Sêrtar, or Seda (色达) which means “golden horse” in Tibetan, lies in the southeast of the Tibetan Plateau and in the historical region of Kham. It is home to the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world. The institute, which was founded by lama Jigme Phuntsok in 1980 and started off with just a few monks, now houses tens of thousands of monks and pilgrims from around the world.
High in a treeless valley in China’s remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture lies the the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world. Founded in 1980, the Seda Larung Wuming Tibetan Buddhist Institute consists of a few main buildings and tens of thousands of small dormitories built on the surrounding hillsides. At any given time, the Institute houses up to 40,000 monks and nuns who come from different schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Gelug, Sakya and Kagyu. Students usually take six years to complete the formal training. Higher levels of training can take 13 years.
In the midst of these simple red houses lies an intellectual hotspot – the Seda Monastery – the world’s largest school for Tibetan Buddhism.
The stunning images were captured by photographer George Doupas who stood just 200 metres away from the Tibetan Seda, in Western Sichuan, China, to capture the view of the densely populated area.
Looming in the middle of the tiny hillside houses, the school has caused the surrounding neighbourhood to explode in size.
Mr Doupas, an Athens-born photographer, who now lives in Beijing, China said photographing the incredible view was breathtaking.
He said: ‘The school for Tibetan Buddhism in Seda is simply unique. I have never seen something like this before in my life, it’s a really amazing place.’
He added: ‘The number of houses there just shows how people are drawn to this holy place. I wonder what this will look like in ten years from now.
‘The monks go to school and study Buddhism every day. They have a few hours a day to rest but during the rest of the day they study and pray.’
The school first began life after the cultural revolution in 1980 and it is home to more than 10,000 monks and nuns.
There can be up to 40,000 monks and nuns in residence for some parts of the year and up to four scholars share a simple room and stay for up to three years.
Seda, known to Tibetans as Serthar is located in Ganzi prefecture in the west of China’s Sichuan province was briefly a hotbed of protests and violence since the Tibetan uprisings of March 2008.
The Seda Monastery has grown rapidly to become one of the most important Buddhist schools and the surrounding hillside is now home to the monks who study at the school.
The local residents from neighbouring villages, like the woman in traditional dress (below) also make the journey to Seda just to pray.
- Larung Gar Buddhist Institute ((喇荣五明佛学院)). the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world 15 km from Seda town.
- Dongga Gompa Monastery on a hill along Ganzi-Seda road. Marked by a big pagoda, 5 km before get to the town.
- Personally Experience Tianzang Funeral/Sky burial ((天葬)). For the Tibetans, Tianzang is the most solemn funeral. All Tibetans hope to be practiced Tianzang when they die because it is the largest wish in their lifetime. In most Tibetan areas, Tianzang’ process is not open to the visitors. But Seda Tianzang Site is located at the mountainside (over 4000m) near to the Academy. Under normal condition, the funeral is holden at 13:00 and up to 16:00 each day.
- Night Scene of Buddhist Academy ((夜景)). For visitors back from the 3rd Pole, the night scene of highland is beautiful with shining stars of the sky. However, around the Buddhist Academy, it is lights scattering on the mountains and valley. Although the lights are not as gorgeous as that of city’s neon, the faint lights fly from thousands of Buddhist’s dormitories and gather together, which seems that soundless power gather together here, making visitors feel more shock in the silent night.
- Red Dormitories of Lamas and Juemu ((红房子)). Visitors will be shocked by the thousands of red Buddhist’s dormitories scattering the whole valley. Standing on the top of mountain in the daytime, you will overlook the whole red house areas. Although they are distributed in random way, they encircle the center of Wuming Academy, which symbolizes the power of Buddhism.
Worship: The school has caused the neighbourhood to explode in size but locals still take the time to pray
Houses: Having rapidly grown to become one of the most important and largest Tibetan schools, the surrounding hillside is now home to the studying monks
Night: Very simple rooms are shared by two to four scholars who usually stay for around three years.