Colours of Tibet in Bylakuppe

Colours of Tibet in Bylakuppe

A serene Buddhist monastery, lush green forests and the river Cauvery seem to have charmed Chitra Ramaswamy. Join her on this placid journey.

Driving from Bangalore to Madikeri via Mysore, we digress a little at Kushalanagar, 40 km from Madikeri, to visit Bylakuppe, one of India’s oldest and largest Tibetan settlements, also known as Lugsung Samdupling when it was created in 1961.

As we turn off the dusty highway connecting Mysore to the lush hills of Coorg, we travel through narrow winding roads on undulating terrain flanked by paddy fields and come upon a mini Tibet, sans snow and the Himalayas. Burgundy-robed monks are everywhere about, on foot and bikes, laughing and chatting merrily in a little world of their own, far away from the humdrum of urban civilisation to which we city dwellers have become accustomed.

Despite the serene and spiritual atmosphere that prevails here, the residents of Bylakuppe remember the flutter created when tinsel town star Shah Rukh Khan arrived here in August 2001 before the October-release of his film Ashoka, to seek the blessings of the Dalai Lama.

Divine sanctuaryThe foremost attraction of Bylakuppe, a compact world with its own value systems, is the massive Thekchog Namdrol Shedrub Dargye Ling or Namdroling Monastery as it is popularly known. The imposing golden spires of the monastery and the huge rainbow arch-like structure appear well before we actually come upon the edifice.

Namdroling is supposedly the largest teaching centre of the Nyingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world and was established in 1961 by Pema Norbu Rinpoche on land that the Indian Government had granted to Tibetan exiles. The story of the Tibetan settlement at Bylakuppe goes back to 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled to India, seeking political asylum. The monastery, according to the inhabitants of Bylakuppe, was consecrated and given its name by the Dalai Lama. While the village is home to about 50,000 Tibetans, the monastery itself houses nearly 5,000 monks and nuns whose living quarters circumscribe the golden temple. The architecture of Namdroling is a beautiful fusion of traditional Tibetan style built with modern materials.

The path to the monastery is flanked by well manicured lawns. 58 to 60 feet gold-plated idols of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddha Amitayus and Shakyamuni adorn the main sanctum sanctorum which is actually an expansive hall that contains smaller Buddha statues as well. Padmasambhava who was instrumental in spreading Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan, we learn, is viewed as the Second Buddha while the Amitayus are celestial Buddhas.

Except for the sound from numerous shutterbugs, silence pervades as monks offer prayers and spin the large prayer wheels. The uniquely attractive Tibetan thanka paintings on the inner and outer walls of Namdroling, in bright bold colours narrate the life of the Buddhas.

The paintings, we learn, are based on mathematical calculations, exclusively a Tibetan cultural preserve. Further, the colours used in this art form are intense and the murals themselves represent various elements of Buddhist cosmology. Following several other tourists, we too rotate the several prayer wheels that line one end of the monastery, believing it would usher in good luck and prosperity.

While Namdroling in Camp 4 is the crowd puller, Bylakuppe is dotted with five distinct camps, each of them immaculately clean and housing several monasteries, temples and residential buildings.

The more popular of these include the Sera Mey and the Sera Jey Monastery, the latter having been modelled after the original Sera Monastery in Tibet, now in ruins.

Before we proceed to a couple of tourist spots neighbouring Kushalanagar, we visit Bylakuppe’s other big attraction, the Tibetan shopping complex with its array of colour ridden wares that include souveneirs, garments, handicrafts and artefacts, hand-made by Tibetans.

In addition, there are outlets selling freshly baked thupkas, the Tibetan bread and piping hot momos with a range of homemade Tibetan sauce.

Forest havenHaving deviated from our destination Madikeri, to visit Bylakuppe, we decide to digress a little more and hop over to Kaveri Nisargadhama, 3 km from Kushalanagar and the Harangi Dam, 8 km away.

We walk the rope bridge over the Kaveri River to enter the man-made, ecological island park of Nisargadhama, a picnic spot replete with facilities to entertain weekenders.

Verdant with bamboo, teak and sandalwood forests, and an orchidarium, the 64-acre sprawl is home to tree-top dwellings and guest houses operated by the forest department. We spot several families with children enjoying elephant rides and boating in the waters’ of the Kaveri.The ambience around Harangi is more mellow and calm with few picnickers strolling along designated paths.

The water deluge is refreshing and wonderful to watch as it constantly tumbles from a height of about 45 metres. Incidentally, the 846m long dam is believed to be the first dam built across the Kaveri River.

However, Bylakuppe remains the highlight of our trip and leaves us enchanted – with its pine trees, misty hills and tranquil environs, a distinctively Tibetan ambience and above all, its easy pace of life.

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