After a stressful morning we returned to our hotel and waited for the rest of the tour group to wake up. Next on our tour we were to visit the Sera Monastery and see the monks perform their daily debates. Once everyone had risen, we all piled into the tour bus and were on our way.
After a short while we reached the base of Tatipu Hill. After taking a short stop to eat at a local noodle shop, we climbed the hill to the Sera Monastery.
Sera Monastery Village
The Sera Monastery almost seemed like a small village, with small pathways winding between stone buildings painted white with a dark red trim. Several banners hung from the buildings, each decorated with one or more of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. It seemed that monks and people to support the monks all lived here communally.
The Sera Monastery was built into the hill, and the paths were on an incline. At the top of the monastery we found the main event. The debates were about to start, so several tourists were making there way into a walled off part of the monastery. This area was circular, and the circle was covered with white pebbles, and a few trees were dotted around the area.
Guests were directed to remain on the path around the outer edge of the circle. After a short while the students came out into the circle, all wearing the red robes of a Tibetan monk. Most of them were young and split off into pairs – one would sit on ground, while the other stood up. A few of the monks who were older would wander around keeping an eye on things. These were the teachers supervising the debates.
After everyone was paired off, the debates started. The students who were standing would raise their right hand. As soon as they were about to say something they would bring their right hand down and clap their left hand. Some were fairly relaxed in doing this, while others would strike as close to the face of those sitting down, seemingly trying to distract them. Since there were several dozen students it would be impossible to tell what they were debating about from where we stood, even if you could speak the same language.
The students seemed fairly jovial. They were taking the debate seriously, but that didn’t seem to stop them having a little fun. They smiled and laughed, and occasionally it seemed someone had said something foolish so their opponent would take relish in mocking them for it. They also struck me as being quite humble – those that were mocked seemed to take it in their stride.
The monks would debate for two hours, but we didn’t stay for the whole thing. We left the Sera Monastery and returned to our bus. Next on our agenda was the Norbulingka Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama.