INSIDE STORY BYLAKUPPE This mini Tibet in Karnataka is a happy village. But deep within there's hope and despair

It seems like just another day at school, except these students have red robes draped about them. Young and impressionable, they are laughing, munching on snacks as they walk past me with backpacks slung around their shoulders. I am in the coffee country of Coorg, in a small little village called Bylakuppe that resembles a mini Tibet. Nestled amidst verdant landscape, Bylakuppe or the ‘place of rains’ is one of the first Tibetan settlements of Karnataka.

Pottering around the narrow slushy lanes, I realise life seems to follow a pattern of its own.

Children playing at school, old women meditating with their prayer wheels, men playing shopara with marbles and the youth listening to Tibetan music at cafes — no one is in a hurry to get anywhere. You look up and see colourful flags fluttering everywhere.

The village seems like any other — with medical centres, community halls, schools, playgrounds, shops and eateries… Tourism has, however, created a steady flow of income for these people as tourists flock to the monasteries.

Tall shimmering Buddhas smile at us from the Golden Buddha Temple. I walk around, and the air is filled with chants and loud voices of students arguing and slapping their palms as they speak. “They are debating,” explains a student as we see a group in animated discussion. “They gather in groups and ask each other questions.”

Bylakuppe is a centre of Buddhist studies as thousands of monks come here from various parts of the world. But it is not their story, but the tales of the boy lamas who had walked all the way from Tibet to India, that touches our hearts.

We meet 13-year-old Sherab who says he hates Maths. His subjects include English and Science besides Tibetan History and Buddhism. Ask him about Tibet and the playful grin disappears. “My father died in Tibet, and I haven’t seen my mother for years. My brother and I came here a few years ago with many other people. We ran away and walked in the cold. I was scared. I do not remember much...”

Memories of a journey

His friend Tenzen has more vivid memories. “I was five when we left Tibet. It was very cold. We walked through the mountains, hid in the snow and it took us more than 20 days to reach Nepal.”

A group of boys is playing cricket. Suddenly the conversation veers around Dhoni and Tendulkar. It’s a different world out here. The boys say that they take their vows when they are eight. “We sometimes take as many as 200 vows.” Celibacy is just one of them.

Amidst all the laughter, however, is the unspoken word that strongly echoes around — freedom. Tibet for them now lies only in their imagination and dreams.