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China: Sera monastery

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Sera monastery > China > Asia

[Visited: April 2007]

When I cycled from Drepung monastery to Sera, I tried to discover Sera at the foot of the mountains to my left, but I could not see it, for the view was obscured by the new buildings of the ever expanding outskirts of Lhasa. It was only when I was already quite close to it that I first saw Sera monastery, comfortably lying at the feet of the mountains in which I could see other, smaller monasteries and religious objects. Sera monastery literally means "enclosure of roses"; according to legend, the hill behind it was covered in roses when the monastery was built. What had been a nice ride for me, was in fact going from one of the two major Gelugpa monasteries of Lhasa to the other, two competitors, with a different history. After entering, I immediately realised they also had a different atmosphere. Very different.

Picture of Sera monastery (China): Monks of the Yellow Hat sect or Gelugpa at Sera monastery

Upon entering, I left the main street dividing Sera monastery area in two, and turned left. Almost immediately, I found myself walking abandoned streets and alleys, and for the first time I saw prayer wheels completely untouched by pilgrims. I entered courtyards of barracks that seemed empty and gave the impression they had been empty already for a long time. I sat down, waiting for someone to show up, to see monks, but in vain. Instead, I heard doors and bells tingling softly slamming in the wind. It felt like being in a ghost town, the run down and evidently not well maintained buildings, some of them several stories high, without a sign of life, not even a cat or dog. But that feeling was not at all eerie, I actually liked it a lot. There was not the usual monk business going on, there was no visitor in sight, and for a while, I had the feeling that famous Sera monastery, once home to some 5000 monks and one of the main monasteries for Tibetans, belonged to me.

Picture of Sera monastery (China): Yellow hat wearing monk at Sera monastery

It also made clear what impact the Chinese invasion had had here: this once thriving monastery, with a history going back to the early 15th century, with several different colleges within its walls, seemed virtually wiped out. Looking for the several hundreds of monks currently residing here, I found them at the debating courtyard. After the silence of the rest of the monastery, the contrast could not have been bigger. Monks fiercely defending their point, debating with fire, in small groups on the stoney courtyard, covered by trees in which spring had just arrived. A lengthy service made the monks join in a circle, at the end of which they all put on their yellow hats again - an amazingly beautiful sight. After the service, the monks just continued their debating session, a noisy affair, in which one monk stands in the middle of a group, and monks are constantly debating in a fierce way, supporting their point by clapping their hands. A fascinating spectacle. Afterwards, as the sun was already on its way to setting, I scrambled up the hills above Sera monastery, offering great views over the monastery and the surroundings, as well as the Potala palace.

Picture of Sera monastery (China): Sera monastery lying on the hills north of Lhasa
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Prayer wheels on a wall of Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Quiet courtyard of Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Congregation of Gelugpa monks of Sera monastery at debating courtyard
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Monks entering Sera monastery in the late afternoon
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Mural of horse-man in Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Tibetan calendar with elegant Tibetan characters painted on wall of Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Yellow hats and red robes: Gelugpa monks at Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Afternoon debate session at Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Sera monastery: monks walking a square
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Colourful religious rock paintings above Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Colourful rock paintings above Sera monastery
Picture of Sera monastery (China): Monk with yellow hat over his shoulder at Sera monastery

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