Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mundgod I

Just got back from 400km to the south, Mundgod, Karnataka. With Karnataka we pass into South Indian proper, with Dravidian languages, slightly different physical characteristics, really different food, and, it seems, a marked tendency to sharing road transport. Photographing vehicles I'm passing from a moving car is not one of my strong points, so here are some fairly weak examples of what I'm talking about:
This is also the land of the lungi, or as one less appreciative Champion and friend once called it, a man-skirt. She's piped down now that she owns one and wears it to bed. Here's an ok example:

The towel over one shoulder is an important part of the South Indian look as well. You will absolutely see guys with rs4k cell phones and chunky gold watches with a lungi and a towel everywhere you go in South India. I love it.

Mundgod itself is the home of
plus Drepung Loseling, and Ganden Shartse and Jangtse, and is, quite frankly, a weird place for just about anybody except the people who live there. It's a Tibetan Refugee settlement, which means there are Tibetan farmers
and very traditionally dressed Tibetan housewives
going about their prosaic lives. Then there are the hip young Tibetans, and believe you me, nobody is hip like a hip young Tibetan. They speak perfect English, ride fast motorcycles, have great hair and high cheekbones, and listen to the latest [and, really, the worst] of Euro-dance music. Sorry, no pics, their agent said no.

The Tibetans all moved in here about 46 years ago, when they had to raze absolute jungle to start growing crops to feed themselves. Some bits of jungle still remain
and oldtimers like to tell about how they cropped 9 months a year and studied 3, and ate only once a day, and had to sleep out in the fields to keep wild elephants from ruining the corn.

Then there are the approximately 9000 or so monks. 9k. Outnumber the laity. They are not Tibetan, at least not all--Himachali, Lahuli, Spiti-i [?], Ladakhi, Zangskari, Bhutanese, Tibetan [U-Tsangpa, Lhasawa, Khampa, Amdowa, Lithangpa, Mustangpa], Nepalese, Mongolian, Monpa [from Arunachal Pradesh, extreme disconnected NE India] and a few Dutch, Isreali, Russian, American, etc. Here are a few heading in to the morning session.

(The last four pictures were taken within 200 yards and 20 minutes of each other, btw. And I missed a lot of good stuff in there too.)

The Drepung monks are all Gelugpas, one of four schools in Tibet. The Gelug are scholiasts, or maybe just scholastics. They're big on philosophy, memorizing books, and debating. Several hours of debate each day. A few hours of chanting prayers. No meditation to speak of.

Here's a video of the debate yard. Please note that after saying I won't offer commentary I do not shut up for 3 seconds:

The community has really prospered of late. They've built a lot of buildings, and brought in lots of monks. Some of the monks are escapees, but some come from Tibet with permission, I believe. There are enough people that some in the know have wondered if the water table can withstand all the new borewells. I worry about this too.

The whole area is a refugee area, officially. The people I stay with aren't refugees, they're Indians. But you still need to have a Restricted Area Permit to stay there. To stay. Not to enter, or look around. You apparently only pose a threat once you start sleeping there. Also, only white tourists need these. Monks are all good, no questions asked. Prolly cuz they don't stick out quite so much.

The permit takes about five months, no idea why. They sent mine to Bhandarkar though I'd never said to--I'd requested it from Varanasi in December. I got it on April 11th or so. When you arrive in the 'god, you're spost to take that badlander to the sub-inspector, and because I try to dot the i's so I can come back again, I did. I handed over my permit for inspection. 'Expired,' said an unusually talkative Indian police officer.

Indeed. My permit was for March 27-April 30. Upon reflection, the letter was dated March 27 as well. Mailed April 2. Arrived Deccan Post Office April 9. Prolly took 2-3 more days to reach my sweaty hands. I hadn't even checked.

The Sub-Inspector said I would have to leave and stay in Mundgod or Hubli. I was well miffed.

Luckily, the police never come at night because they don't work then, so I was advised to carry on as though nothing happened, so I did. I left shortly after that anyway, according to plan, and I actually think the poe-liss told me that I could slide, just don't mention his name if I get caught. Hard to tell, though my Hindi is good enough now that I know when someone else actually doesn't speak much Hindi.

I got feted with all kinds of yummy Ladakhi food (monks cook well because, um, they have to, and they aren't allowed much else in the way of indulgence.) I asked some questions about confession, and got good answers. I tried to fix L Gyaltsen's computer to no great avail. On Wed. a.m. I went and took some pictures at the new Assembly Hall of the other college, Drepung Loseling:

Those are adult humans on the steps there. I would say once you start building this kind of stuff you're not really all that refugee any more, not in the food-and-water-shortage, displaced-persons-in-tents kind of usual refugee way.

Here's what it looks like on the inside.

Some more of the personal touches in the next post, but this is overlong already. Bye everybody.


Grandpa George said...

Hey CPB,

Loved this. The pics and videos are great--some remind me of my visit to Monasteries with you.

Tell me about the source of the YouTube videos; I see that some were done by you, but what about the baby in high chair and the woman in traditional dress, singing???

Also see my comment on Maggie's post about Ben's original birthday.

Grandpa George said...


The slap-debate video reminded me of seeing this at the HHDL Residence in Dharamsala. Can you get some more footage of these? Do the Monks notice when you are watching or photographing?? Seemed to me that they get so engaged that they do not notice anyone else--although, I wonder what happens when other Monks watch a particular Debate and start cheering and clapping