By ANITA RAO KASHI
BANGALORE - In a corner of Karnataka, about 30 minutes from Madikeri, is Bylakuppe where everything is quite unlike anywhere else in the country. Naturally, since Bylakuppe is a predominantly Tibetan settlement.
For a first-time visitor, who chances on Bylakuppe without any real idea of the settlement, it can be quite a culture shock. But a pleasant one. Thousands of miles away from their homeland, these refugees have both recreated their lifestyle as well as adapted to the local conditions.
Some of the old-timers can even converse in Kannada like a native. All along the main road and inside, little patches of farmland with colourful Tibetan flags are a common sight.
Paddy is largely grown in these farms, as are spices and greens which are typically Tibetan and unavailable in any local market. A large part of any Tibetan settlement are its monasteries, and so too is Bylakuppe.
All over the little settlement, Tibetan monks of all ages in their traditional maroon robes can be found everywhere. By far, the Namdroling monastery is the most wellknown. The others are Sera Jhe and Tashi Lhunpo. A visit to a Buddhist monastery is an experience like no other.
The serenity and calmness that prevails in the sanctum is all-pervading. However, when it's time for prayers, there is a new kind of vitality that rings through the hall.
As hundreds of voices chant in unison, ringing bells or sounding the gong to accompany the chants, the building reverberates with a unique rhythm that soothes and calms. A look at what's offered to the deity can be quite revealing -- biscuits, chocolate bars, fruit juices, soft drinks, bottles of honey, branded snacks, in fact any edible item.
Apart from farming, many of the households have striven to keep traditional handicrafts alive like thangkas (scroll paintings), carpets, prayer wheels and good luck charms. Some traditional Tibetan herbal medicine is also available at a couple of shopping arcades and are definitely worth a look.
While there, it is also worth trying typical Tibetan food, especially momos, dished out by many small eateries tucked in little nooks and corners. Many households have even converted a part of their homes to serve visitors who regularly flock the place.