People watching has always been my favorite thing to do, anywhere and everywhere – no, not in a creepy way. Very recently, ever since I started conducting photowalks in college, I have learnt to fully appreciate the art of people watching. As a student of Architecture, the most important thing that we’ve been asked to do is to observe each and everything that makes up one’s habitat – to explore settlements unlike the one you’re familiar with and to absorb ourselves with the history, the food, the culture and most importantly the ‘heritage’ of the place.
Delhi, the city of diversity and culture, the capital of the second most populated country in the world – India, is a city that has had a history like no other. From being the site where a mythological city was once said to exist, Delhi has always been the seat of power of the Indian subcontinent from the times of the Pandavas. It’s not surprising at all to know that Delhi, with its arms outstretched, has always provided a home to anyone seeking its refuge. The fact that Delhi has accommodated the refugees after the Partition and the Tibetan refugees in exile in itself is a proof that no matter what people might say, Delhi is a city of the people.
A week and a half ago, I took a bunch of students from my college for a photowalk to one such settlements called Majnu Ka Tila. Historically, Majnu Ka Tila was the port from where the first Muslim devotee of Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism) used to ferry people across the River Yamuna. If it were up to me, I would give full credit to the River that the city today still exists – but that’s a story for someday else. The area New Aruna Nagar is known by the Gurudwara Majnu Ka Tila that was built later on at the same site where Majnu used to live. Following the Tibetan Diaspora during the 1960s, the refugees who came to Delhi were given shelter next to the riverbed. The area where the settlement has been established is at present disputed and many can call it ‘unauthorized’, even though the refugees were promised the land. History has different accounts from the perspectives of different people, but what one should care about is the fact that this small colony has so much to offer which is something not everyone has experienced in any other part of Delhi.
On entering through a small gate under the ‘lohe ka pul’, one can experience a totally different air around them. You are greeted with a relatively slow paced lifestyle, old people sitting on the streets playing cards, youngsters dressed up from head to toe spinning the prayer wheels and a soft chitter-chatter in Tibetan – all together with the smell of Tibetan street food lingering in the background. Further inside the narrow alleys, one reaches a courtyard with two beautiful Buddhist temples and people from all walks of life relaxing and enjoying themselves. One can cross alleys with prayer flags, music to the likes of Phurbu T. Namgyal and shops selling Free Tibet merchandise, prayer flags, prayer wheels, singing bowls, jewelry made of semiprecious stones et al. while wandering in these streets and alleys – you can easily get lost and somehow feel that they’re intruding into other’s privacy. Although the people are very warm, friendly and welcoming, they definitely don’t appreciate that.
The last segment of the walk was the market area where one could find restaurants serving amazing, fresh and authentic Tibetan food amidst the chaotic street with more and more shops selling factory rejects and export surplus goods. Now if you ask me – Why built heritage? It is because the Tibetan Colony is a place of its own, even though second generation Tibetans in exile live there, they haven’t parted with their relaxed and easy going pace of life. They took their culture with them and this settlement is, for me, a place of forgotten (and neglected by most) heritage. For those of you who have experienced the place first hand would know the true value of this treasure, and for those who haven’t – it’s a great excuse for a short trip to this beautiful part of India.