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Guarding Tibetan Heritage
Special> Guarding Tibetan Heritage
UPDATED: August 27, 2007 NO.35 AUG.30
Protecting the Palace
Restoration work on Tibet's Potala Palace is a constant battle against fire, theft, the weather and insects

Above the entrance archway of the Potala Palace were two groups of young women, much of their faces covered by scarves, singing while they took turns fortifying the surface of the flat roof.

Their movements were so dance-like that many visitors mistook them for some kind of folk art performers. Actually, they were local workers hired to renovate the holy palace. Down at the foot of the archway, other workers were repainting the brick wall.

"We repaint the wall to prevent it from being eroded by rain and sunshine," said one of the workers, who didn't want to have his name revealed.

The workers were among the 470-strong renovation crew that has been working to repair and preserve the palace since June 2002.

"I've been to many countries including Spain, Denmark, Japan and the United States, and the Tibetan people there all think highly of the preservation work of the Potala Palace," said Qamba Galsang, Director of the palace's management office, also known as the "guardian of the Potala Palace".


The Potala Palace, with over 2,000 rooms and 34 Buddha halls, is a huge museum full of cultural relics, including the Holy Stupa for the 5th Dalai Lama, which is wrapped with 5.5 million grams of gold and inlaid with numerous gems. However, many of these priceless treasures still have not been registered and recorded.

"That requires us to sort out these cultural relics during the repairs," said Galsang while meeting the press on July 17 in Lhasa.

"Efforts are being made to register them. So far, we have completed 16 halls and five cultural relics storehouses, involving 60,000 relics in over 5,000 archives," he noted.

But interestingly, the number of the rooms in total in the Potala Palace remains a mystery. "Many experts have come and counted and measured everything, and they threw up their hands at this question because we can never be sure how many secret vaults there are," said the "guardian".

In debriefing on progress at the palace, he said that recently the renovation team has been focusing on sorting out the storehouses of bronze-ware, ceramics, tangka paintings, garments and some others items.

"In the meantime, we have set up a special office for research. Scholars have been organized to catalogue 25,000 classics and we have already published a catalogue on the ancient religious books of the Gelug Sect and the Nyingma Sect."

In addition, to protect and also further promote the holy palace, they have published a pictorial showing the history, architecture and cultural relics of the Potala Palace.


The Potala Palace, an almost totally wooden structure, is lit mainly by butter lamps. These, plus the fluttering silk sutra streamers, pose a fire hazard.

"My No.1 enemy is fire," Galsang proclaimed in a hearty voice. In 1984, a room in the palace caught fire due to a short circuit. The fire was quickly put out, but the damage done to holy religious scriptures alone took 20 years to restore.

The Potala Palace management administration has been working painstakingly to prevent accidents. In 1994, some 4.7 million yuan was invested to install a TV monitoring system operating 24 hours a day. And now there is a 20-member fire brigade stationed in the palace that can be at a fire within a minute.

According to Galsang the second biggest worry for the palace is theft, which has been tackled by installing the country's most advanced monitoring and anti-burglary security system.

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