Tibet Plans Mini Potala Palace

BEIJING ~ Tibet’s capital plans to build a miniature version of its famed Potala Palace to divert “unbearable” tourist pressure overwhelming the ancient landmark, state media reported.

The mini-palace would be built at the foot of the landmark, with high-tech sound and lighting effects used to create a “vivid and almost-real” version, said Qin Yizhi, Communist Party chief of Lhasa.

“We are working on a plan for the project and it is predicted to be launched in the second half of this year,” Qin was quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying at the annual meeting of parliament in Beijing.

Qin said the Beijing-controlled Tibetan government may also move some of the 13-storey World Heritage site’s cultural relics into the new structure.

He did not reveal the size of the mini-palace or say why he expected tourists would visit it with the real structure so close, according to Xinhua.

The real palace, completed in its present form in 1645 as the seat of Tibet’s Buddhist theocracy headed by the Dalai Lama, had been swamped by a flood of tourists since the completion in July last year of a new railway linking the region to the rest of China, Qin said.

Visitor numbers have jumped from about 1,400 a day before the Qinghai-Tibet railway opened to around 6,000 late last year.

“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.

About 2.45 million people visited Tibet in 2006, up 40 percent from 2005, and officials expect three to four million this year, Xinhua said.

Qin said the authorities had begun capping the daily number of visitors and might devise an “e-booking” system to cut down on queues and unauthorised ticket sales.

Exiled Tibetans have raised fears the rail line is being used as a tool to strengthen Beijing’s hold over Tibet by flooding the region with ethnic Chinese.

China’s communist rulers invaded Tibet in 1951. The current Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959.

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