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|п»їA Day In Bylakuppe, India- A Retreat From My Retreat
Bylakuppe is a Tibetan refugee settlement about 29km to the west of Mysore in southern India. When I was living in India I went into the hills as a retreat from the intense heat for holiday. I took a bus from the station by Gandhi Square in Mysore, where I was living at the time. The bus pulled out of the station at 1:45pm arriving in Bylakuppe about 4:30pm. My bus ticket cost me 35 rupees, less than a single dollar. I was dropped off at a stop where the scene had suddenly changed from Indian to Tibetan. Everything looked and smelled different, the people, their clothes, the foods they ate and the language they spoke, even the temperature and foliage differed. It was quite a surprise for me.
I got a rickshaw for 50 rupees, more expensive than my bus ticket which I found amusing. The ride was only about 10 minutes, compared to the 2 hour plus bus ride. As I sat comfortably back, I watched the varied landscape pass me by as we drove up the hillside along a very narrow, curved road. We passed empty fields the lush color of green grass, across the landscape cows we scattered here and there grazing lazily. We passed some marshland where the water buffalos hunkered down. The scene changed quickly to a palm forest just as the rickshaw driver let me off in the Sera Jhe Settlement district, my destination. Sera Jhe is just one Tibetan village in a settlement of 20 in the surrounding area. Soon after I got out, it started to rain. It was a welcomed event since it hadn’t rained much in the last few months. Thunder rumbled in the distance and threatening dark clouds lumbered in the distance.
I found a guest house and checked into a small humble, yet very clean room with a single bed, a table and chair and a bathroom with a Western style toilet. That’s when the rain really started to come down. It was loud and heavy, flushing out any other background sound. After I settled in I wrapped a pashmina around me and explored the village, getting quite wet from the rain. It was welcome after the oppressive heat I had been living with in Mysore. All the buildings were built in the Tibetan style and they all looked holy. I was used to being the minority while living in India but as I walked around I noticed I was only one in a handful of women here. I was visiting the male village where boys and men were studying to be monks. The men that I walked by kept their eyes to the ground and all were chanting mantras as their fingers passed over their mala beads.
I heard the sound of instruments, foreign to my ears and chanting far off. I followed the sacred sounds until I was in front of an immense prayer hall. Many sandals were lined up neatly outside the door. I found some empty wall space and sat down, closed my eyes and let the chanting consume me on every level I could absorb. One monk came to me with a pillow to sit on. How very kind I thought as we smiled at each other briefly in silence before he turned and walked away. Other monks sat by me and as I listened, they joined in the chants. The same man that gave me the pillow, came back with a stainless steel cup and placed that in front of me. He said nothing and walked away again.
A little while later, 2 extremely happy boys ran by with buckets of rice and filled the bowls that sat in front of the monks who I was sitting with. It was like hey were having a contest with each other to see who could fill the most bowls. Not a grain of rice was spilled, I noticed. They were gone as fast as they had arrived, like the lightening flashing in the sky. They returned with another bucket fill of warm buttermilk. They did not pass my cup by as they filled those before the monks. It warmed me as I drank. The winds had picked up as the storm persisted like a background symphony to the chanting and music within. Once the chanting stopped there was a long period of silence, something of an unusual phenomena in India. I was immersed in deep meditation and could feel hundreds of monks silently walk by me to put on their sandals and go about the rest of their day. I waited until I felt like I was quite alone before I got up to leave myself.
Later I walked along the roads and through fields for about 3km to the Golden Temple. I passed a sign that said, “It is better to be 10 minutes late in this life than 10 minutes early for the next.” Quite true. Tibetan humor! I could see the temple in the distance, glimmering in the sun that was breaking through the storm clouds. All seemed especially quiet as I approached the temple. The greatness of the temple was felt the closer I got to it.
Before entering, I walked clockwise around the temple, spinning all the stainless steel prayer wheels with thousands of mantras hammered into them to send these prayers merged with my own into the wind. While I was focused on my prayers, I almost ran into four young monks who were playing with toy guns. Ironic, I thought! I passed a row of stupas, altars and then walked into the temple when my breath was pulled from lungs in awe! I gazed upon three of the largest buddha statues I have ever seen. What made them break-taking was they were all gold plated! The walls were covered in hand painted Tibetan gods and goddesses. It is beyond my words to describe this beauty.
After sitting in the temple in meditation for a while I feel peaceful and like I’ve shed unnecessary layers off my being that was no longer needed. I begin my journey back home to Mysore. The long, bumpy, loud, stinky, hot bus ride home is like a dream. As we pull into the bus station, Indian music crackles through blown out speakers, horns, voices, vehicles and animal sounds raid the airwaves as I’ve left the silence of Bylakuppe behind. The chaos of India surrounds me again. Strange scenes, like people falling out of buses at intersections, a family of five riding on a single motorcycle, decorated cows and camels with bells tied to their knees, mostly naked sadhus meditating in the bustling streets, beggars with boils or burns or sawed off limbs asking for rupees, scrambling chickens and children pass me by and yet I feel like I’ve returned home again.