Believers: A Land Of Temples
Generations before him, Gyanu Dulal’s family came from Nepal to settle areas in southern Bhutan, a landlocked country just east of India. While it's a predominantly Buddhist country, Dulal and his family have always been Hindu.
Much of Dulal’s spiritual observance he sees as simply the way he interacts with others, being respectful, kind, and honest.
His faith was also central to his childhood community. Literally. There was a temple in the center of the neighborhood that served a few different purposes.
“A school for people to learn about the religion, a place of worship, meditation, and a place to gather and celebrate," said Dulal.
They may have been a minority but Dulal grew up in a vibrant and healthy community. A lot of farmers who owned land, including his family, living in peace with their Buddhist neighbors to the north. That is, until 1985.
The Bhutanese government instituted a policy called "one people, one nation." that meant that Dulal’s Hindu community was expected to conform to Bhutanese culture rather than their Nepalese roots.
They were no longer allowed to learn or speak their native language, they had to dress differently, and worst of all, they weren’t allowed to practice their Hindu religion.
For those who opposed this new policy, there were consequences.
“They started looting, they started raping the girls," Dulal said. "Many of those who were arrested we do not know where they are, but many were turned back dead.”
It’s no wonder that some of Dulal’s neighbors gave in. Rather than endure that kind of torment for their beliefs, they began saying, “yes.”
Will you follow the Buddhist religion? Yes. Will you speak Dzongkha (the prominent language of Bhutan). Yes. Will you eat a cow? Yes.
"Eating a cow, killing a cow, that is really against Hinduism," said Dulal. "Cow is the mother goddess. We worship cow."
Those who said “no,” and opposed the Bhutanese government, they had to leave. Nearly 110,000 people, including Dulal and his family. He was 21 at the time. They left everything they owned, the country they knew, because preserving their faith and their culture was more important.
They traveled for days through India and eventually arrived in Nepal, the land of their ancestors. In a way, they were arriving back home. But as refugees.
"In Nepal, there are so many temples, it is called 'the land of temples.'"
Dulal said there was cultural acceptance and familiarity in Nepal but it didn't change the fact that they had nothing. They went begging door to door and that is how they survived for months.
With time, the conditions improved, slightly. Family groups of eight or so were given small bamboo huts to live in. Foreign aid helped with food. And this is how Dulal lived for 18 years.
Then, in 2008, he and his family were given the opportunity to resettle to a strange place with an even stranger name: Salt Lake City.
"I have never heard that in my life," said Dulal. "Nobody had. The few places I had heard were Chicago, Texas, California. But Utah, I didn’t know where it was, what it was, I was not able to pronounce the word ‘Utah.’”
He had mixed emotions when he arrived. Although conditions were not ideal in Nepal he had come to see that place as his home. Everything in Utah felt different. Well, almost everything.
Salt Lake City is unique because it is built around a temple.
"That was comforting to me," Dulal said."When I was in Nepal, there are so many temples, it is called 'the land of temples.'"
Of course temples in Nepal and Utah serve different purposes. But Dulal was relieved that he found himself in a place where the idea of temples really meant something. And now his mission is to build one.
He and other Bhutanese refugees has established a small and tight knit community, not too unlike the one he grew up in. But, it’s missing that crucial cultural and spiritual center, a temple. So, in five or so years he hopes they can build one.
It won’t just be a Hindu temple. It will be open to all. Especially, Buddhists. The faith of those who once drove him from his home.