The road from Madikeri to the Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe is lined with farm cooperatives. Driving through the fields, one gradually gets used to the incongruous sight of monks driving tractors.
Bylakuppe is the largest Tibetan refugee settlement in the world. In the 1960s, the Indian government granted asylum to the Dalai Lama, and land was set aside for the waves of Tibetan refugees, hot on the heels of their spiritual leader. The settlement has since transformed the once desolate Karnataka countryside into a replica of Lhasa.
One can sense the huge contrast, when travelling from main mysore city and stepping into Bylakuppe. Well greeted by the serenity of the environment and composed smiles from the monks.
Bylakuppe's attractions include the Sera Monastery and the Namdroling Monastery, also known as the Golden Temple. If one has the good fortune of arriving while a prayer session is taking place, one will be greeted by an audio-visual spectacle. Hundreds of maroon-clad monks will stream in to take their seats, flip the prayer books in front of them and proceed to chant in unison, while wielding their prayer wheels. The reverberation monotonous chants create a nice vibration, tapping the soul within. It is a hypnotic and mystical experience.
The monks are friendly, and they will be very glad to answer any questions. One monk explained in halting English that the journey to Bylakuppe had been an arduous one - they had to travel through Nepal and it took many days. Outside the monastery posters and banners protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet hang in the wind.
One lama from Bhutan, shared that he came here to complete his university studies. Moving towards the life of a Rinpoche*, he needs to study scripture, chants and meditation faithfully in a secluded room ( far deep inside the Golden Temple) for 3, 6 and 9 years separately.
Bylakuppe is a powerful testament to human resilience. The Tibetan people's will to preserve their way of life, their faith, and their identity, has pushed them so far south, into a place starkly different from where they come from.
*Rinpoche is an honorific used in Tibetan Buddhism. It literally means "precious one".