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<-Back to WTN Archives Tibet's Potala palace spruced up but nobody home
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Thursday, August 4, 2005

4. Tibet's Potala palace spruced up but nobody home

By Lindsay Beck

LHASA, China Thu Aug 4, 2005 (Reuters) - The renovation of the Potala
palace, once the administrative heart of Tibet, is nearly complete but the
imposing red and white monument stands empty of its most important occupant.

With the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, in exile in India, the
palace first built in the 7th century to commemorate the unification of
Tibet has become a symbol of the gap between the region and the Chinese
government that has ruled it since 1950.

The Tibetan community that once lived in the village of Shol, a cluster of
low-slung buildings at the base of the imposing palace, is also gone,
relocated in a move officials say is for the villagers' own good.

Three years of renovation work to shore up the foundations of the palace,
set steep into a hillside in the centre of Lhasa, clean its frescoes and
repair its treasured wall hangings will be completed in October.

While showing off the palace's facelift, its administrative director,
Qiangba Gesang, was silent on whether the Dalai Lama would ever return to
live there after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, while he
was still in his twenties.

"I am in charge of the renovation project. I don't have any exchanges with
the Dalai Lama so I don't know about that," he told reporters, a Chinese
flag pin fastened to his lapel.

Pilgrims prostrate themselves before an empty throne in the meeting room of
the Dalai Lama. His picture is conspicuously absent beside that of his
predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama.

When asked who they are praying to with no one there, a tour guide says
"They are praying to the historic Dalai Lama", before hustling the group of
reporters along.


The reception room where the Dalai Lama once met Marshall Chen Yi, who
headed a delegation of Chinese leaders to Lhasa 1956 for talks on
establishing the Tibetan Autonomous Region, is also devoid of traces of
their encounter.

Groups of workers sing in time as they pound mud into the roof in unison.

"For the Potala palace, only the Tibetan people can do the work. The other
ethnic groups can't do this kind of work," Qingba Gesang said.

But beyond the construction workers, there is little evidence of the Tibetan
life that once surrounded the palace, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Beyond the Potala lies a broad, modern square, which stands empty but for a
17-metre-high (56-foot-high) high monument built by the Chinese government
to commemorate what it calls the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet.

The 300 households of Shol, historically comprised of people who served the
palace, have been relocated, their whitewashed houses under renovation to
become a display.

"The Potala palace caught fire several times. To protect it, the people were
moved out," Qiangba Gesang said, adding 43 million yuan was spent on their
new housing.

"If they move back it will endanger the security of the palace," he said.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. China denies detaining Panchen Lama, hits out at Dalai Lama
  2. China spells out conditions for Dalai Lama's return
  3. Railway to roof of the world threatens to squeeze Tibet
  4. Tibet's Potala palace spruced up but nobody home
  5. Heavy-handed approach criticized as China renovates Lhasa's Potala Palace
  6. Chinese presence stirs passions in Geneva
  7. Group Marching To Free Tibet

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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