A few Tibetan settlements, for displaced refugees from Tibet, dot the country, Karnataka being one such state.
As you enter the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar, you might be mistaken to believe that you have entered Tibet or any Buddhist country. These settlements, or camps as these are labelled, whose population is about 10,000, are home to Tibetan refugees and their descendents, since in 1961.
Possibly, most of them have never seen their homeland as the second and third generation Tibetans were born in exile. Brown robed monks with shaven heads can be seen everywhere.
There are a few families who have settled down in these camps. Most of the monks and nuns render service to their monasteries, learn and spend time in mediation and prayer. They stay in housing complexes near the monasteries.
The Golden Temple is the cynosure of all eyes. The tall brass Buddha statue is ‘Padmasambhava’ on the altar.
Next to it is another idol of Amitayus and two idols of Buddhist gurus. The altar is tastefully decorated with flowers, candles and incense.
Walls have exquisite paintings of gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology. There is peace and quiet inside. A beautiful landscape garden is outside the monastery. People come and pray, though no one is allowed to worship the idols by oneself.
Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement is known as ‘Lugsum Samdupling’. A number of monasteries dot the landscape. Sera Je Monastery is a large educational institution where Tibetan Buddhist culture is taught. Sakya Monastery, established in 1972, has 250 resident monks studying sutra and tantra, part of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Tashilunpo Monastery is a smaller one built in the Gelukpa tradition.
A few Tibetan families are engaged in agriculture, raising maize crops. A fishing pond facilitates fishing. A civil court set up in the tradition of Tibetan judiciary settles disputes without recourse to any outside courts.
The settlement has enough resources from various agencies including overseas donors and supporters. A good relationship exists between the Tibetans and the villagers of Bylakuppe and Koppa. Tibetans in the camps travel to Kushalnagar and Madikeri on business.
A stream of tourists visits the settlements to admire the monasteries and at the same time get a glimpse into the life of the Tibetans who have found a ‘home away from home’.
How to go: From Madikeri or Kushalnagar by road. Bylakuppe is 250 km from Bangalore and 50 km from MysoreWhen to go: Any time of the year.
Where to stay: Hotels and lodges in Mysore, Kushalnagar, and Madikeri.
Local transport: Auto-rickshaws cost about Rs 200, negotiable, for the trip from the Bylakuppe bus stop to the Golden Temple and back through the settlement.
A group of four visitors might find it convenient to engage a taxi for the trip from Madikeri, Kushalnagar or Mysore.
Shopping: Tibetan jewellery, handicrafts, incense, and souvenirs.
Festivals: Tibetan New Year: February / March, Buddha Jayanti: June, Dalai Lama’s birthday: July 6, Tibetan Losar: September to May.
Note: Watch for the masked dancers who twirl in their colourful costumes to the sounds of gongs and massive ceremonial trumpets during festivals.