memories of family outings.....


Little Tibet

Its the Dalai Lama' s 75th. Birthday.
I heard that Bylaguppe is having a big do.
Reportedly, 45,000 Tibetans live there now !
This number amazes me.

I remember the early days of the Bylaguppe Refugee Settlement near Kushalnagar.
The refugees from Tibet had started coming to India around 1960 and the government settled them in camps in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.
In our state, a hilly tract with wet deciduous forest belonging to the Western Ghats ecosphere, 250 Kms. from Bangalore on the Mysore-Madikeri route, was sanctioned for their colony ( I learnt from my father that some local landholders had made a noise about this allocation because they had been denied permission to develop plantations there and couldn't digest the fact that all that coveted land was going to charity !).

The very first time I visited the place, it was all misty hills, rolling grasslands and lush woods which to a child's eye looked like a " foreign hill station"! The refugees' houses were rudimentary , standard , government- issue concrete cubes with no roads to speak of. The small community of Tibetans, numbering some 200 or so, were coaxing corn, potato and grains out of the vast patches of virgin land claimed from the forest. They were hardy folk, undeterred by the problems of settling in a totally alien land and culture. Not to mention confronting "strange" creatures like elephants , that sometimes invaded the cultivated lands!

In the mid- sixties, the Club to which my parents belonged held a Cultural Nite and dinner to raise money for the the refugees. Tibetan Masked Dances and trumpets were part of the programme.
My Father, as member of the organising committee got to interact with the two English speaking representatives of the community and learnt a great deal of interesting facts about the Tibetan way of life and of their homeland. It all sounded so fabulous and strange to us ; we were as much fascinated by the culture as pained by the story of their exile . When the Dalai Lama first visited the place, my Father met and paid his respects to him.

Soon after the establishment of the Refugee Camp, Bylaguppe became a favourite weekend picnic spot for most Mysoreans ! It became a routine midway stop for anyone traveling from Mysore or Bangalore towards Coorg.
I have been visiting the place repeatedly since then. The changes i see each time never fail to impress.
During the early days, progress was rapid and the settlement bloomed into a nice township very soon , thanks entirely to the industriousness of the Tibetans. When the Town was still in the making, with only one small monastery and a single road, the main attractions ( for us !) were the Carpet weaving co-operative and the four shops that sold little treasures like metal figurines, porcelain table ware, buddhist pooja articles, shawls and chinese umbrellas. Shopping there was always interesting . It still is, if we overlook the Lays Chips packets, terra-cotta Ganeshas and stuff like that.

The credit for establishing the Namdroling Monastery here goes to the Guru Rimpoche who is said to have put in manual labour to raise the first wooden structure. Today, Namdroling is the biggest seminary of Tibetan Buddhism in the world with a Sangha of 5000 Lamas ( monks and nuns), a religious university ( called Shedra), a hospital and living quarters.
The magnificent Padmasambhava Vihara ( Golden Temple) was built in 1999. The gigantic Buddhas , detailed murals and the resonating hum of a hall full of lamas chanting their prayers are worth experiencing.

When the generation born in Bylaguppe came to schooling age, the small informal teaching house, that was till then teaching only the Tibetan script and numbers, was made into a full blown CBSC school. Children who study there come to exam centers in Mysore to take Board exams. Many of them opt to go to Thailand for higher studies.

Sign boards in Tibetan script have appeared on the Hunsur Main road as they now have businesses other than agriculture too. Mechanic shops, hotels, hairdressers. You can now see them all even without taking the deviation into their town.

Today, "Bylaguppe", the Tibetan Settlement is known the world over. Celebrities who sympathise with the fight for "Free Tibet" visit the place frequently. Though tourists can freely go there on sightseeing visits, those wishing to stay over at the place,( especially Foreigners,) need to apply for special permits. Bylaguppe has two settlements : Lugsum Samdupling ( old town) and Dickyi Larsoe ( new town).

The Tibetans have blended well into the country of adoption. Many speak kannada and hindi quite well. Some have married into the local population. The brochures put out by The State Tourism Department include the Golden Temple as one of the treasures of Karnataka ! The assimilation was proved to be complete when the famous Dasara Parade ( Jambu Savari), which showcases the traditions and culture of our state, included a float depicting Bylaguppe in its Procession a couple of years ago !

Speaking of ourselves, all our family guests are routinely hauled off to Bylaguppe for "sightseeing" and so far, none have returned with anything less than 20 exclamations of awe, at least 25 photographs and the inescapable souvenir - the Drilbu and Dorje set ! ( = Bell and sceptre : the ritual objects used in tantric buddhist worship )

* * * *
Happy Birthday , Your Holiness .


Gauri Gharpure said...

i remember the few days i spent in Darjeeling and enjoyed such delicious meals at small, dimly-lit Tibetans restaurants.. there's something very mysterious and gentle about Tibet and Buddhism.. talking abt it, slightly off the topic, Seven Years in Tibet is a nice film..

I had read about this monastery, and wish to be there sometime.

As usual, a very detailed article with cheerful pics for company

Indrani said...

One of the best places around Bangalore. I too have some precious memories and souvenirs from there.
Wonderful post, loved reading this. My birthday greetings to this great leader!

avdi said...

Awesome information. I am going to send a link of this blog to my friends in Bangalore and exhort them to visit this place, and also earmark it for my future visit.

Our own country is so full of surprises. I would be blessed if I get a chance to see it all.

YOSEE said...

Gauri : your choice of word "mysterious" is precise. I feel so too.
Yes, "7 years in Tibet" was eminently watchable and the book was a great read too. Heartwarming as well as heart rending.
Another movie, "Kundun", was spectacular but will less soul.
Thanks for writing in.

YOSEE said...

Indrani : I'm sure you'd have got great pictures from there !

BTW, much of the stuff that used to be sold in Bylaguppe can now be got in their "Tibet Store" in Bangalore itself.

Thanks for dropping by.

YOSEE said...

Avdi : well said ! our incredible country sure has many treasures hidden in pockets all over.My bucket is overflowing with lists too !

Glad you found the post informative. Thanks.

J Bar said...

How interesting.

Rajesh said...

Beautiful tour of the place. This is a wonderful and colorful place. I loved my visit to this place.

P.N. Subramanian said...

wonderful post. The information about Bylaguppe is exhaustive and very interesting. A similar settlement amidst hills is at Man Pot, Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh. Thanks.

YOSEE said...

J Bar:
Rajesh :

Thank you for taking the time to read the post.

YOSEE said...

PN Subramanian : Thank you for supplying that info. about settlement in Chhattisgarh.
Had known of only Dharamshala and Bylaguppe.

Janaki Gopikrishna said...

i had been there 2 months ago.

Satyask said... felt happy to learn so much...