Bylakuppe – A Tibet in Coorg!

My fascination with Buddhist monasteries started when I visited Dehradun the second time and passed Mindrolling monastery. But I couldnt go in as it was closed. Since then, I have planned trips to Dharamshala and McLeodganj multiple times but nothing really happened. After coming to Bangalore, on an internet surfing spree, I read about the Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe. What caught my attention was that it is the second largest tibetan settlement in Palyul tradition In India, the first largest being in Dharamshala. Not that I understood what Palyul tradition was, I definitely understood ‘second largest’! This time, after not so much planning, I got going to Kushalnagar hoping for a day in the Namdroling Monastery.

One fine Saturday morning I started from Bangalore and covered the 240kms and reached Kushalnagar by evening. Thanks to our roads that I reached atleast by then! I had booked my stay a nearby cottage. A quite serene cottage amidst the coffee plantations. Coorg has a lot to offer for visitors. But since my sole aim for the visit was Namdroling, I wasn’t prepared for anything else. All the more reason for a second visit. The famous Dubare Elephant camp and the Cauvery Nisargadhama were within the 20 km radius of the Monastery.

One can start spotting the monks as soon as the Kushalnagar city starts. Their distinct dark wine red and yellow uniform sets them apart from the rest. The signboard to Golden temple is marked as soon as the city starts.

Now for a bit of history, Namdroling Monastery was established in 1963, by ‘His Holiness’ Penor Rinpoche. So said the Board at the entrance! He founded this place as a centre for learning , practise and for spreading the teachings of Lord Buddha.

Welcome to Namdroling Monastery!

Contrary to the instructions, the Monastery premises felt like a zoo of visiting people in various hilarious poses for their selfies. Monks of all ages from little kids to really old ones could be seen strolling around. All in their uniforms. Old lady nuns were also there but seems like they didn’t have uniforms but had prayer beads in their hands and were chanting silently. If one could tune out the crowd, there was a different kind of peaceful yet moving energy in the whole place.

The main entrance leads to a courtyard surrounded by building which house the monks. The ground floor has two cafes Namling cafe and the Kunphen cafe, a hypermarket, a book shop and a couple of souvenir shops, all run by uniformed monks. There is a second entrance which leads to the temples. Yes! Temples! Throughout the monastery, there are 16 temples. Most of them are beyond tourist limit. Besides the temple, the monastery also contains about 4 libraries, a tailoring division, internet cafes, a printing press, canteen, a medical clinic and old age home, dormitories and teaching centres and beautiful lawns decorated with fountains and flowers.

So, the real name of the main temple is not Golden Temple. Actually, it is Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara and is written above the doors of the temple. The name ‘Golden temple’ is the acquired name, which I don’t know how. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the Golden Temple is the one in Amritsar.

As soon as you enter the second entrance, the first temple that comes to view is the magnifcent Zangdog Palri temple, which is not the Golden Temple. But compared to all the other temples, this one looks more elaborate one with intricate workmanship. In fact, this one can be seen from at a distance on approaching the monastry. The meaning to this name it seems is ‘ The glorious Copper-coloured Mountain Temple’. This one is just opposite to the actual Golden Temple.

Inside the Zangdog Palri temple

This temple was different from others in that besides the usual statues of Buddha and other gurus, there was this reliquary stupa of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche. These stupas are constructed after a guru passes away as a means of receiving blessing from the departed soul. I was told that the top of the stupa contains the heart, tongue and eyes of Penor Rinpoche which he left so that his disciples can offer prayer and receive his blessings. I have no idea if it was figurative or reality. Either way, I am amazed and a bit scared too!

So, after his death, the Tibetan monks found a kid, whom they believe to the reincarnation of 3rd Drubwang Penor Rinpoche. This kid was born in 2011 and he is called His Holiness Mingyur Dechen Garwang Zilnon Penor Rinpoche. Currently he is being given rigorous training in the practices in the palyul Monastery in Tibet. He was throned when he was just 3 years old. This child one day will take the rule the Palyul Monastery and Namdroling.

I sat there for some time. I could see a monk on one side sitting and chatting unmindful of the antiques on the people who were posing in front of the stupa. I doubt anyone realised what it actually was! I could hear the chant ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ playing softly in the background. This is one the chants I recognise from Tibetan incantations.

Just behind the Zangdog Palri Temple is the Tara Temple. or the temple of Dolma. It has about 21 statues, all of them different forms of Goddess Tara. She is a protector according to the Buddhist beliefs.

Tara Temple
Different forms of Goddess Tara

If you take a close look at the pic above, you will see a half bottle of Coke. When I inquired, I was told, that was the offering for the Goddess in the last prayer! Now that was interesting and funny though. So, there is no hard and fast rule on the offerings. It all depends on your faith. You can even offer candies or biscuits or I will let your imagination and creativity do the rest!

From Tara temple, I went to the main temple – The Golden Temple. This one doesn’t look as grand as the Zangdog Palri Temple but magnificent from inside.

The Golden Temple – Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara

Just outside the temple, to its left is the place where you can deposit your footwear for safekeeping at a paltry rate of INR 2 per pair. As I stepped inside, I was captivated by the three huge statues.

Inside the Golden Temple

The first statue is of Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of long life. The centre one belongs to The Buddha Shakyamuni or the Gautam Buddha. The third one belongs to the Guru Padmasambhava or the Guru Rinpoche.

Another wonder was the art work on the temple walls.

Every painting felt like, it had a story to tell, a lesson to teach. One of the monks was explaining to the a group of school students that every Buddhist temple has a wheel and deer emblem is seen at the entrance of all the monasteries. It represents the Dharma wheel and the male and female deer gazing the wheel represents the right the right way and the wisdom to choose the right and wrong respectively.

Door to the Golden Temple

Then there was Vajra Kilaya temple, hidden by the buildings. This temple is dedicated to Dorje Zhonnu.

I couldn’t visit the other temples as most of the premises are off limits. One would need a special permit from Delhi to be able to enter areas. The formalities for the permit generally takes a month.

Outside the temple premises, are the cafes and other shops. Namling cafe had juices and snacks while Kunphen cafe served a delicious lunch of Thupka and momos.

At Kunphen, while waiting for my lunch, I met this little monk. I went out to talk to him. I found it difficult to pronounce his name and he spelled it for me with great patience. His name was Dinchen Tamang. He was a second grader of the school of the monastery and a native of Darjeeling. I noticed him because of his quiet manners.

Many tourists were asking him to pose with them for selfies and he did all of it quite patiently and with an innocent look on his face. I joked to him that he seems to be the star of the monastery to which he gave me a shy smile. Sunday was a holiday for him and he preferred to sit outside the cafe watching the people. I saw his eyes twinkle and tease me when he saw me struggle with the chopsticks to have thupka. Not that he knew how to use chopsticke. (So, the next day when ordered Thupka, they didn’t give me any chopsticks, but a fork and a spoon.) There were may kids like him, some much younger who were away from their homes to learn at the Monastic Junior High School. a student has to complete 8 years of study in this school and the graduate to the Dratsang or the study centre of the ritual arts. After a student completes the training here, the next is the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute where the course runs for about 9 years. After earning all their degrees, these students are assigned monasteries, where they join and continue their work of teaching and spreading Buddhism.

The Junior High School Yeshe Wodsal Sherab Raldriling school.

Almost a km away from the monastery is the Tsogyal Shedrub Dargyeling Nunnery. Where uniformed female nuns study and practice the teachings, They also have their own Junior high school, Dratsang, Institute for higher Buddhist studies and a retreat centre where they must stay for 3 years to finish their course. This retreat is applicable for male monks also who have the Ngyagur retreat centre. From my calculation the whole course takes more than 20 years to finish. At end of 20 years, the little Dinchen would also be a full fledged monk assigned a monastery!

I got more than a whole day at the monastery but I still am full of doubts. When I came back, my friends asked me what I learnt and I didn’t know if I had learnt anything at all. I had just seen lots, heard lots and observed in the 2 days I got, which just increased my curiosity. So, may be next I should visit the original Palyul monastery in Tibet, the mini replica of which was on exhibit in the Namdroling.

Replica of the original Palyul Monastery in Tibet

I bought lots of books on midfullness and meditations, lots of Himalayan incense and prayer flags and charms before I packed back to bangalore.

I will be back in Coorg I know, because there is a lot unexplored left in Coorg and Madikeri. If and when it happens, I don’t know if I would come back to Namdroling. But I will wait for the day the child being trained so vigorously from such a young age, when every other kid of his age plays and fools around with friends, and whose angelic face with an innocent smile I can never forget, would rule Namdroling and the whole of Palyul lineage. Till then, I have lots more to see before I finally rest!