This major Geluk monastery was founded in the early 15th century by Sakya Yeshe, a disciple of Tsongkapa. A pilgrimage circuit of the complex passes the colleges Sera Me Tratsang, Ngakpa Tratsang, and Sera Je Tratsang before reaching Tsokchen, the huge assembly hall (ca. 18th c.), which houses an image of Sakya Yeshe. The path continues up to Sera Utse, a hermitage that predates the monastery, a stiff 1 1/2-hour hike up the mountain. Most visitors are drawn to Sera by the lively debates held in the Sera Je Tratsang Courtyard Monday to Saturday from 3 to 5pm.
Debates provide an opportunity for monks to demonstrate their scholarship and rise through the ranks. A prodigious body of religious literature must be digested before a monk can become a useful sophist. Visitors usually are struck by the physicality of the debates, with one monk sitting down, biding his time, while the other launches a verbal and physical attack. One monk noted that they were instructed that "the foot must come down so strongly that the door of hell may be broken open; and that the hands must make so great a noise that the voice of knowledge may frighten the devils all the world over."
Transportation: Bus: no. 502 from northwest corner of Beijing Dong Lu and Duosenge Lu. Taxis charge ¥15 ($1.95/£1) each way
Cost: Admission ¥50 ($6.50/£3.25)