With a new center to be built exhibiting cultural relics from the Potala Palace, visitors will not have to spend days in line waiting for tickets to the palace itself, said the Tibet Autonomous Region Chairman Qiangba Puncog yesterday.
At a press conference held by the State Council Information Office at Lhasa, Qiangba said an entire village at the foot of the palace will be moved to make room for the center.
Once built, the center will give visitors a chance to get to know about the palace from the cultural relics, photos and videos in the center instead of entering the palace, thus better protecting this cultural heritage, said Qiangba.
The dilemma of meeting the needs of tourists and protecting this world cultural heritage site has become increasingly prominent after the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was opened on July 1. The number of tourists has soared to 390,000 in a month from July 1 to 31, a jump of 50 per cent over the same period last year. Foreign visitors accounted for 9.2 per cent.
Authorities in the region had anticipated the sharp rise of tourists and adopted measures to admit as many visitors as possible to the palace. The number of visitors each day has been increased from about 1,300 to 2,300 by shortening the visiting time from three hours to one and postponing the closing time from 6 pm to 7 pm.
Zhao Qing, a doctor from Guangzhou, was one of more than 130 visitors in a long queue for permits to buy tickets yesterday. Although suffering from slight altitude sickness, she waited at the entrance from 3 am yesterday for her chance to see inside the palace.
Ticket prices, currently 100 yuan (US$12.5) each, have soared to 900 yuan (US$112) on the black market. To prevent the illegal dealing of tickets, a number with Tibetan language is written on the hands of those getting permits for buying the tickets, and visitors must show their ID cards when buying.
For local Tibetans who come to pray at the palace, a ticket is just about 10 yuan (US$1.25). But local Tibetans are not likely to grab a big share of tickets from tourists, as they usually come at slack season in winter, according to a guide named Zhuoma.
Zha'nuo, deputy director of local tourism bureau, suggested that tourists may also come in winter, when the average daytime temperature is around 8 C, to avoid the crowded peak season in summer.
Qiangba said the utmost concern at present is protection of the 1,300-year-old palace, which is undergoing a second major series of repairs. In the process of repairing, new structures have been discovered repeatedly because no design for the palace was available.