Ever heard of a Buddhist monastery of around a thousand roofs? Seda (or Sertar) is a remote county in the major Sichuan Province of China and the home of the Larung Gar institute. This area is a Tibetan inhabited zone (the are many Tibetan inhabited border regions around Tibet proper). It is part of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture but not part of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibet has long been a magnet for adventurous explorers and today to see Tibet proper one needs to have special permission and have a set tour. But the wonders of Tibet are worth the extra effort. But one does not need to go into the Autonomous Region of Tibet to see Tibetan culture, the Larung Gar is the largest Buddhist Insitute in the world and is in Sichuan Province.

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The Largest Buddhist Insitute In The World

This region of Seda is home to the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute and is the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world. It has grown explosively, it was only founded in 1980 by lama Jigme Phuntsok with just a few monks, but now has tens of thousands of monks and pilgrims.

  • Largest: The Largest Tibetan Buddhist Institute in the World
  • Founded: In 1980
  • Elevation: About 4,000 Meters Above Sea Level (Every Step There Is Difficult For Those Not Used To It)

When he founded the academy, this Buddhist sect had only 32 followers according to Tibetpedia. It is also open to all followers from different sects of Tibetan Buddism - including Gelug, Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya (other monasteries are not open to all sects).

The institute itself belongs to the Nyingma sect (red sect) of Tibetan Buddhism.

It takes six years for the studies to complete this formal training. However, if they wish to go for the higher levels of study, that can last for up to 13 years.

  • Pilgrims: It Also Attractions A Large Number of Pilgrims From Across Tibet
  • Name: Tibetans Call It Seda Meaning Golden Horse
  • Official Name: Seda Larung Wuming Tibet Buddhist Monastery

It is located in the historical Kham region of the Garze Prefecture and in this region the native people speak Amdo Tibetan. It is located in a treeless and remote valley and is around 780 kilometers from the major Chinese city of Chengdu.

Related: Visit Taktsang Monastery: Bhutan's Most Iconic Monastery That's Impossibly Perched On A Sheer Cliff

What To Expect At Larung Gar

According to China Highlights, the institute now houses 40,000 monks, nuns, students, and pilgrims. The residents have poured in from all over China and beyond and the place is of huge spiritual importance to Buddhists.

At first glance, Larung Gar looks more like a CGI'ed scene from a movie. But it hasn't been computer generated and it is real. Tens of thousands of tiny red houses sprawl into the hills surrounding the central prayer halls.

Monks and nuns are strictly segregated and there is a wall dividing the men's and women's sections. Each part has its own prayer and teaching halls, its own restaurants and shops, and its own housing. The only common area for monks and nuns is in front of the main monastery.

  • Segregated: Monks And Nuns Are Strictly Segregated

Monks and nuns both have shaved heads and wear similar red robes.

"...the first sight of Larung Gar is an unforgettable one: tens of thousands of tiny red houses sprawl on the hills around the central prayer halls, like a spiritual shanty town glimmering in the bright, fierce sunshine of the Tibetan plateau."

- China Highlights

Just its idyllic location is enough to tempt people to come and visit. Just remember that this is a very high elevation with thin air and walking is going to be very difficult for those not used to it and many may get altitude sickness.

Related: Sichuan, China: The Home Of Pandas And The Giant Buddha

Visiting Larung Gar Today

It is unclear if Larung Gar is open for Western tourists or not. China Highlights recommends a couple of days to just take in the days and see the workings of the Buddhist institute. They say that visitors are welcome to listen to the lectures and take part in meditations (all held in Mandarin Chinese). Wiki Travel has a page on it with recommendations on buses to take and where to stay.

But according to Tibetpedia, as of 2017, the monastery is not open to Western travelers. They also say they will update their website if that changes. Also, Tibetpedia says that classes are held in both Mandarin Chinese and Tibetan.

If one can visit Larung Gar, then this must be one of the most amazing and underrated places in all of China. One can apply for a Tibetan visa and inquire what one can and can not see through tibettravel.org.

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