It all started when I overheard a Tibetan girl in my college mention a place and a celebration huge enough to merit the blessings of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. In love with all things Buddhist, and everything Tibetan, I asked for more information and was told about this refugee centre a few kilometers outside Mysore. Bylakuppa, or Kuppa for short – the second largest Tibetan settlement in India after Dharmashala. It is also where monk-lings come to be trained in the ways of the Nyingma tradition in the reputed Sera Monastery. The same Sera that originally existed in Lhasa and was a sacred place of higher learning and monastic education, until the Chinese came and destroyed its sanctity. A displaced institution, and over ten thousand displaced Tibetan countrymen – this is what Kuppa is, in a nutshell. A home to those, who have lost their own.
Three years later and still ruing the lost opportunity of having met the Dalai, I decided to drive down to Kuppa on my maiden bike trip. The pilgrimage beckoned, and as I left smoke filled Bangalore behind at six in the morning, I had a huge smile on my face hiding behind the helmet. The hungry wheels of the Pulsar devoured the tarmac greedily and as the miles receded, each stop on the way added to my impatience. The traffic on the way almost drove me crazy, but when I took the turn away from the clogged roads, my lost smile wanly crept back onto my lips. The polluted skies of the city was left behind and a wide expanse of tree lined road opened up before me. The bike lusted on and I tried to capture the world from behind the screen of my visor. Eucalyptus trees raced by, as did innumerable unnamed ones; each taller and stronger than the other. From behind the tree curtain I glimpsed undulating hills carpeted with green, sometimes with a lonely sentinel keeping guard. And every once a while, the golden canopy of Kuppa’s famous monastery peeped through and excited me with its increasing nearness.
Finally, after taking a small off-road turn again, I entered the protected zone that’s marked ‘only for Tibetans’. The world suddenly turned into a flurry of maroon robes and yellow vests, and a host of rosy cheeked faces. Instantly I felt filled with peace.
I spent three days in Kuppa, taking my time knowing the place. I saw tourists come and go in droves and I wondered at their delight in adding one more destination on their ‘have visited’ list. I, who adds places to my own ‘have known’ list, admired their frugality for they seemed to be so capable of spending such less time in such wonderful places. I could spend hours just looking at the intricate drawings on the walls of the monasteries, and gazing at the serene faces of the Buddhas and yet, be insatiate.
When eve fell on my first night in the temple town, and the monks went about their ritual circumambulation of the shrine, I sat outside and silently acknowledged their devotion. One of them came to me and asked if I would like to know more about the place. I nodded eagerly and surrendered my remaining time in Kuppa to his wisdom and friendliness. From him I learned the correct way to bow to the Buddha, and the words that are spoken while doing so. From him I heard tales of Tibetans in exile, and shared stories I had collected from friends and travelers. He taught me to enjoy Tibetan tea, and to revel in their cuisine. He taught me meaning and importance, and provided me with snippets that I will remember for a lifetime and repeat to all I know.
At the end of the trip, as I said my goodbyes and thanked him for his time, he told me that it was his last day out before he took a vow of silence and entered the meditation chambers for a whole six months; a grueling requisite of his monastic lessons. I immediately began to miss the man and wished to spend some more time with him discovering this culture and this people whom I admired so much. I knew I would not see him again, this monk who had agreed to spend his days teaching a wide eyed ignoramus about himself and his. But I also knew that because of him this small town I had waited three years to visit was now more than just a tourist thing. I felt I knew the place a little better, and that I somehow belonged here among its colorful multitude.
About the Author: Kumari: Happy-go-lucky 20 something who always feels like a two year old. Is a Masters in Science, but works at a travel start-up in Bangalore, India’s start-up hub. Is also a book worm, dog – lover, closet poet, armchair philosopher, and dreamer. Firm believer in the goodness of all things ‘Food’; enjoys visiting kitschy eating places, and wishes to have her own restaurant one day.
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