"If I am lucky and book a ticket now, I may go and visit the Potala Palace in three or four days," complained Zhouzhou, a traveler from China's southwest Sichuan Province. "I was told that in order 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. It cannot satisfy all tourists."
Serving as the former residence of the Dalai Lamas, the Potala Palace is the top tourist attraction in Tibet. "With the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in July 2006, more and more tourists have come to visit the palace, but the ancient building is over 1,300 years old and is feeling the strain," said Zano, vice director of the Tibet Tourism Bureau at a press conference on August 23.
According to Zano, a miniature Potala Palace will be built to divert the tourist floods. With a help of high-tech sound and light, the replica will show a "vivid and almost real" Potala Palace to visitors. He explained that the mini-palace will be housed in a "treasure exhibition hall" at the foot of Red Hill, where the original Potala Palace is located, but did not elaborate on the exact size of the replica.
"We are working on a plan for the project and it is predicted to be launched soon," said Zano, adding the regional government is considering moving some cultural relics into the new building separate from the Potala Palace.
About 2.60 million visitors have landed in Tibet since the 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet railway began operations, providing travelers with cheaper and safer access to the Roof of the World. The vice director said that in order to better protect the palace, the local authorities are considering reducing the number of daily entries in the future.
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.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Wu Nanlan, August 24, 2007)