After a simple noodle lunch, we hopped on a taxi for Sera Monastery ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺). At the northern suburb of Lhasa, Sera is a popular destination among foreign tourists where its famous debate sessions usually take place in the afternoon. Unlike Drepung where reaching the monastery required ascending the Mount Gephel, accessing Sera Monastery from the main road was just a few minutes’ walk. There weren’t too many tourists around. As one of the three main Gelug university monasteries in Tibet, Sera is consisted of a series of colleges, residences, and assembly halls on its 28 acres of land. Once with a monastic population of about 5000, the current monastery is a shadow of its past. Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, Sera Monastery has gone through ups and downs in history. Fortunately, the monastery was left relatively undamaged during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.
Beyond the main entrance, we passed by the large stupa Tsangba Kangtsang and a row of prayer wheels circled by several devoted pilgrims. We turned left into a small alleyway between several small buildings and continued to the courtyard of Sera Me College. We entered the main hall and visited the upper deck of the building. There were hardly any tourists around, except a few prostrating pilgrims at the front veranda. We then headed over to Sera Je College, the largest college in Sera, and Tsogchen, the Main Assemble Hall, before finding our way to the famous debate courtyard. Many visitors had already gathered at the perimeter of the courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard sat a large group of monks all dressed in red robes. Full of anticipation, we sat down on the pavement curb behind the monks, hoping to witness their unique exchange despite we knew we couldn’t understand the Tibetan language. We soon realized that the particular day of our visit was an exam day for the young learners instead of a regular debate session. Instead of forming small debate groups, each young monk were given a brief time to perform his speeches and gestures in front of a panel of two teachers. It was interesting to watch how the young monks perform their hand clapping and speeches in attempt to win over the crowds and the teachers. We stayed for about half an hour before heading back to the monastery entrance and quickly hopped on a taxi returning to the Barkhor Old City of Lhasa.
There were more lamas than tourists at the entrance when we arrived at Sera Monastery.
The first thing in Sera Monastery we encountered was a large stupa and a row of prayer wheels.
We walked into a lane left of the entrance attempting to find Sera Me College.
The colourful monastery buildings were quite eye catching. We wandered into different empty courtyards before reaching Sera Me College.
The Sera Me College dates back to the earliest years of the monastery.
Like many other monasteries, the stair at Sera Me College was really steep.
The front veranda of Sera Me College were occupied by prostrating pilgrims.
We had seen this checker pattern several times at different Tibetan monasteries.
Next we walked over to the largest college at Sera Monastery: the Sera Je College.
We had a peaceful moment at the upper level of Sera Je College.
The flat roof of Sera Je College was also accessible, but we couldn’t stay for long because of the strong afternoon sun.
It was fortunate that most buildings at Sera Monastery escaped damages from the Cultural Revolution.
We then returned to the maze of alleyways and headed towards the Main Assembly Hall.
Dated back to 1710, the Tsogchen (Main Assembly Hall) is the largest buildings in Sera Monastery.
We rested a bit under the shade on the upper level of the Main Assembly Hall.
After Main Assembly Hall, we returned to the main path and walked to the Debate Courtyard at the far end.
Through the doorway, we could see the courtyard was already filled up with spectators.
The young monks walked out one by one to perform their debate speech and body gestures.
We sat down behind a group of monks for a while and watched the performances by several monks.