Seeking Refuge in the Tibetan Refugee Colony

December 2, 2010 1 Comment

As our bus hits the edge of sprawling Delhi, the sun is setting and we’re homeless.  Spontaneously travelling around northern India, we’d assumed that in a city of 13 million or more, there’d be endless cheap accommodations.  There is one place left to call on our long list and it’s in an area called Manju Ka Tilla or the Tibetan Refugee Colony.  It’s an intriguing sounding neighborhood and we feel a bit like refugees ourselves, searching for a place to sleep after a long day on the road.  Apparently Tibetans flocked to India during the Chinese invasion, thinking they’d be there a few months and, sadly, have never been able to return.  Even the Dalai Lama is still living in Dharamsala, India.

The streets of Delhi are absolute mayhem; it’s hard to exaggerate the number of people, cars, rickshaws, cows, bikes and trucks going in every direction at once.  The auto rickshaw driver deposits us on a corner, waves vaguely in one direction and speeds away, leaving us in a black cloud of soot.  We walk up and down the street looking for a way to get into this wall of buildings, or find a familiar street name on our map.  G finally spots a gold and red arch over a narrow alley and we head in.  I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland entering into a bizarre mini Tibet with small pedestrian alleyways, red lanterns hanging among blue tarps, and hardly an Indian face in sight.  There are Tibetan themed shops with crafts, foods and music spilling out.  It’s oddly quiet and tranquil compared to the pandemonium we were a part of five minutes ago.  Curiously we lug our packs asking here and there for directions through the labyrinthine alleys built decidedly without any planning or permission until, peering down one such alley, we notice the sign of our hostel.

Upon entering I feel uncomfortable but can’t put my finger on the reason.  A woman is sitting on a couch with a group of other friends around her.  She gets up to check us in but there is something unsettling about her.  I don’t like her.  We don’t seem to have much of a choice however, so up we go to inspect the room.  Two tired looking twin beds with sheets that are more like rags and walls that hadn’t been painted in an eternity await us.  The bathroom…well, let’s just say I’m glad I shower without my contacts in, and G is fascinated yet again with the possibility of using the toilet and showering at the same time.  G looks at me nervously knowing just how close it is to being more than I can handle.  I nod my head in assent and wearily drop my bag to the floor.  “Girl,” G says, “We can find another place if this isn’t ok.  It’s just that it’s 10 o’clock, we’re tired, and we’ve struck out so far….” His voice trails off faltering.  “No,” I tell him.  “It’s ok, at least it’s quiet and feels safe.  I’m exhausted, I’ll be ok.”   I reach for my bag and rummage around until I find my sleep sack.  I stretch it out on top of the sad little bed and tuck the pillow underneath.

In the morning I see a trio of young skinny Indian boys cleaning out rooms and lugging away the trash.  We go out to explore the city and when we return later that evening it hits me.  They boys are still there. Still working and it is a Tuesday…they do not going to school, worse they probably sleep somewhere in the back.  I’m not naïve, for two weeks already I’d seen starving and ill children.  I know the dire situation that millions of children are in, in India and around the world.  Perhaps these boys even feel lucky to have a roof and food.  But my heart still ached to see them working.   It made me feel so hopeless all I wanted to do was collect them all, and take them home  and tuck them into clean, white fluffy sheets with down comforters and pack them away on yellow school buses in the morning ; anything other than dragging away bags full of empty liquor bottles and waste baskets.  We pack our bags and check out, I shove some rupees into the hands of what looks like a seven year old but upon closer inspection is twelve or so, and walk out the door.  Spontaneous planning leads to unpredictable experiences, part of the intrigue of travelling is being forced out of your comfy cocoon.

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One Comments to “Seeking Refuge in the Tibetan Refugee Colony”
  1. Lisa says:

    Very touching and effective

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