A visit to Bylakuppe, the mini-Tibet of India
We were making our itinerary for visiting Coorg (Kodagu district) when the name Bylakuppe cropped up. A little bit of research on the internet told us that Bylakuppe is actually home to not one, but two Tibetan settlements adjacent to each other, making it the largest settlement in India. It is located near the town of Kushal Nagar in Coorg, some 220 km from Bangalore. I have always been attracted by Tibetan monasteries and the pictures of the Namdroling monastery on the net allured me. “Let’s keep Bylakuppe on our itinerary,” I suggested to the husband. Done, so said the husband and there we were, on the afternoon of 22nd March 2013.
It was a lovely sunny day when we entered the gates of the settlement. Beautiful homes with well-kept gardens greeted us on both sides of the road. Every home was characterized by multi-coloured player flags fluttering cheerfully in the air. Tibetan women in their traditional attire peeked out of the shops they were tending to, while robed monks moved about in groups. There was even a Central School for Tibetan children and scores of these young people were enjoying ice-cream, schoolbags hanging from their slender frames. For a moment, we forgot that we were in Karnataka. We were witnessing a slice of the daily lives of these Tibetan residents and although we did not know how life in Tibet is like, we imagined this is how they would have lived there had they not relocated to Bylakuppe in the 60s.
Colourful prayer flags
Prayer flags and Stupa in front of a house
Most of the homes had converted a part of their residence to eateries and exotic sounding names like Peace Café and Tenzing Restaurant greeted us. Unfortunately, we had our lunch at Kushal Nagar and there was no space for another session. I deeply regret not tasting the Tibetan menu offered by these cozy looking homes. I was a frequent visitor to Sernya, the little Tibetan restaurant in Mumbai and remember relishing their fried rice in bamboo as well as the Tibetan sausages. I am sure there would have been hearty thukpas and succulent momos in these restaurants in Bylakuppe, cooked by a motherly Tibetan lady, her face lined by a hundred wrinkles and eyes that would crinkle with her smile. Sigh.We passed the houses and market places, mostly offering handicrafts, and came upon rolling fields of agriculture. The populace here seemed to be self-sufficient as they cultivate land and earn a steady livelihood. Monks in motorcycles zipped past us as did those in auto-rickshaws. Finally, we reached the Namdroling monastery gates and parked our car in the parking zone. The monastery, also known as Golden Temple, is one of the two prominent monastic institutions in the area. We did not have time to pay a visit to Sera, the second one, and kept it for another day.
We passed the residential quarters of the monks while making our way towards the monastery. Beautifully manicured lawns with a few guinea fowls met our gaze, till it rested on the elegantly imposing figure of the temple, or rather, temples as they were two of them. We left our footwear at an allocated booth and entered the Golden temple. A soothing sensation hit us as we laid our eyes upon the three figures, Lord Buddha (60 feet, at the centre), Guru Padmasambhava (58 feet) and Buddha Amitayus (58 feet). These serene figures were made of copper and plated with gold.
The temple seemed to lay particular emphasis on Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life. It is said that whosoever hears the name of Buddha Amitayus will have the length of his life extended. When a person is nearing death, if he/she touches the letter of Buddha Amitayus’s name, recites his name and mantra, and praises his qualities, that person’s life span will be extended.
The interiors of the temple were intricately designed. Colourful murals covered the walls, each depicting a tale. There were rows of prayer books, neatly wrapped up and kept in an orderly fashion. I can only imagine the atmosphere inside the temple once the monks are at prayer. My sister and parents who had visited a monastery in Sikkim still has goose bumps each time they relate the deep humming produced by hundreds of monks praying with prayer wheels in their hands.
Murals on the wall
Rows of prayer books
An interesting knocker
I could have spent hours there taking in the peaceful glow of the Buddhas, but time was short at hand as we had to reach our home stay at Coorg before the evening set in. Thus, we bade farewell to the Buddhas and came out of the temple. Outside, young monks were playfully jesting among themselves on the lawns and the stairs while others quietly went about their daily routines. Peace reigned among these new generations whose parents and grandparents had made this small town their own and created a little Tibet in India.
We bought a few memorabilia from a quaint little store and set off for our next destination at Coorg, but not before looking back and promising that Bylakuppe deserved another visit. After all, I still had to savour the Tibetan delicacies, if not anything else!