A Day at Delhi’s Mini Tibet

Delhi is known for its vibrant culture, delicious dishes of different communities, rush and busy roads, gigantic historical Mughal buildings and much more. Being a small state, Delhi is still home to millions of people who come from different parts of India.

But this write-up is of people, who had come from Tibet to India and have become almost as Indian as anyone. Yet, they have preserved their culture and practise their traditions and beliefs just as they do, back in their native land.
Majnu Ka Tilla is a Tibet refugee colony and is located in South Delhi. It provides permanent shelter to many Tibet refugees who were living in small camps on the Yamuna Riverbed after the Tibet uprising.


First time I visited Majnu Ka Tilla was to locate a Mongolian friend who had come to India to attend a Buddhist program. Until then, this tucked away small colony was unknown to me. In search of my friend’s hotel, I walked into a small passageway, and it was one of the most colourful scenes I had ever laid my eyes on! I detached from the fact that I was in India within seconds. I could not have possibly imagined that a mini Tibet could exist inside Delhi. Around me were flocks of Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Korean, Thai and North Eastern people gathered in groups exploring the street markets and eating at the restaurants.

Mystic Market

The fragrances of incense sticks, like the ones in Buddhist temples or monasteries, filled the air while huge paintings of Buddha and Bodhi Satvas were hung at the shops lined up till the end of the street. The women were dressed in colourful Kimono looking outfits with wooden sandals worn on top of socks. Some men had tattoos of the Tibet map on their arms or freedom slogans and had their hair tied up in small ponytails, like the Samurais. I saw that many of them wore beaded bracelets of wood or marble on their wrists. They were sitting at their shops fanning themselves to kill the summer heat while greeting and smiling at the tourists who walked past them. Tibetian Handicrafts articles like wallets, pouches, wooden jewellery boxes and other souvenirs are the main attraction of these shops. The street was decorated with small colourful triangle shaped flags joined in one thread in the colours of blue, green, orange, yellow and so on and had Sanskrit alphabets on them. These flags reminded me of Ladakhi Gompas (monasteries built on the hills)


Apart from the street shops, there were quite sophisticated glass door shops too. Thinking that stuff would be pretty expensive, I just walked into them to explore more. Bells rang the moment I entered, that were hung on the door and the first sight I had was the line of beaded necklaces that were on sale. I remembered the people wearing them outside. The prices of these ranged from 200-1200 INR. The shopkeeper was a friendly person, wearing a T-shirt that said “Free Tibet”. He told me that the prices of every item in the shop depends on the material it was made out of. I had to change my mind on the prices. They were pretty fair and affordable. He showed me cool backpacks made out of handloom cloth with Aztek linear designs and Tibetan traditional dresses that had golden belts around the waist with baggy sleeves that further widened towards the wrist.

There were bookmarks and badges of his Holiness Dalai Lama and the Buddhist flag. Hair oil, body lotions, and shower gels were also placed on the shelves which were made out of rare herbs according to Tibetan healing methods. The shopkeeper was Xiang Tuo who also told me that many East Asian travellers pick Majnu Ka Tilla for their lodging to be among their own people and to see how well they have settled in India. Especially the Buddhist monks who didn’t speak much English and need travelling options and directions to other parts of India such as Bodhgaya.

People in this colony have picked up jobs such tour guiding, or selling handicrafts and Buddhist publications or have started restaurants and hotels which had ethnic East Asian dishes. Once I was out of the shop (having bagged a few collectables) I paid a visit to the Buddhist temple of the colony which is said to be quite amazing and peaceful. It surely was, with its Bodhi Satva statues and an entrance of about 50 or so ghee lamps that are lit as offering to Lord Buddha.

Right opposite the temple was a cylinder shaped object made out of wood, placed vertically on a spindle. Sanskrit writings were carved upon it too, and I found out by those who sat around it that it’s called the prayer wheel and according to Tibetan Buddhism, spinning the wheel was equally meritorious as orally reciting the prayers. Tibetan Buddhism is basically a combination of Mahayana, Tantric and Shamanic Buddhism. The Buddha statues inside the temple were huge and decorative. Even though I was a Buddhist, certain things and prayer material were still new to me, as I come from a Theravada Buddhist country. Yet the preaching is the same. Men and women on the benches outside the temple were reciting the prayers aloud and it had a peacefulness upon me, and for some time, I forgot about the honking horns and busy roads outside the colony walls.

Just as the habit, I believe that any tour is incomplete without food. I had a meal at Korean & Tibetan restaurant where the employees were all dressed in red kimonos with golden designs, and the walls were decorated with Tibetan scripts and bamboo art. Every shop I walked in, had a huge poster of his Holiness Dalai Lama at the reception. The steaming bowl of vegetable soup followed by a plate of boiled Chicken Momos, vegetables, and some fish noodles which I tried to eat with the chopsticks (called Hashi) but failed was a great treat.


Majnu Ka Tilla is the Tibetan’s world. Their lives have perfectly blended with the colony. I was able to talk to many residents there, to hear that they miss their Tibet so very much and they have hopes for freedom for Tibet, after which they would love to go back to their soil. But for anyone who has not been to Tibet and is in Delhi, Majnu Ka Tilla is one best attraction you should not miss.

Sakie Ariyawansa

Sakie Ariyawansa

Sakie Ariyawansa is a traveler and a community activist from Sri Lanka. She is also a blogger at Tripoto and Wanderlust UK.

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