An unforgettable day begins with a tour to the monumental Potala Palace whose imposing presence dominates the entire region. Built at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,700 meters), on the side of Marpo Ri in the center of Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace has vast inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows, and flat roofs at various levels, giving it an appearance of a fortress. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, and the seat of the Tibetan government, the 13-story structure has been a museum since the spiritual leader went into exile in 1959. The palace complex includes the White Palace, which was built for secular uses and contained the living quarters of Dalai Lama, offices, the seminary and the printing house. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace, the other side of the sacred Potala, which is completely devoted to religious study and prayer. The Red Palace, hosting the sacred gold stupas - the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas - consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, more than 10,000 chapels and libraries, and a labyrinth of mysterious dungeons on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages. Of particular note is the rich gold and jewel-encrusted stupa containing the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa was built of sandalwood and was remarkably coated in 8,200 Lbs (3,727 kg) of solid gold and studded with 18,680 pearls and semi-precious jewels. It took 7,000 workers and 1,500 artists and craftsmen more than 50 years to build the adjoining White and Red palaces. Perched on Red Mountain, the Palace offers sweeping views of the city and the surrounding immense peaks that are as extraordinary as its interior.
Lunch at a local Tibetan restaurant, followed by a visit to the Sera Monastery, one of the most important centers of the Yellow Hat sect and also a pillar of the theocratic state. The history of the monastery is strongly connected to Master Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Yellow Hat, the much venerated and highly learned guru in Buddhist scriptures. Ordained at the remarkable age of three, he traveled widely to study with his era's greatest teachers and to train thousands of monks. Sera Monastery features three monastic colleges, which served in past centuries as magnets for thousands of monks who traveled from all over Tibet to study, train, and mediate. In the Tibetan language, sera means 'wild rose garden.' The monastery earned the name for the opulent wild roses that grew all around the site centuries ago. At its peak, the monastery was the home for more than 7,000 monks. While the numbers of roses and monks have diminished with the passage of time, the monastery and its grounds have only increased in cultural significance and emotional power.
The highlight of your trip to the Sera Monastery is a debating session held between the monks that attracts pilgrims and visitors alike. The debate among monks unfolds in the presence of their teachers, with a very well-set rule of procedure for the defender and the questioners. The tradition of such debates is traced to the ancient 'Hindu Orthodoxy' in India and this practice permeated into Buddhist orthodoxy in Tibet in the eighth century. Such debate is integral to the learning process in the colleges in the Sera Monastery and it facilitates better comprehension of the Buddhist philosophy to attain higher levels of study. This exemplary debating tradition supplemented with vigorous gestures which enliven the ambiance of the occasion, is said to be exclusive to Sera Monastery. Visitors also attend to witness these debates that are held as per a set schedule, every day in the Debating Courtyard of the monastery.