It was on a whim that we decided to go to Bylakuppe. We had heard a lot about this Tibetan settlement, but hadn’t actually planned a trip. So, on a lazy Sunday morning, we just hit the road from Mysuru. The early morning drive was fun with nothing but pleasant weather for company. And, of course, the beaming sun. Lost in our thoughts, we almost missed the arch on the left side of the road leading to Bylakuppe.
As we took a left turn at the arch and headed towards Bylakuppe, the scene changed almost entirely, for the better. The endless stretch of green paddy fields on either side of the road was a soothing sight. As we proceeded further, the road narrowed down and small shops dotted the place, announcing the arrival of the Tibetan settlement. We could also spot many Buddhist monks in their maroon robes and smiling faces, happily riding bicycles. Having heard a lot about the place, I couldn’t wait to explore it.
Bylakuppe is the first ever Tibetan settlement in Karnataka, and the second largest in India (after Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh). It all began after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, when the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India, and the Indian government was magnanimous enough to grant Tibetans permission to set up their base in Dharamshala in 1960. Immediately after, they were granted around 3,000 acres of land in Karnataka, too, accounting for the existence of Bylakuppe today with its numerous monasteries, schools and camps numbering five.
We discussed the history of the place and followed the road that led to a temple complex. We learnt that it was the complex that housed the most famous monastery of the region, Namdroling, most famously known as the Golden Temple. As we entered the complex, our jaws dropped. There were grand structures in bright colours all over. Fluttering flags in multi-colours, prayer wheels, well-manicured lawns, little monks running around in their robes… the place almost seemed like Little Tibet. Adding to our sense of awe was the peace and tranquillity the place exuded.
As we entered the Namdroling Monastery, we were faced with three towering statues of Lord Buddha, flanked by Lord Padmasambhava and Lord Amitayus on either side. The statues, encrusted with gold and semi-precious stones, are placed on high platforms. Lord Padmasambhava, also known as the Second Buddha, is believed to have played a vital role in the spread of Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan, while Lord Amitayus is a celestial Buddha according to the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. According to available information, inside every statue are scriptures, relics of great beings, and small clay-moulded stupas, signifying the body, speech and mind of the Buddha.
Looking around, we were lost in the many depictions of Tibetan Buddhism, statues of smaller deities, and traditional thangka paintings that were all over the place. Some monks were seen meditating. If not for pesky tourists who were more keen on taking selfies than savouring the tranquillity of the place, we could have also parked ourselves and spent some quiet moments in the place.
Walking around in the complex, we visited two smaller temples and were witness to the monks’ chanting of prayers in one. The group-chanting was so hypnotic that it rang in our ears long after it was over.
At Namdroling Monastery, Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is taught, and it is home to over 5,000 monks and nuns of the Sangha community. Being the most popular learning institute of the settlement, it also houses a nunnery for women monks, a practice that’s allowed only by a few monastic orders.
The monks here, a friendly lot, eagerly shared information in their broken Hindi. They asked us to rotate the prayer wheels that were on the path to the main hall of the monastery, clockwise, saying it’s the equivalent of chanting from the sacred texts. We did so, diligently, with a wish on our lips.
We were so taken in by the allure of the place that we almost lost track of time. We still had a few more monasteries to visit, at different camps. The camps are almost two to nine kilometres apart.
We proceeded towards Camp 1, about two kilometres away, housing the less popular Sera monasteries — Sera Mey and Sera Jay. We decided to walk the distance to experience the place better. It was a good decision as we got to see traditional Tibetan houses on the way, with Tibetan script and colourful flags in the doorway. These monasteries, being less crowded, gave us that much-needed space to meditate. The debate sessions that happen here are a treat, we were told.
On our way back, we stopped at the Tibetan Traditional Art Centre, shopped to our heart’s content, and drove back to Mysuru. It surely was a visit to remember, and recommend.