This important Gelugpa monastery, founded in 1419, contains numerous temples filled with splendid murals and icons. Originally it was a hermitage for Tsongkhapa and a few of his top students. Within a couple hundred of years it housed more than 5,000 monks.
On the clockwise pilgrimage route, start at the two buildings that will take up most of your visit. Sera Me Tratsang, founded in 1419, has a dukhang (assembly hall) rebuilt in 1761 with murals depicting Buddha's life. Among the five chapels along the north wall, the one with its exterior adorned with skeletons and skulls is unforgettable. The complex's oldest surviving structure, Ngagpa Tratsang, is a three-story college for tantric studies. Here you'll find statues of famous lamas and murals depicting paradise.
Continue to the four-story-high Sera Je Tratsang, where Manjashuri, the God of Wisdom, listens to monks engaged in philosophical debate in a courtyard just beyond the temple walls. The extremely animated debates—during which emphatic hand movements signify agreement or disagreement—take place daily starting at 3 am. Whatever your feelings are about the excitement of debates, this is one you don't want to miss.