but a bit thinner, saucier, spicier and drier.
Thentuk – I will call it a cousin of Thukpa, more soupy, warm and salubrious, with chunks of meat and vegetables adding flavor to it.
Tingmo – It is fermented, stuffed bread, unique and delightful enough to fall in love with; far more than a stuffed meat ball. I was advised to combine Tingmo with another dish Shapta, which is juicy beef/pork dish sauted with spices.
Butter tea – Tibetans love their butter tea or po cha. This salty tea is consumed several times a day in Tibet, to heat up the body. Infact every fifteenth day of Lunar calendar, Tibetans celebrate butter festival where the entire city is lit with butter lamps and scriptures made of butter are made to decorate the city. This festival was started way back in fifteenth century, called Monlam, it is now banned by the Chinese regime in Tibet, but Tibetan Buddhist followers in Nepal and India still celebrate it every year. Little Tibel, Delhi is one such place where you can go and savor the festivity of this unique festival, Monlam.
My visit to little Tibet is replete with graceful vignettes of blend of age old traditions with modernity, of women dressed in traditional dresses selling momos, of old eyes that have lost hope of returning to their motherland, plays of children in the monastery courtyard, wizened old lady selling po chai and share her stories from Tibet; but in all a story of two unique cultures coming together. Noone knows where the issue of Tibet will converge or whether it ever will. I used to consider it a diplomatic issue, but after listening to the stories, I have changed my stand from ‘diplomatic’ to ‘far beyond diplomacy’. But thanked is our land, which has His Holiness making it his temporary abode, and close to 1.5 lakh Tibetans calling it their home and giving us our new found favourite snack ‘momo’.