The Monk and I

27 Apr

Hi all,

On Sunday 23rd April 2017, I travelled from Bangalore to Mysore by the Shatabdi Express from Platform 7 of Bangalore Central with a smart Lady Officer of the CTA-SARD named Tsering Nordon.

The train takes exactly two hours from 1100 to 1300 hrs to do the 139 kms.

From Mysore, we took a taxi to Bylakuppe which is almost due West on the eastern border of Coorg District.

I checked in at a posh suite of rooms at the Theckchen Khangsar Guest House attached to the Sera Mey Monastery. Although lunch was served on the Shatabdi, I had just pecked at the food and was rather hungry.

I was dismayed to find that both the Monastery Restaurant and the Coffee Shop were closed because a senior Lama had died the previous day.

I asked a monk I saw near the Monastery Gate where I could get some food. He pointed to the East and said, “three kilometers. Camp 1 Restaurant”, in short staccato bursts.

Wow! I could walk that distance, I thought, but I would rather not… maybe I could catch an auto going past. Two autos sped past me, filled with monks, their maroon robes fluttering out of the vehicle from both sides.

The next auto that came slowed down for me and I could see that there was a single monk in it, sitting at the far corner.

“How much to Camp 1?” I asked the Auto Driver… He surprised me by saying, “Rs.10″… in Bangalore there is no such rate. The minimum is Rs.30 x 2 = Rs.60, where you get charged two ways.

I got in, arranged my backpack and two cameras on the floor of the auto and smiled at the monk who smiled back. In his hand he held a book. The cover page had a title in Tibetan. I couldnt bear to be left out… “What’s this book?” I asked…

“I teach Tibetan. For the Tenth Standard”, he said in halting English. My name is Thupten.

I introduced myself and said I am in Bylakuppe on some work for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. The monk looked unimpressed and looked away.

Before we could exchange any further pleasantries, we had arrived in front of the Tseshung Restaurant and Tibet Bakery.

I got out, with my gear and walked to one of the tables. There were no other customers, so we could have sat anywhere.

As I laid down my cameras and back pack, the monk commented, “You carry a heavy load!” I looked at him to see if there was a hidden meaning but his face had the same impassive expression.

The restaurant keeper came to our table and displayed a menu which was a page full of coloured photos of various dishes. The monk chose a dish and then I put my index finger on an image of “Tibetan Noodles with Meat”.

I also asked for a “Non-Alcoholic Soft-Drink” with the brand name KB-500, made in Telengana… Well, well!

I was curious to know how the monk could afford a meal at this restaurant. So I asked him, and he told me he gets all his meals at his monastery, and a “stipend” of Rs.4000 per month with which he can buy whatever he wants, including eating out now and then.

He asked me where I live, and as I told him about Bangalore and how I pop in and out of the city because of my work, his face creased into a distant smile.

He commented on my spoken English and said he wished he could speak with the same self-confidence. In what might have been a volte-face, he continued, “…but you speak too fast… if you speak more slowly, I would still be here and understand what you say.”

Our food arrived and while I tucked into my noodles which cost only Rs.80/-, I decided I shall make a conscious effort to relax my mind and body.

I now had my directions for the next two days… slow down, take that load off my back. That should be easy, I thought, since there was no wi-fi here and I would carry around only my NIKON P900. Even the telephone signal was a bit dodgy so I would rely on my paper note book and ball pen and thanked God I hadn’t forgotten to write with a pen!

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