It's the last place you'd expect to see lotus-position-sitting, robe-wearing, Siddhartha-revering monks, but Bloomington has become something of a breeding ground for Buddhists, authentic and wannabe alike. In 1951after refusing to cooperate in an assassination attempt on his own brother, His Holiness the Dalai LamaThubten Jigme Norbu left Tibet and roamed the globe. He finally settled here as a professor of Tibetan studies at IU. Even though he's now retired, Norbu's presence alone acts as a catalyst to spiritual awakening, spawning numerous religious retreats.
Norbu opened the Tibetan Cultural Center (3655 Snoddy Rd.; 812/334-7046) in 1979 to promote interfaith dialogue while preserving the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. You can simply attend a lecture, or, if you're there on the right day, you might witness the resident monk, the Venerable Ngawang Wangchuck, chanting to clanging cymbals in front of the Dalai Lama's altar. The intricate Medicine Buddha sand mandala (a detailed drawing made from colored grains of sand), displayed under protective glass inside the center, draws a crowd. Such works of art are usually destroyed after completion to underscore the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of everything, but the one at the Tibetan Cultural Center gets to endure in the material world. The center also claims two of the first chortens (Buddhist temples) on this continent, and they're open to the public.
For a more introspective experience, wander past the trailers to Lower Cascades Park. There you'll find the brightly colored Dagom Gaden Tensung Ling Buddhist Monastery (102 Clubhouse Dr.; 812/339-0857), whose gardens are the perfect place to reflect on the wonders of nature. You can also join one of the intense meditation sessions on your quest for enlightenment.
If all that karma-cleansing builds up an appetite, head to one of the three restaurants in town that specialize in Tibetan delicacies. The Snow Lion (113 S. Grant St.; 812/336-0835) has historyit was one of the first Tibetan restaurants in the countrybut it's the cheerful Anyetsang's Little Tibet (415 E. Fourth St.; 812/331-0122) that serves the best Himalayan dishes around. Whether you're eating your mealsay, a traditional curry or momos (steamed dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables)indoors or on the porch, you'll enjoy the peaceful ambience for which Tibetans are renowned. In an effort to spread the word about the unfortunate political situation in Tibet, Thupten Anyetsang and his wife, Lhamo, provide "Free Tibet" literature.
You can get a taste of Middle and Far Eastern cuisine while grooving to the sounds of live jazz at Café Django (116 N. Grant St.; 812/335-1297) on Friday nights. American music may seem an unlikely backdrop for the tantalizing tastes of Tibet and the Middle East, but one look at the rollicking crowd and you'll know you've stumbled onto a winning combination.