As an extension of my time in China (see Archive 1), I took a long-distance bus into Inner Mongolia, to stay in the lamasery village of Taersi. I was a little apprehensive about how the monks would take to being drawn. Would they consider it an insult?
The streets were mud but the temples were all very impressive: high walls broken by huge, decorative gateways with great, studded doors, through which you passed into a series of painted, wooden buildings and stone courtyards. The spaces were full of monks and pilgrims praying and prostrating themselves to the accompaniment of much chanting and banging of gongs.
To my delight, nobody seemed to mind me sketching, not even when I drew them. In fact I was occasionally offered brief smiles between prostrations, and those who came to watch gave me the 'thumbs-up' sign: very odd coming from a robed monk!
These monks were in the middle of a ceremony, wearing bright yellow, woollen caps with high mohicans on top. I was sitting just off the courtyard, sketching them, when another monk came over, smiled a greeting and gave me a single walnut. Later on, a different monk also made me the gift of a small pear. I felt honoured and rather thrilled to be accepted.
In another courtyard, I found lines of brightly decorated, red barrels suspended from a beam with axles through their centres. These were prayer-wheels, sending up a prayer each time someone gave them a spin.
This long, low building was set apart from the others up a hill. Inside was a single long hall containing the monastery's yak-butter sculptures. They were intricately carved and brightly painted, making it difficult to tell they were made of butter, were it not for the uncomfortably clammy, sweet smell that filled the place, making it difficult to stay for very long. Hence no sketch!