The moment the words were out of my mouth, Rajendra eyes lit up. He instantly drove us to a part of Pokhara we hadn't seen before and pulled up in front of a locked-up seemingly deserted building. He banged on the door and yelled up some stairs and an old tuberculer-appearing man came out front, listened for a minute, and then called for a woman about my age in a yellow salwar-kamis. She smiled and gestured us forward.
She took us around the back of the building, down a narrow hallway with flipflops in front of a line of tiny doorways, and up some cement stairs into an old building that looked like a small square old warehouse – corrugated roof with holes in the walls, lots of high windows and lots of light, with a small kitchen attached.
Suddenly a Buddhist monk appeared, with no explanation or preamble; he just walked over to one of the paintings and started explaining, in minute detail, what each segment of each painting represented. We gradually learned that he had been a Buddhist monk for 18 years and was now a teacher. His explanations were apparently multi-layered and “intense” according to Jeny, who was trying to translate. We would ask a question, he would answer in Nepalese for two or three minutes straight, and then Jeny would say, “Ummmm, this picture is a manifestation of Buddha's different manifestations.”
Tea was brought in (tea is always brought in) and all told he spent about an hour with us. Then he said, “Want to see the biggest one?” and before he had even finished saying the words three more people magically showed up, and the artist began pulling an enormous – maybe 15 feet long – tube out from all these other tubes stacked up on top of each other on one side of the room. Before we quite realized what was happening, the floor had been cleared and they began to unfurl it on the floor. It was indeed huge – perhaps 15 by 18 feet – an enormous and intricate version of Buddha's life; it took over eighteen months to complete. All the people who had appeared to help uncurl it stayed to look at it with us, reviewing all the details and marveling at the artistry, a magical moment.
A few days later we hired a guide at Bhaktapur Square and he took us to a “Thankgha Painting School.” How realistic this was and how much it was thrown together for the tourists is impossible to know, but these pictures show how the artists work, at least on the mandalas shown here: first coming up with an idea (through meditation etc), then pencilling it in on cotton fabric, then painting with tiny thin spit-laden paintbrushes, then adding detail, and then, if money is available, adding small strokes of real gold. The detail is absolutely staggering, the exquisite brushwork inspiring, and the stories endless, truly endless: we were told that there are over 23 million deities in Buddhism (or there are none, depending on one's point of view), so they will never ever run out of material.