The Monks of Nyare

I first met them in 1978, the night we arrived in the Tibetan settlement of Mundgod, in Northern Karnataka. After bumping around on winding roads for several hours, driving past bullocks and buffalos with extravagant horns and through thick jungle, we arrived in the Tibetan settlement of Mundgod. It was dark by then, and we emerged from our white Ambassador to be greeted by a group of monks with white scarves, then ushered into an elongated mud brick house, proudly referred to as the just finished Nyare Khamtsen House, boasting an assembly hall, two guest rooms and the Khamtsen’s first ever bathroom, a cement cubicle with a single tap and with (what we call in France) a Turkish toilet. Smaller monks lurked behind their teachers, peeking at us through the door, taking turns to gawk, especially at me. Only then did I realized how close they were to Kalsang’s world, these monks with whom he had shared the few years he had spent at Drepung in Lhasa as Nyare Chunsel, the rank his parents had insisted he have, which afforded him the privilege accorded to lamas. After three years, he had escaped with them to Buthan, then India and settled for some years to life in Buxa, Assam, a former British internment camp where the monks pulled together a semblance of monastic life, a thousand monks from among the escapees of the three Monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden. Kalsang thrived there, though many died of TB and others succumbed to madness when they realized they was no turning back.

For two months, that summer of 1978, I bathed in these monk’s warmth and hospitality. They were Kalsang’s only family, his parents having remained in Lhasa where they passed away about the time we made this first visit to Mundgod.

This year, I visited Loseling in Mundgod after a hiatus of twenty one years. The monastery’s environment had drastically changed; It had become like a small town, full of trees and flowering bushes, the monks were more health conscious, finally adapting their diet and lifestyle to the tropical climate of the Deccan Plateau. They also lived comfortably in better houses. Time had taken its toll, though, with six out of twenty five Nyare Buxa monks remaining, the others having been claimed by cancer, diabetes, or other casualties. The youngest was seventy nine, the oldest eighty five.

I made a point of photographing these old friends in a group photo, then in their monk quarters, in the transplanted universe of a Tibetan Monastery in South India.

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Tashi Paden, Tsoya, Sonam Temba and Lobsang on the porch of the old Nyare Khamtsen in 1978. Of them, only Gen Tsoya, second to the left, survives. He is eighty. 
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Gen Tsoya in his room, with his dog Sengdrup (Little Lion)
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Gen Rinchen in front of his house, in 1989. At the time he was the Drepung Chanting Master. 
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Gen Rinchen in 2016 in the same, renovated house. 
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Gen Tsesum in 1979, washing a cow. Loseling had cows and buffalos, which they milked. They said the buffalos bathed  themselves, but cows  had to be hosed daily. 
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Gen Tsesum in his room, eating his lunch. At 85, he is the oldest 
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Buxa Monk reunion; at the Center is Toden Rinpoche, in his mid seventies. To his left, Kalsang Yeshi. 
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Gen Kalsang Yeshi in his room (this is another Kalsang Yeshi) 

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Gen Tsewang Dondup. In front of him is an array of medicines, Tibetan, aryuvedic and allopathic. 

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