Sera Je College

Top choice in Lhasa

This is the largest of Sera’s colleges, generally accessed from a western side entrance. It has a breathtaking main hall, hung with thangkas and lit by shafts of light from high windows. Several chörtens hold the remains of Sera’s most famous lamas. To the left of the hall is a passage leading, via a chapel dedicated to the Past, Present and Future Buddhas, to the most sacred of Sera Monastery’s chapels, the Chapel of Tamdrin.

Tamdrin (Hayagriva) is a wrathful meditational deity whose name means ‘horse headed’. He is the chief protective deity of Sera, and there is often a long line of shuffling pilgrims waiting to touch their – and especially their children’s – foreheads to his feet in respect. Children get a black mark of butter-lamp soot on their noses as a blessing. Monks sell holy threads, protective amulets and sacred pills here, as well as red slips of inscribed paper called tsenik, which pilgrims buy to burn for the recently deceased and newly born. The ornate brass shrine recalls the temples of the Kathmandu Valley. As you queue up to view the shrine, take a look at the weapons, hats and masks hanging from the ceiling. Join the pilgrims in buying a white khatag and throwing it up onto the three Buddha statues.

The first chapel to the rear of the hall is devoted to a lovely statue of Sakyamuni, seated below a fine canopy of curling dragons and a ceiling mandala. Pilgrims lean on the steps to the right to touch his left leg. The next two chapels are dedicated to Tsongkhapa, with Sakyamuni and Öpagme (Amitabha), and to Jampelyang, flanked by Jampa and another Jampelyang. From here head to the upstairs chapels, the second of which has a fine embroidered thangka of the fourth Panchen Lama.

To the northeast of Sera Je is Sera’s debating courtyard. Photos are allowed on mobile phones but not actual cameras.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Lhasa attractions

1. Debating Courtyard

0.02 MILES

There is usually monk debating here on weekday afternoons from around 3pm to 5pm, which provides a welcome relief from peering at Buddhist iconography…

2. Sera Ngagpa College

0.03 MILES

A Tantric college, Ngagpa is also the oldest structure at Sera. The main hall is dominated by a statue of Sakya Yeshe (wearing a black hat), behind the…

3. Printing Press

0.05 MILES

Before leaving the monastery it’s worth having a look at the printing blocks in this new hall. Photos are ¥10. Prints made on site are for sale (¥25 to …

4. Sand Mandalas

0.06 MILES

A small building to the side of the printing press holds these three sand mandalas.

5. Main Assembly Hall

0.06 MILES

The main assembly hall (Tsogchen) is the largest of Sera’s buildings and dates to 1710. The central hall is particularly impressive and is noted for its…

6. Hardong Kangtsang

0.08 MILES

Hardong served as a residence for monks studying at Sera Je College. In the first inner chapel, look for a photo of Ekai Kawaguchi, the Japanese monk who…

7. Sera Monastery

0.08 MILES

About 5km north of Lhasa, Sera was founded in 1419 by a disciple of Tsongkhapa as one of Lhasa's two great Gelugpa monasteries. About 600 monks are now in…

8. Kitchen

0.08 MILES

This atmospheric monastery kitchen on the eastern side of the main assembly hall is worth a visit.