AMA Cafe is symbolic of Majnu ka Tila’s commercialisation. It is expanding beyond students and foreign tourists.
New Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tila has got a facelift or is losing its original vibe—it all depends on how you define cool. For decades, it was an intimate, hippie, touristy hangout serving dollops of pop Buddhist grunge. Today, it’s all gentrified. Construction is on steroids.
“A decade ago, MKT (Majnu Ka Tila) was a much more peaceful place. It felt like a hidden treasure that not many knew about. But now, we see the place is not just filled by Tibetans or Northeasterners but all kinds of people. It was once in the periphery, now it has become the center,” says Ulupi Borah, an international and strategic studies expert who got acquainted with the place during her college days in the late 2000s.
Majnu Ka Tila, colloquially referred to as MKT or MT, is a small piece of land in north Delhi that was allocated to Tibetan refugees in the early 1960s after their arduous escape from Tibet via Arunachal Pradesh. Today, it brims with tall buildings, saddled next to each other. New construction in the area suggests more new restaurants, cafes, guest houses, or shops will pop up in a few months.
In the vicinity of the settlement, are neighbourhoods that struggle to boast of proper buildings, fancy shops, or quaint eateries. MT shines in comparison to its markedly poorer neighbours. Its transformation into a commercial hub is a story that goes back a little over two decades. But unlike most tales of gentrification that usurp the original inhabitants, MT was for Tibetans and continues to be.
Its labyrinth of narrow lanes – most of them laced with shops on both sides – is a testimony to the success that Tibetans living in India have earned through their hard work. The intimate space of under 4 acres, comprising 365 houses, is packed with a 60-year-old history of a community that was forced to start from scratch on the banks of the Yamuna.