The car I had hired turned left onto a pathway (from the Kulshargarh highway). This pathway was lined with Tibetan prayer flags. Tibetan monks (dressed in dark yellow vests and red robes, wearing Reebok shoes, carrying bottled water, even Pepsi), were walking to and fro. Monks who could not have been older than ten were chasing each other, presumably enjoying a game of tag. I could have been in Tibet, except that I was in Bylakuppe.
Bylakuppe is one of the several Tibetan settlements in India. The famous Sera monastery has been relocated here. This township also houses the Golden Temple, as it is locally called. I entered the gates of the temple complex and found myself staring at the main temple.
I thought I would enter a small room, filled with smoke, reeking of butter, throbbing with the chants of the monks and perhaps a gong or two sound in the distance. But, no. The entrance to the main temple was comprised of two gigantic red doors with handles and carvings in gold (copper with gold plating), intricate murals based on Tantric Buddhism that adorned the walls.
I stepped in and was amazed. A profusion of color hit me. The few tourists around, did nothing to abate my feeling of having walked straight into a Bollywood movie set. Why, one of them was asking his companion to pose in myriad dance forms, despite a board stating – this is a temple and a religious place.
As I settled myself on a blue circular pillow and looked around, I became a bit acclimatized to my surroundings. Three larger than life giant statues, once again gold plated, took centre stage; these were placed on a platform. Buddha around 60 feet tall held prominent place, flanked by Guru Padmasambhava and Amitayush (each around 58 feet tall). Also occupying the platform were two rich thrones, one of which had a framed photograph of the Dalai Lama and the other, the head of this monastery.
Richly painted murals were everywhere, on all walls and even the ceilings. Dragons twirled up the walls on two sides of the platform, beautiful gongs duly protected within padlocked chains stood in a corner. Incense burners were seen here and there and I also spotted a sole donation box. It was breathtaking. Moreover, after the din of the tourists died down, (presumably they had come together in a bus and had now thankfully gone ahead to another destination), a quiet peace descended.
Normally, I do not take photographs inside a religious place. This was different. A monk seeing me sitting in a corner asked me in perfect English whether I had any questions.
“The murals depicting various deities in wrathful forms or male and female figures in sexual contortions should not be seen at face value. These depictions are that of good conquering the evil,” he explained. Further, on seeing my camera, he mentioned that I was free to take photographs. “Do share them,” he added with a smile.
The monastery attached to this temple is considered to be one of the best places for higher learning. This monk had been to Boston, Nepal, Dharamshala (in North India, another Tibetan settlement) and was here for further studies. In addition to Buddhism, the monks are also taught science, mathematics and literature.
I guess, monks carrying mobile phones, wearing Reebok shoes, or even sipping Pepsi should not shock me. After all, as Thomas Friedman said, "The world is flat".
If you do wish to hear the chanting of prayers, even the acclaimed debates that take place between the monks, the best time to visit is late evening. I quite enjoyed my afternoon sojourn to this temple. I could partake delicious mince filled momos, washed down with what else but Pepsi – the favorite drink around these parts. Coke, are you listening?
As this is a refugee settlement area, while no special permits are required for foreigners (non Indian citizens) to visit for a few hours, special permits are required for a stay here. The monastery does provide accommodation facilities. This approval process takes up to four months. Plan in advance.
The Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi assists in making this application for a small fee. Contact details are:
The Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Under Secretary (Rehabilitation Officer)