[photopress:Potala_Palace.jpg,full,alignright]UNESCO has expressed concerns that the Potala Palace, listed as a world heritage site in 1994, is being increasingly surrounded by nondescript modern Chinese buildings.
In response, Qiangba Gesang, palace director for 19 years, said, ‘Potala Palace has so far enjoyed first-class preservation. Seeing is believing. I hope the UNESCO officials can carry out an inspection of the Potala Palace, because a conclusion without an investigation is meaningless.’
A year after its inauguration, the Qinghai-Tibet railway has transported 1.5 million passengers into Tibet, nearly half of the total tourist arrivals in the region. Concerns have arisen that the weight of the tourist influx would pose a serious impact on the mud and wood structures of the 13-storey palace.
Qiangba Gesang said, ‘For the overcrowding of tourists, we have found solutions.’ That is by restricting the numbers of visitors to 2,300 a day and keeping the visiting hours from 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM.
Qiangba Gesang said, ‘The restriction of visitors proves our commitment to the protection of Potala Palace. We can’t fully satisfy the needs of all tourists, but we have no other way around it.”
He said that in 2002, the central government invested a total of RMB179.3 million (about $23.6 million) in the renovation of the palace and plans to invest more in the near future.
Potala Palace, the essence of ancient Tibetan architectural art, was first built by the Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and was extended during the 17th century by the Dalai Lama.
The palace, together with the Norbu Lingka and the Sakya Monastery, are the three main Tibetan cultural heritage sites.