Maegan and I have discovered that Heaven is, indeed, a place on Earth. Well, if your idea of heaven involves fuit juice, jasmine tea and apple pie that’s baked on the premises. This isn’t Cafe Coffee Day though, nor is it one of Hauz Khas Village’s trendy-but-slightly-pretentious caffeine establishments. With sunshine-yellow walls, wicker chairs and a superb music collection (including the best of Westlife, Shakira and the Spice Girls), it’s hard to leave ‘Coffee House’ once you’ve sat down. So where is this new nest of ours? Hidden in a basement, in one of Delhi’s lesser known parts of town.
Majnu Ka Tila, aka the Tibetan Colony, is one of my favourite parts of this city. When I find myself in the middle of a ‘what-the-halwa am I doing in India?’ crisis, I come here to calm down and remind myself that I do like living in the Indian capital, most of the time. Here you can forget you’re in Delhi for a little while, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
After a bone-shattering cycle rickshaw ride from Vidhan Sabha metro station – during which you’ll encounter donkeys, pigs, goats and cows (and the smells that come with them) – it’s a relief to see the big, red entrance gate dripping with multicoloured prayer flags. The urban village is a completely self-sustained colony for Tibetans living in exile, with the main industries here being restaurants, cafes, shops and travel agencies (which mostly organise transport up to India’s Tibetan headquarters – Dharamsala).
Wandering along the narrow lanes, it really feels like another world. Ladies in traditional Tibetan stripy aprons with creased faces sell silver and turquoise jewellery on the street; monks in red robes play chess in the square by the temple; the smell of fresh momos and incense swirls in all directions and the occasional bit of Tibetan pop music blasts out from the houses.
‘Coffee House’ is in the basement of the New Tibetan Camp, and, apart from the staff and some of the customers, it doesn’t look very Tibetan. The wicker chairs are comfy and numerous and, for some reason, there are paintings of the Arc de Triomphe and the Moulin Rouge on the yellow walls. The waiter makes our fruit juice in a blender while contentedly singing along to ‘My Heart Will Go On’, but Maegan tells me she prefers it when he sings the rap verses of English songs because he makes up the words. We munch on surprisingly inexpensive fresh apple pie and banana bread while working on our laptops (there’s free wifi), and in an hour or so we’ll order omelettes and tea.
It’s the kind of place where you can stay all day, and we probably will. Some days, though, we have important Hindi classes to go to, but fortunately Majnu Ka Tila is only a short rickshaw ride from Delhi University, which means we can come in the week before classes and still stay till the last minute, maybe taking an extra cake for the road.