• A walk on the Buddhist side of life: Delhi’s Mini Tibet

    by  • June 1, 2014 • Culture, Food, Heritage, Photography, Religion • 32 Comments

    Guest post by Seep Gulati, an active DelhiByFoot community member. Pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

    Foodie, traveller, adrenaline junkie and life enthusiast, is how Seep describes herself. She believes in the concept of loving, laughing and learning throughout the journey of life. When she isn’t chasing dynamic life, she is fighting ‘world-war’ battles with her niece and nephew or drafting new promotional PR and Marketing strategies for her clients.
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    Buddhist Prayer Drums outside a Buddhist Temple

    A love-struck majnu (Romeo), unable to claim the object of his affection, sacrifices his life on a tilla (hillock) and over time the place gets transformed into a historical or religious edifice and comes to be known as ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ or Romeo’s Hillock!

    Raised on a steady dose of Bollywood movies, this rather romantic plot was how I imagined Delhi’s mini Tibet or ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ to be.

    So when I went on a walk in the lanes and bylanes of ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ with DelhiByFoot (DBF), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the place was actually a beautiful Gurudwara immortalizing the memory of a kind hermit who was blessed by Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, for his selfless devotion to mankind.

    DBF’s walk leader Jaya explained that the hermit, incidentally a Muslim, was so lost in his search for ‘God’ that he forgot about the world and people started calling him ‘majnu’ (or the crazy one, like being crazy in love as Romeo was for his Juliet).

    Majnu used to ferry people across the Yamuna River and instead of charging a fee he would spread the word of the ‘Almighty’ amongst them. On one of his trips, Majnu met Guru Nanak Dev who blessed him and prophesized that history forever shall immortalize his name. So it came to be true when in the 18th century a Sikh shrine was established in this place — Gurudwara Majnu-ka-Tilla.

    Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    The once mighty River Yamuna, now flows listlessly just behind the Majnu Ka Tila area, more a dirty sewage drain, than a perennial river as it was once described in Indian Vedas and historical notes of the past.

    With this tale from the pages of Delhi’s history began my first walk with DBF, the beginning of my attempt to experience India’s capital – a city I have been born in, but seems have not actually seen!

    A few blocks away from the Gurudwara was our destination of the Sunday morning walk, the Tibetan refugee colony, also known as ‘Little Tibet’ of Delhi.

    Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    Technically in Delhi the Buddhist Colony is called New Aruna Nagar, but Majnu Ka Tila is how Delhites know this place as

    DBF had arranged for us to meet a practicing Buddhist, Gelek, to help us navigate the intricacies of Buddhist spirituality and the lifestyle of the Tibetan community of Delhi.

    What struck us we reached the colony were the vibrant prayer flags hanging from every nook and corner of these narrow by-lanes, seemingly inviting us on a mystical journey. Gelek explained that each flag has a different texture and its own story. Five elements of nature – land, water, air, fire and sky merge in these flags. Powered by sacred mantras, they purify the air wherever they are hung as the wind spreads the positive energies in the atmosphere.

    Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    Buddhist Temple facade with multiple flags on the roofs

    Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind

    Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind

    Tibetan shops lined on both sides of the streets here sell everything from decorative wall hangings, Tibetan jewellery, music CDs, and T-shirts with Buddhist mantras (chants). There are many guest houses also offering cheap accommodation and obviously Tibetan food!

    What struck me the most was the immense amount of colour on the streets and inside the temples we visited. The sight was worth the effort of waking up early morning on a Sunday!

    Shops selling curios and prayer drums and flags

    Shops selling curios and souvenirs like Buddhist prayer drums and flags

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    Altar and offerings inside a Temple of the community

    As we walked through the colony and were assaulted by the multiple hoardings of steamed momos, thukpa, shabalay etc, the participants, each an early bird on this 8AM walk, had a sudden urge to satisfy our breakfast cravings!

    We decided to sample local Tibetan food and try a delicious snack locally known as ‘Laping’ which the locals almost pronounced as ‘laughing’ or maybe they were just teasing us!

    Picture this: Potato starch dried cakes cut into bite-size pieces, enclosed with minced garlic/ garlic -water, vinegar, soya sauce, sesame oil and red chilli sauce creates a spectacular cold snack. Laping can be consumed dry or with cold soup. We tried the dried version as a starter and then ordered for Laping soup along with fluffy Tibetan bread.

    Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    Applying a fiery paste and rolled-up the Laping, cut into bite-size mini-rolls!

    The cold and soupy version of the Laping..

    The cold and soupy version of Laping

    Post the food-adventure, we headed towards the two Buddhist temples in the locality, where Gelek answered all our questions regarding rituals, culture, prayer wheels, butter lamps, sculptures and how a Buddhist monk would lead his life.

    Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    Incense burns at multiple prayer zones, at alley corners which spread the musky fragrance all over the colony

    It was interesting to note that two adjacent Buddhist temples were so different in terms of their decoration, the offerings and how the locals worshipped. While silver lamps with butter were being used in one temple, artificial lights were lit in the other. Similarly offerings at one temple included fruits while at the other temple even a bottle of beer had been put up as an offering for the gods!

    Polished lamps await butter for readiness of

    Polished lamps await butter for readiness of lighting at special prayer sessions!

    Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    And the Butter Lamps once lit, will remain un-touched through 8-10 hours at a stretch!

    Inside the temple, the Altar remains lighted throughout the day and even at night!

    Inside this temple, the altar remains lighted using electricity! The bowls contain saffron infused water act almost like air-freshners inside these old temple rooms

    Defining the concepts of how Buddhism is practiced around the world, Gelek explained the meaning of ‘Boddhistava’ and ‘Buddha’ and how each of us can also walk on the path to liberation from ‘Samsara’ (cyclic existence of life and birth) to attain ‘Nirvana’ (Enlightenment).

    Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi

    Gelek, DBF’s walk specialist throws more light on finer nuances of prayers and the rituals of Buddhism!

    Ironically, Buddhism which was started by Buddha in India and was popularised by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC has flourished in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Burma etc before coming back to the country of its origin through Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists.

    The Tibetan refugees who in the early 1960s followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India, to escape Chinese oppression in Tibet, were a boon for our country as it was largely these people brought back the basic philosophies of Buddhism – to lead a moral life; to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions; and above all, to develop patience, deeper wisdom and understanding.

    Lamps and ready for lighting!

    Lamps, ready for lighting!

    We also discussed Tibetan Buddhist practices, including the Honourable Dalai Lama’s personal teachings, the philosophies of Ladakh’s Buddhists and how the Tibetan people are fighting peacefully to free their homeland from China which continues with human rights violations in Tibet.

    However, the extremely congested lanes, dearth of civic amenities and lack of employment opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India told us another sad tale of our country’s neglect of these culturally rich and proud people.

    We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Spirituality inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!

    We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Buddha’s Spirituality, inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!

    Another eye-opener was that the largest teaching centre for Tibetan Buddhism in the world, Namdroling Monastery is actually situated in Karnataka, home to approximately 5,000 Tibetan monks and not in places usually associated with Buddhism like Dharamsala, Sikkim or Ladakh!

    This walk not only connected the dots on the heritage front, it also empowered me to engage in enriching conversations with like-minded people on how Delhi is the melting pot of people and cultures from all over the world.

    To check out more pics from the walk, click here

    Buddhist Walk, Majnu Ka Tila Delhi

    An almost 12 feet tall Prayer Drum inside the Majnu Ka Tila colony

    32 Responses to A walk on the Buddhist side of life: Delhi’s Mini Tibet

    1. June 14, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Oh shoot! I missed this walk. I would have loved to have come for it

      • June 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm

        Hi Rajiv, thanks for coming on our blog…and worry not…we can always mail you when we are doing it next. If you wish us to mail you weekly updates of our upcoming walks, drop in a line to ‘explore@delhibyfoot.in’…. Cheers, Ramit, Chief Explorer, DBF

    2. Rashi
      June 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Quite an enlightening article by Seep. It was as if One was actually travelling the Tibetan by lanes near the Majnu Ka Tilla while reading this post. It is interesting to note, that while Buddhism originated in India, it spread to other parts of the world fairly well, and then later popularised in India. More intriguing is the way Buddhism is practiced from country to country. I have had the privilege of staying as an exchange student for a year in Japan and during that time I realised that Buddhism in Japan was extremely different from that in India. While in India, the Buddhists are extremely particular about adopting non violence as a way of life even towards the animals and living beings, in Japan, the Buddhists are pretty liberal and freely consume eggs, meat and even alcohol.

      • June 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        Yes Rashi, I believe Seep actually wanted that to happen…almost a ‘virtual tour’ with her words… 🙂
        Buddhism, as you point out has taken up many hues with mixing of cultures and people and lands where it spread over the past 2500yrs…India lost touch with what Lord Buddha preached, so maybe what we consider as sacrosanct to Buddhism may not be so in the way it was taught in other lands. It is interesting that you shared this aspect of your knowledge from Japan, which maybe implies that unlike India, in Japan Religion does not seem to impose restrictions and rigid rules on each and every aspect of day-to-day life…Thanks Rashi for sharing your thoughts too..Ramit, Chief Explorer, DBF

    3. ruchika bhasin
      June 20, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      Beautifully written seep.. I am inspired to go there..

      • June 21, 2014 at 4:44 pm

        So true Ruchika, Seep has captured the walk with her words beyond what I had expected when I requested her to write a story for us…. Thanks Seep once again. Thanks Ruchika for visiting our site. Cheers, Ramit, Chief Explorer, DBF

    4. Nikkita
      February 22, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      How can we apply for such walks?

      • March 18, 2015 at 1:59 am

        Hi Nikkita…thanks for being in touch…
        ..Your mail ID has been added to our mailing list and you will recv once-a-week mails of our events from now on.
        On 22nd March we are doing this: https://www.facebook.com/events/1619282694970067/
        Thanks
        Ramit Mitra

    5. abhishek
      April 14, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Oh shoot! I missed this walk. where it is in delhi ?

    6. rashmi
      May 4, 2015 at 10:35 am

      Please add me to your mailing list look forward to joining an event

      Warm regards

      Rashmi

    7. Shilpa
      May 30, 2015 at 11:23 am

      Am in interested in this walk..when is it happening next? Also any such sites on Gurgaon side?

    8. Michie Abraham
      July 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Hi!

      I would like to join some walks… Please add me to your mailing list.

      Looking forward to seeing Delhi…

      Thank You!

      Michie Abraham

    9. Bhagyashree Bhansali
      July 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Kindly add me to your mailing list look forward to joining an event.

      Warm regards
      Bhagyashree Bhansali

    10. Marion LOWDEN
      August 11, 2015 at 2:52 am

      hi
      I have visited India many times and would like to see Delhi and especially the walk, Buddist temple etc. could you add me to your mailing list please?

    11. Dev Dutta
      August 18, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      Hello there.
      I would like to be the part of such a festivals. Please let me know how I do that.
      Thank you.

    12. monika vohra
      September 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      Go for peacefully atmosphare n want to join buddism. N try to walk on this

    13. Ankit
      September 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      Please add my mail id
      TIA

    14. Isheeta
      October 2, 2015 at 3:00 am

      Pl send me your walks schedule for this weekend

    15. siddharth gautam
      October 8, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Would love to join you guys and explore more of Delhi.

    16. Shanu Das
      November 19, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      how can we apply for this walk? when is it next happening?

    17. Ashok Soni
      December 5, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      I was actually searching for some material on Buddhism and unfortunately there is not much in Delhi, I was looking to be there for some time to see and experience that peace you could get from them. It’s a good written article seep. Thanks. Would like to read more and if possible since I am in Delhi myself would like to join one of these walks myself.

      Thanks.

    18. Yuvraj
      January 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      Nice article Seep. Ramit, are you guys still taking out such walks? If yes, then how to enroll for them. Kindly add my email to your list and keep me informed.

    19. mithun
      April 17, 2016 at 6:46 am

      Please add me to your mailing list look forward to joining an event

      Warm regards
      Mithun Srivastava

    20. Adity
      May 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks for such an interesting article. I am headed there at the first opportunity I get.

    21. GAURAV SINGH
      August 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      REALLY NICE ARTICLE. WOULD LIKE TO JOIN YOUR GROUP FOR NEXT WALK.

      • October 23, 2016 at 9:39 am

        Hello Gaurav….Thanks for your appreciation,

        Thank you for showing interest to join our walk events on weekends, your mail ID was duly added and we hope you are receiving the mails of our events. If not, then do check SPAM/OTHER/PROMOTIONS folders of your Gmail/Yahoo mail Inboxes.

        Hope to see you walking & enjoying Delhi very soon

        Cheers
        Ramit
        Team DBF

    22. Mani Kant
      September 5, 2016 at 12:17 am

      I want to Join on the ongoing visits of Delhi and its part. Can i join the group and get notifications about next walk?

      • October 23, 2016 at 9:40 am

        Hello Mani,

        Thank you for showing interest to join our walk events on weekends, your mail ID was duly added few weeks back and we hope you are receiving the mails of our events. If not, then do check SPAM/OTHER/PROMOTIONS folders of your Gmail/Yahoo mail Inboxes.

        Hope to see you walking & enjoying Delhi very soon

        Cheers
        Ramit
        Team DBF

    23. Om Shukla
      October 13, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Please add my mail id

      • October 23, 2016 at 9:38 am

        Hello Om Shukla,

        Thank you for showing interest to join our walk events on weekends, your mail ID was duly added and we hope you are receiving the mails of our events. If not, then do check SPAM/OTHER/PROMOTIONS folders of your Gmail/Yahoo mail Inboxes.

        Hope to see you walking & enjoying Delhi very soon

        Cheers
        Ramit
        Team DBF

    24. dr anuradha
      December 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      please do let me know the schedule thanks

    25. Amit
      February 26, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      Hi all, i am interested to join the walk. Let me know the schedule for the same in coming days.

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