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Potala Palace faces new and old challenges

The Potala Palace in Lhasa is the highest palace in the world, and serves as the political and religious center of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Since 1989, the central government has invested over 200 million yuan, or more than 30 million US dollars, into renovating this cultural heritage site.

For 26 years, Jamyang Chodrag has been climbing the stairs inside the Potala Palace. The 67-year-old chief of repairs knows the building inside and out. Since the 7th century, the palace has been watching over Lhasa like a giant Buddha. But even sacred sites can feel the weight of time.

“A lot of potential risks exist for the old structure. A lot of maintenance is needed,” Chodrag said.

It started with the basement. When Chodrag and his team first entered, it was a huge dump. They cleared 100 tons of garbage. But the main challenge is to renovate the Potala Palace without changing the look or the structure. The team uses both old and new technologies. They tamped the floor just as it was done 1,000 years ago, and added waterproof layers to the centuries-old red earth.

The repair work is exhausting. But the Tibetans have their own way of doing things. For centuries, they have combined work with play. And they say, you never get bored in the Potala Palace.

10 years and 30 million dollars later, the facelift was complete and the old is new again.

For the monks, the palace is a holy temple. This is where they keep the best of their religious legacy, like the 30,000 volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Ngawang Chornyi has been guarding the ancient texts since taking his vows.

“It is an enhancement for my cultivation. These were works of high lamas. Even though I couldn’t have written them myself, I can at least try to protect them,” the lama said.

His work is not only to keep the scriptures, but his faith, and that of all Tibetans who have been coming to the holy place for centuries.

To preserve the Potala Palace, some of the problems are old, some are new – like the constant stream of tourists. How many a day? In fact, it is 6,000 – the maximum capacity.

“It’s made of wood and stone. The huge number of tourists must put severe strains on the structure of the Potala,” said Chinese tourist Zhang Jie.

The Potala is a museum and spiritual sanctuary for all Tibetans, for these guardians of the Palace, it must be preserved and handed over to the future generations. Many of them have been guarding the legacy for 20 years, and very likely they will continue for many more.

source: CCTV-News, 06 AUG 2013

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