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