The official diary of the Gould mission to Lhasa sent by the British government. Read more about the mission diary.
Today we visited Sera Monastery, Sera, Drepung and Ganden are the three vast monasteries significantly, know as the Three Pillars of the State. But whereas Drepung, containing a large proportion of Mongolians, Kalmulis and other aliens, has always been against the Lhasa Government, Sera has a more patriotic record. In 1920 Drepung rebelled against the Kashag and when it at last gave in (Tsarong being then Commander-in-Chief) a complete plant for forging Tibetan currency was found in one of the colleges.
Sera, on the other hand, has always been anti-China and has been repeatedly attacked by Chinese troops. On one occasion soldiers of the latter occupied a monastery on the steep hillside above Sera and opened fire on the monastery. But the monks went on better: during the night a party of them established themselves above the Chinese and drove them down the mountainside.
Although there are 5,500 monks in Sera, compared with Drepung's 7,700, the former gives the impression of being only about a quarter as big although both are more like fortified cities than the abodes of contemplative monks.
Both monasteries gave one the same impression: narrow, steep-walled pathways leading deviously from college to college, huge, dark, vault-like temples, stinking of rancid butter and unwashed bodies, with floors slippery with the spillings of innumerable daily tea-drinkings. And in contrast to this magnificent frescoes on the outer walls of the temples, and hanging 'tankas' within, more beautiful and richer in colour than any we have seen elsewhere. These depicted conventional subjects such as the Wheel of Life, a superb blazing god of wrath ten feet high surrounded by a thousand lesser deities, and a line of seated Buddhas each with a different expression-placid, saturnine or cynically smiling.
The roofs of these monasteries are the most beautiful parts. The top few feet of the walls are formed of innumerable willow twigs laid horizontally and cut straight like a half used haystack. This matt surface is ornamented with gold signs and stained a deep, rich maroon forming a most attractive contrast with the gilt ornaments on the roof s, some of which are of great size. Having drunk tea with each of the abbots of the four colleges we gave a donation to the Monastery funds. After a picnic lunch in one of Sera's private gardens we returned wearily home visiting a large Tibetan monastery is a somewhat heavy day's work.
Author: Frederick Spencer Chapman [see handwritten annotations in Diary by Hugh Richardson in MS. Or. Richardson 2, Bodleian Libary, Department of Oriental Collections, University of Oxford]
Page Reference: Pt VIII p.1