Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, plans to build a miniature Potala Palace to divert the tourist floods to the Tibetan landmark after the Qinghai-Tibet Railway went into operation in July 2006.
With the help of high-tech sound and light, the replica is expected to show a "vivid and almost real" Potala Palace to visitors, said Qin Yizhi, the Communist Party chief of Lhasa, on the sidelines of the ongoing parliamentary session.
According to Qin, the mini-palace will be housed in a "treasure exhibition hall" at the foot of Red Hill, where the real Potala Palace is located. But he did not elaborate the exact size of the replica.
"We are working on a plan for the project and it is predicted to be launched in the second half of this year," said Qin, adding the regional government is considering to move some cultural relics into the new building from the Potala Palace.
Serving as the former residence of Dalai Lamas, the Potala Palace is the top tourist attraction in Tibet. It used to receive 1,400 tourists every day before the railway was opened. As many as 6,000 tourists flocked to the site in peak season in the latter half of 2006.
"With the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, more and more tourists come to visit the palace, but the ancient building with a history exceeding 1,300 years is becoming unbearable," said Qin.
The 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet railway has been operational since July last year, providing travelers with cheaper and safer access to the Roof of the World.
About 2.45 million visitors landed in Tibet last year, up 40 percent from 2005, and more than 90 percent were domestic travelers. Local tourism officials expect to host three to four million this year, daunting numbers given Tibet's current population of 2.7 million.
To protect the palace, administrators are restricting daily entries to around 2,300 tourists. Tour groups will be granted 1, 600 entries and the remainder will be distributed among Tibetans and individual tourists.
"We are considering to build a e-booking system for the visitors to the palace so that they don't have to spend a long time waiting in front of the ticket office," said Qin, promising intensified efforts to combat ticket dealers this year.
Located in the northwestern corner of Lhasa, the Potala Palace was first built by the Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was extended during the 17th century by the Dalai Lama.
The 13-story palace features the essence of ancient Tibetan architectural art and was included into the list of world cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1994.
The Chinese government spent 55 million yuan (US$6.6 million) repairing the palace between 1989 and 1994. The second phase of five-year repair work, involving 180 million yuan (US$22 million), started in 2002.
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2007)