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Footloose in Little Lhasa
Indian Express - January 04, 2005 02:10
By Miranda Yambem & Amrita Tripathi

New Delhi, January 1 - FOR an unorganised settlement, the Tibetan colony at Majnu Ka Tila, officially New Aruna Nagar Colony, or MKT, has come a long way since it was established in 1959. "Chungtown", as it is popularly known on the Delhi University campus, may not take up a lot of space — in fact it's flanked by the Aadarshila Observation Home for Boys and a Tibetan day school — but it has a certain otherworldly air that would definitely appeal to tourists, phirang and domestic alike.

Unlike the regular settlements, this looks more like a mini-Tibet, with shades of Manali or Dharamsala. A major portion of the space is taken up by the market, a regular DU students’ haunt. Says Ayesha, 21, a final year student at Miranda House, who is a regular at MKT, "I come here often to eat at Tee Dees and to shop for clothes." Tee Dees is a popular eating joint, that has been around for some 14 years.

"It's not like the rest of Delhi," says 31-year-old Colli Christian from Italy, comparing it to Paharganj. "It's clean and calm and the food is great."

To find out why it is so popular, you need only to move further down along the long narrow alleys, lined by rows of rundown stalls jostling for space, that sell almost everything, from Tibetan handicraft to junk jewellery, from clothes to "imported" shoes. "They are copies, made in Tibet or somewhere else, but very good copies," says Christian.

The guitar-strumming youth at Gakyil Tibetan Arts, 25-year-old Tenzin, says, "Our shop is in Lonely Planet." He gets lots of foreign tourists as well as students, who mostly go for the Rs 100 bags. The silk cushion-covers at Rs 600 may be a bit steep, not to mention the silk and embroidered wall hangings for some

Rs 15,000. "They are pure silk, handcrafted by artisans at our workshop," says Tenzin.

There are lots of men sitting around, playing carrom. "What else is there to do?" says Yashi, who's minding a shop for a friend who's busy playing outside.

The people range from the curious to the indifferent to the semi-hostile. Free Tibet stickers abound, with a couple of Tibetan tabloids, but political statements are a strict no-no here. One shopkeeper says, "I'm from Himachal. I just opened this shop. You want to talk about Tibet? Talk to someone else."

MKT has found its rightful place in the list of favoured destinations of the with-it crowd in the Capital. It's the perfect place to enjoy a lazy afternoon, with some great food — alcohol's no longer sold in the area — and shopping, though a word of caution: it can get a little claustrophobic.