A Buddhist country in the north of the Himalayas, Tibet has become a part of China now. The country-folk have been scattered. They have become a small huddled community in India.

A community born out of the Tibetan refugee camp.

A place that is in India, yet not India. The Indian capital Delhi – Majnu-ka-Tilla – the Tibetan residential area (the Tibetan colony). This is where the Tibetan refugees gather and live together.

The Tibetan neighbourhood lies between a big highway (the Outer Ring Road) going north from the Central Delhi Railway Station and the Yamuna river. There are three main entrances from the road to the residential area. Once you step inside, you’ll realise that this small realm of Tibetan culture wears a different air from the bustle of Old Delhi.

I enter a narrow alley. Built like a jaggedly-bending maze, the houses and shops there are crowded around, as if crammed in and stacked. It seems that this town itself is made of the backs of the alleys. In the centre was a Gompa (Tibetan Buddhist temple) and a square-shaped plaza.

Tibetan exiles followed the 14th Dalai Lama

As an exotic place for everyone, even various kinds of people from Indian keep coming and going.
Even the Indian youth of today come to eat Tibetan cuisine, and seem to be close to this town where the Tibetans live.

Since 1948, the Chinese army led by Mao Ze-Dong has been occupying Tibet. Then in 1959, the Lhasa Uprising in triggered the exile of the 14th reincarnation of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama (who was 14 years old at the time).

Many of the inhabitants of Majnu-ka-Tilla are Tibetan exiles who followed the 14th Dalai Lama to India after 1959. They spontaneously gathered in this area along the bank of the Yamuna river, and it was allocated as a Tibetan refugee district by the Indian Government in the 1960s. It has now become a community where 2000-3000 people live.(*1)

Night-time at Majnu-ka-Tilla

Stepping over a sleeping dog, the path gets narrower as I walk. I head into the narrow maze, towards the end of the street.
However, the Majnu-ka-Tilla colony stretches from south to north spanning a distance of the order of 1km , and can be covered on foot within the range of 15-20 minutes from end to end. The road till the bar on the edge of the colony is dim.

I reach a peculiar restaurant, which looks like it might appear in a movie.
A sudden change from the silence on the way, the inside of the zinc-roofed building is crowded with many customers.
Men enjoying a dice game called “Sho”. There is a ring of people surrounding two Carrom boards. With a scenery that does not exist anywhere else in India in the periphery of my vision, I enjoy some Tibetan cuisine.

About himself and Tibet

The person who brought us here is Mr. Choedak, who is addressed as “Cho-cho” Choedak – a term of respect for a slightly older man that originally means “elder brother”. When I came to Delhi, a friend of mine from france who frequently stops over at Majnu-ka-Tilla, introduced him. Mr. Choedak spoke to me about himself and about Tibet. (I would like to post this with his permission.)

He is a second-generation Tibetan exile.
Born in a village called Pandoh in the northern part of India, he went to the Tibetan Children’s Village educational community in Manali. Spending time in Dharamshala, he since entered Delhi University in 1996 having received support from a French family, and said he has been living here in Majnu-ka-Tilla ever since he graduated.

Today, on the way here, he exchanged greetings with so many friends he crossed paths with. He is definitely sociable, but I somehow sensed the strong ties within the community that lives bringing people who are family – and even those who are not – closer.

Tibetan Children Village

“TCV, which stands for Tibetan Children’s Villages, are residential schools for the children of the Tibetans in Dharamshala, Bylakuppe, Delhi, etc. in India. By the way, the TCV inside the Tibetan colony is a day school, though…”, he explained in detail.

TCV, operated by the Tibetan government-in-exile, provides education to the children of Tibetan refugees. Tibetan language classes are held in addition to general subjects taught in English. It’s because educating them as Tibetans isn’t possible in their homeland since it ended up becoming a part of China, he said.(*2) “Parents (in Tibet) are at least sending their children to India and leaving them in custody of the TCV.”

The path of exile from Tibet to India is a harsh journey of crossing the Himalayan mountains over more than 1000 km on foot at the risk of one’s life.(*3) I wonder if the parents entrusted them to their close friends.  I cannot put the thought of children walking through it into words.

Photographs・Text = Yoko Kobayashi (translated by Aumurto Chaudhury)

Annotation :
(*1) The population of the Tibetan people is about 600,000 in Bhutan, about 5.4 million in China [1], about 150,000 in Tibetan exiles (including 100,000 in India), or about 6 million in 4 countries.
(*2) The Chinese government’s strong ethnic assimilation policy is destroying Tibetan culture.

Reference :
(*3) Documentary film
『Escape Over The Himalayas : Tibet’s Children on their Way into Exile』In 2000, German Maria Blumencron accompanied the children exiles crossing the Himalayan mountain range to India and was able to capture them in a short 29-minute documentary.

『Olo : The Boy from Tibet』Director : Iwasa Hisaya
“I wonder why my mother sent me off to this foreign country.” A single camera kept recording the figure of Olo, exiled at the age of six.

Story 1 : Majnu Ka Tilla – Tibetan Refugee Colony in North Delhi.
Story 2 : Tibetan Refugees in India – To preserve their culture and identity.

This post is also available in Japanese.