By JENNIFER CONLIN
Six decades ago, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, was filled with officials of the Dalai Lama’s government. Now it is packed with tourists. The Chinese government recently raised the entry quota on the Potala Palace, once the seat of Dalai Lamas and the political center of Tibet, from 1,500 to 2,300 people a day.
Dating back to the seventh century, the 13-story mud and wood palace — famous for its chapels, gold-embossed tombs of past Dalai Lamas and countless artifacts — was given a $6.8 million facelift by the Chinese government in hope of preserving the ancient architecture. A second phase of repairs, with a cost estimated at $22.5 million, is now under way.
But all this activity, not to mention the recent completion by the Chinese government of the $4.2 billion Qinghai-Tibet Railway, described as the world’s highest, has caused some concerns among Tibetans. Critics worry that the railway, which connects China to Tibet through an area of dangerous terrain that includes the Kunlun Mountains — an earthquake zone — could threaten the local culture.
"Our main concern is that this railway will swamp Tibet with Chinese migrants,” Tsering Tashi, a press officer at the Dalai Lama’s office in London, said in a recent phone interview. “The Tibetans and their supporters across the world will therefore continue to monitor closely how the Golmud-Lhasa rail line impacts the physical and the cultural landscape of Tibet."