Its amusing how always the images of higher altitudes cloud our eyes every time we talk about the Tibetan Community, or the high mounted multi-tiered pagodas or monasteries, in India. Though a visit to Tibet is not one of the many options people opt for owing to its inaccessible nature for common tourists, we do have a little Tibet well within our reach. As, justice to its claim of diversity, India has a lot more to surprise us than the social, political or economical tohubohu perpetually prevailing and it is , the existence of a thriving community of more than 10,000 Tibetans at the most unthinkable part of the nation-Karnataka.
The beautiful hill station and refugee settlement, Bylakuppe, established by Lugsum Samdupling (in 1961) and Dickyi Larsoe (in 1969) ,in the midst of dense forests and coffee and oranges plantations, is less than four hours drive from Bangalore and two hours from Mysore, enroute to Coorg.
As you draw nearer to Bylakuppe, traces of Tibetan culture come alive: varicoloured Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind, Tibetan script on sign boards alongside Kannada and English present almost everywhere, even hoardings of sacrifices of people from Tibet against the Chinese government hung everywhere, and monks,lamas,and nuns of varied ages in red robes strolling past in their meditative trance welcome you further to the iconic Golden Temple: Namdroling Buddhist Vihara(also known as Namdroling Monastery),which is the largest Nyingma monastery outside of Tibet, once established by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche shortly after he came to India from Tibet. It is a religious college, hospital and an abode to a sangha community of more than 5000 monks and nuns of almost all ages and glimpses of young monks engaged in playing games, chatting animatedly in groups or walking down the narrow lanes of the village, is common.
At the entrance of the monastery ,enthralling its onlookers stands gold-tipped stupas that gleam when hit by the morning and noon sun, thus rightly justifying its title- The Golden Temple. And, once you step inside the realms of the spiritual abode through the two huge red ornate doors embossed with gold carvings and intricate murals based on Tantric Buddhism, every existing vexatious feeling of anxiety, annoyance, stress, the traumatic hustle-bustle of the cities ,the dust and heat, everything seems to fade leaving the soul empty to be filled with the sweet tranquillity hung in the air. Awaiting at the entrance of the prayer hall are the three gold-plated idols of Shakyamuni Buddha which is sixty-feet tall,Padmasambhava(also known as the Second Buddha or Rinpoche) Buddha and Amitayush Buddha which are both about fifty-eight feet tall. Beside them are situated two thrones, one of which adorns a framed photograph of His Holiness, Dalai Lama, who had consecrated this monastery in accordance with the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition.
One sits gaping at the richly painted murals on the walls and ceilings depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology, embarking the victory of the good wrapped in peaceful guise against the wrathful evil. The meditative ambience of the prayer hall with two beautiful gongs duly protected within padlocked chains at the corner and the sweet smelling incense burners seem to transcend the breathing soul to some other world! All its features are characteristic to the Tibetan style of architecture which is followed by all other Tibetan temples: brilliantly painted murals on walls and ceilings, ornate door knockers, and the beautiful band of Buddhist prayer wheels that devotees spin all day long while chanting mantras as according to Tibetan belief, turning prayer wheels disseminates the prayers to the five directions and ‘Wind Horses’ (lungta), which are flags inscribed with prayers, which have the same function. However despite this overt opulence, there lies the sense of tranquillity and humility within the domain of the temple, which is its most important attribute.
Once the visit to this monastery is fulfilled, The Sera monastery awaits the traveller. Modelled after the original Sera University in Tibet, the monastery is vowed to the purpose of keeping the Tibetan Buddhist culture thriving in Bylakuppe demonstrating the cultural and emotional bond the community shares with their motherland.
Apart from these two, there lies a honeycomb of other monasteries awaiting the visitors, such as the Nyingma monastery, Sakya monastery, and the Nyingma monastery. However, a visit to Bylakuppe is incomplete without the venture to the island Nisargadhama on Cauvery which is just 14 kilometres away from Bylakuppe. Known for its splendid picnic spots with a hanging bridge, elephant rides, bamboo groves and deer parks, it is truly a place where the entire family can enjoy thoroughly.
In Bylakuppe, what charms the traveller alien to its ways of living, are its people. Every alley, every shop, restaurant or rickshaw that you barge into, is always congested with happy faces in red robes! Some storming through the streets wrapped in clouds of youthful gay laughter, while some hobbling along with bent sticks veiled in the aura of deep composure.The Tibetans and Kodagau Hill people living alongside seem to compliment each other, their clothing brightened with an array of colours contrast with the greenery thriving apace to their existence. As the main livelihood of the people of Bylakuppe is farming, they are often found working on the fields. This place is one of such places where you feel at home-relaxed, easy-going, fascinating and beautiful, both its landscape and its people.
And, as no trip is complete without victual indulgence, Tibetan cuisine along with South Indian delights is abundant here! An interesting medley of flavours of Thukpas (Tibetan flat noodle soup)are available here, occasionally with Dim-sums, but in only few shops. The Tourist Complex or the State Highway are good places for those who wish to tingle their taste buds into tasting a plethoric variety of South Indian and Tibetan delicacies. Even the Namdroling Monastery Restaurant, where the monks usually have their meals is a good place while the Malaya Restaurant in the market place, which serves both South Indian and Tibetan viands and is a decent casual spot where you can relax while eating and chatting along with the amiable monks and locals.
Karnataka, known for its unmatched beauty yet again stuns the traveller with the revelation of this place enveloped in unperturbed innocence, serenity and mysticism and the most inviting time here,is either during the monsoon, from September to February(time of ‘Losar’ the Tibetan New Year Festival ) or April to June as the holy festival of is celebrated during this time, or the Buddha Jayanthi in June and Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6.
If you are the thrilling adventurer kind, then this might not be the best place for you, but if you wish to spend some quite and peaceful time, out of the hustle-bustle of the city life in the meditative lap of nature, you’d better get ready now!!