On a rooftop of a monastery in Northern Ladakh, I had almost completed a landscape drawing when an elderly Buddhist monk, who had been quietly watching, leaned toward me and said, "Come. I show you." The wooden steps creaked with age as we descended from the earthen roof into the courtyard.
After entering a side door of the monastery, we climbed another stairway into a hall directly above the main prayer chapel. Walking toward the Yamantaka Chapel, I could barely see the frescoes of wrathful protectors that lined the walls the dark corridor. As we passed those soot-layered guardians, I caught a glimpse of their bulging, bloodshot eyes and red-stained fangs-to close for comfort.
At the end of the passage the monk swing open a door, drenching the hallway in light, bringing to life the protectors of the dharma.
Beyond the door, as light from a wall of windows flooded in, the Yamantaka Chapel exploded with primary and secondary colors. Yamantaka, Conqueror of Death, covered three walls with red, god, and electric blue. A glossy layer of fresh lacquer intensified the fresco's already powerful effect. Yamantaka's terrifying form had multiple heads draped with skulls, numerous angry eyes, horns, and flames. I stood transfixed by the fresco's massive size.
After a few moments of silence, the monk turned around to face me and announced, "Not real." Pointing to his head he said, "Only here." I smiled and nodded. He pinched my shirt sleeve and turned me around to face the windows. The old monks grinned and pointed out the window at the landscape I had just drawn. "Not real," he proclaimed. Touching his head, he smiled and said, "Only here." Then while I stared out the window, the monk quietly left the room.