The endless green stretch of paddy and maize fields on either side of the road narrow down to small lanes where traditional Buddhist prayer flags over shops announce the arrival of the Tibetan settlement — Bylakuppe, 84 km from Mysuru. “The flags do not carry prayers to gods, that is a misconception. We Tibetans believe that the prayers and mantras written on the flags will be blown by the wind to spread goodwill and compassion throughout the land,” says Tenzin Yangchan, Secretary, RC Lhasa Bylakuppe, RID 3181, as she takes us inside the Namdroling Monastery. Interestingly all the members of this club are Tibetans.
“This is the heart and soul of Bylakuppe,” she says gracefully bowing and greeting monks dressed in maroon robes at the monastery, also known as the Golden Temple. The simplicity is intriguing and makes you wonder what kind of life the monks live in this tucked-away Buddhist temple. Surprisingly, not everyone in the monastery is male. “It is home to over 5,000 monks and nuns, who fled from China, and for those shunned by their families or whose families are no more.” Tenzin adds that the Nyingma Institute, inside the monastery, houses a nunnery for women, a practice that is allowed only by a few monastic orders.
We have made a lot of progress ever since we arrived here. We have become self-sufficient and do not need support. That is why we are supporting other communities around us.
— Tenzin Yangchan, Secretary, RC Lhasa Bylakuppe
The second largest Tibetan settlement in India after Dharamshala, the seat of Tibetan government-in-exile, is home to thousands of Tibetan families. “East or west Bylakuppe is the best,” says Tenzin, whose grandparents were “forced out of our homeland. This place is our home now and we couldn’t have asked for more. Here we freely practice our religion and raise our children as Tibetans and not as Chinese in a foreign land.”
A neat pathway carved alongside well-manicured lawns leads to the Golden Temple where three towering golden statues of Lord Buddha, flanked by Lord Padmasambhava and Lord Amitayus on either side, are placed on a high pedestal. The murals on the walls tell a tale of how Lord Padmasambhava and Lord Amitayus, also known as the Second Buddha, played a vital role in the spread of Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan. All the pillars in the hall are red and the ceiling is covered in traditional thangka paintings. Gigantic doors with hand embroidered tassels hanging from the knobs add to the traditional charm.
As we stepped out to reach the old temple, a group of monks’ chant mantras in rhythmic chorus undisturbed by the hustle and bustle such as the visit of tourists, some taking selfies and others overawed by the aesthetic beauty of the monastery. Tenzin, pointing to the prayer wheels, asks us to wish for something and rotate them clockwise. The group chanting by the monks is mesmerising as it plays in your head for a very long time.
The souvenir shop at the entrance has a display of tiny ceramic monks, colourful dreamcatchers, windchimes, flutes and whistles, that you can pick as gifts for friends and family. For a proper Tibetan lunch experience, you can visit the monastery canteen, where monks usually have their meals. This place is especially recommended for travellers with light wallets. The thukpa noodle soup, vegetable gravy (curry) and tingmo (steamed bread) are delicious. All the vegetables in the soup are organically grown by the Tibetan farmers. Tenzin says, “For Tibetan Buddhists, it is more sustainable to till the earth naturally, as our ancestors did for centuries in the Himalayas. Organic farming is helping our people return to a lifestyle they have left behind.” The “Tibetan Organic” label patented by the Mundgod settlement, north of Bylakuppe, has already won brand validity in the US and the European Union, she says. In India, there are more than 27,000 acres of farmland employing Tibetan labour, with around 4,000 acres having the organic tag.
The RC Lhasa Bylakuppe has been providing drinking water facility, school uniforms and is holding medical camps for nearby villages. Ask Tenzin about projects for their own community, she says, “we have made a lot of progress ever since we arrived here. We have become self-sufficient and do not need support. That is why we are supporting other communities around us.”