Monday, November 23, 2009

The Rolling Stone’s Moss: Walking With Monks In Bylakuppe

Here we were. Two shutterbugs, K and I, with rusting cameras and a free weekend. And we set out in search of a peaceful place that also offered interesting photo-ops. That specification throws up many results when you are in Bangalore – Chikmagalur, Pondicherry, The Western Coast, Hampi, the multitude of temple towns around…our compass swung a little before it settled onto Kushalnagar for various reasons. We would head out to the monastery town of Bylakuppe for a weekend and go clickety-click!

The adventure really began with an attempt to book a direct bus to Kushalnagar. K repeatedly got an ‘Operation Timed Out’ message leaving our travel to fate and availability of tickets on Saturday morning at the bus station. So we decided to go wherever a bus was available to, in case Kushalnagar did not work out. With that taken care of (rather not left to take care of) we started the weekend with a long conversation that went on till the early hours of the morning and left us with less than 2 hours to grab some sleep before we travelled. Only girls will realize what relief a heartfelt conversation with soul sisters brings and they would understand why we overslept and never heard the alarms in the morning : )

Now since we had missed the morning bus anyway, we decided to chat some more over breakfast at home and headed out only late in the morning. Saturday morning traffic ensured that it was noon by the time we reached the KG Bus Station and figured our way around. Understandably, no direct bus was available for Kushalnagar till much later and we took a conductor’s advice by hopping onto the bus to Mysore, since connections to Kushalnagar abound from there. A sunny four hours of a bus ride later we were in Mysore and were washed with relief at the first sight of some monks. We almost decided to follow them to Kushalnagar when we saw a bus with a board announcing it was headed to Kushalnagar. We couldn’t hide our grins as we hopped on with the thought that we had almost triumphantly arrived.

Well the grins stayed only for so long as the conductor informed us almost 15 minutes later that the bus goes to Periyapattana and not Kushalnagar. Concerned, we asked him how far that was from Kushalnagar and he said it was about 20 minutes away. While that was not a major worry, the fact that Periyapattana itself was 1.5 hours away meant that it would be dark by the time we reached there. Anyway, we knew there were few others on the bus who were headed to Kushalnagar and that we would find our way. With that thought, we settled down for that leg of the journey.

The bus took longer than 1.5 hours. And we arrived to a small forgotten Periyapattana bus station at close to 6:30 PM. The station seemed thoroughly bored at that hour as if waiting for the last passengers to leave so it could go to sleep. There were dim lights everywhere, an occasional tubelight and some passengers in transit. The only eatery at the station had a man outside making Gobi Manchurian. Our conductor, while instructing us that the bus to Kushalnagar would arrive on the other side (in a dark corner), insisted that we have some Gobi (he said in Kannada – the bus will come in 5-6 minutes, have some Gobi and all and take that bus to Kushalnagar). He said that twice and convinced us that the Manchurian being served here was a delicacy not available elsewhere on the route. Add to that two weary travellers who had hopped two buses and missed their evening tea and the Gobi-maker had an order.

And that order was promptly cancelled with the arrival of the bus and the realization that the next bus would arrive only after half an hour. He made no fuss of it and we apologized as we ran to catch our bus on the last leg of our journey. Well not really since there was an auto ride to the monastery still left. But as far as buses are concerned.

Thanks to some kind advice from the conductor, we got down at Koppa instead of Bylakuppe, which is further from the monastery. We had spotted a monk on the bus and this time were resolute in wanting to follow him (or at least ask for directions) to the monastery. The Wang Chu guest house had confirmed they had rooms, except I had never seen it in Bylakuppe. We got down from the bus, our legs shaking – half from the travel and half from uncertainty and asked the monk if he was headed to the monastery. He said yes and asked us if we wanted to go there too. When we said yes he suggested we all go together. We were more than happy to find company that knew the route at that hour of the day : )

The monk asked us where we staying and when I said Wang Chu it seemed like he had never heard of the place. And that wasn’t nice because he LIVED in the monastery. Now doubtful of the next plan I was contemplating fishing out Paljor Dhargey Ling Guest Houses’s number from my diary when, as if reading my mind, he said there is also Paljor Dhargey Ling to stay in and the owner is his friend. He immediately called to check if there was a room and sure enough there was! Relief pretty much washed over me at this point.

During this time I had failed to notice the route the auto was going on. It was as dark as could get and you couldn’t really see beyond a few metres that were lit by the auto’s headlight. It was positively scary and that’s when I realized God had sent another angel to look after us in the circumstances. And I couldn’t help but smile : )

The monk took us to the guest house and explained to his friend that he had met us on the bus and we needed a room. He also came to check if the room was ok before leaving. He told us to call him if there was any problem. His name was Pema.

So after Pema left, we smiled while about how nice he had been to help us out and how foolish we had been to not even have told our names in return! We corrected that by sending a text over some good dinner at the Shanthi restaurant in the complex. But that wasn’t before we shopped around a little and made friends with another sweet lady at the complex.

The plan next was to sit in the balcony for some time and gaze at the stars but the peace we had come looking for was hijacked by the sound of a lawn-mower that a monk and his helper insisted on using at the time. After waiting for one futile hour we decided to call it a day since we were too tired to care anyway and wanted to wake up in time to start clicking the next morning.

A good night’s sleep later we woke up to a bright, sunny and warm morning in Bylakuppe and got ready for the day. The place was serene though it was a Sunday morning (tourist buzz day) and we grabbed some quick breakfast before heading to the monastery. Our meditations in the main temple were lined with insensitive tourists treating the place like a park and we walked out before long to get some photography done.

That’s when Pema called to check where we were. He caught up with us a while later and had brought a friend – Karma – along. Both of them then took us around the monastery and told us tid-bits about their life and the monastery throughout. We heard of three-year long meditations, six-month long prayer rituals, the two sections of students, the upcoming exams and the routine for vacations…it was fascinating to get to know those aspects of lives that are hidden behind maroon robes. And all this while we got to see parts of the monastery that I had missed on the previous two visits.

It was the fact that there were no buses back to Bangalore in the evening that made us leave in such a hurry that it almost seemed impolite. But the thought of bus hopping all the way back again was scary and Pema and Karma were nice enough to understand. They bid us farewell with an invitation to return to see the nuns in the other monastery and the festival in March (whose pictures they showed us on their phones) and not before treating us to authentic Tibetan Momos and Soup in a canteen inside the monastery. If we came back with a warm-hearted feeling it wasn’t because the day was sunny…it was because of the sunny disposition and hospitality of those simple monks from Bylakuppe.

Still smiling to ourselves we rushed though packing so we could take a picture of our friend in the shopping complex – Chimi. I picked up prayer flags from her and we promised to meet her on our next visit before leaving for the Kushalnagar bus station. An almost empty Airavath Volvo brought us back comfortably and gave us some time to absorb the experience before diving back into the urban madness taking solace in the fact that serenity wasn’t all that far away from here. For now the memories and pictures will have to suffice.

Some pictures from the trip...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


They stormed the Golden Temple in pursuit of Bhindranwale and called it Operation Bluestar. The events that unfolded led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Anti-Sikh riots and a change in the country’s leadership from mother to son. As India recovered from the deliberate killings at the time, death crept to a few others in Bhopal and gave them no choice. Somewhere in the middle of all that Rakesh Sharma praised the nation from space and Bachendri Pal pitched the tricolour on the Everest. And though the social psyche was in turmoil with the turbulent events that shook the country and the streak of pride that isolated events like space odysseys and mountain conquests brought, India was infrastructurally taking a new direction with the appearance of the Calcutta Metro and of computers in government offices. It truly was a year post which India was never the same again. That year 25 years ago…

Oblivious to this tectonic shift that the nation experienced, I was born a few days before Indira Gandhi was laid to rest. I became a child of the year that left a scar for more reasons than one. And with the memory of those events, mostly painful and some proud, I turned 25 this year.

Not unlike 1984, my life has been marked by some unpleasantness, loss as well as a few accomplishments. It has been quite eventful so far to say the least. One only hopes that life takes a direction only for the better the way India did eventually. One cannot get rid of all the problems and yet it is possible to progress in a generally favourable direction. Let’s see where this child of 1984 goes.

I am thankful to V and D for the beautiful birthday flowers that brought colour to my house, to P and K for the lovely little wooden chest that adorns the table now, to PA for the lamp that symbolizes enlightenment, to S and B for remembering to call from across the seven seas and wish me, to my brother for sending that nice portrait sketch at midnight…I’m quite flattered really : ), to each and everyone who called in to wish right from after midnight or left me mails or messages on the phone & FB and kept the birthday spirit alive, to my adorable sis for a wonderful birthday lunch at a splendid location with a view : ) , to V&V for the very thoughtfully picked books and notebook…just the thought that went into it touched me, to HT for a nice conversation over coffee and chocolates, to my nieces for forcing me to cut a cake…I loved the way they smiled while eating it, to S and V for an elaborately planned surprise…I am yet to get over what I got and how I got it frankly!, to S for Dalrymple, to P for throwing me the warmest personal birthday party ever and for the crockery…ice-cream just tastes better when there is a touch of warmth to the cold : ) , to S for the book…its my first African author…and to all those who wish me well…it works most of the time so do keep at it : )

The month was also marked by birthdays of best friends and a few surprise birthday parties for dear friends that just extended the fun from the beginning right to the end of the month. I had a lot of fun being part of each plan in my small way and all my friends should know how much I enjoyed it. I wish all the happiness in the world to be the least of the things they receive in life and that we continue to celebrate life and ourselves each year on. God bless...