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A New Day in Old Lhasa

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Her stooped shadow stretched long in the dim rays of dawn,
80-year-old Tseten Drolkar shuffles across the newly-laid stone slabs
of Barkhor Street in Lhasa, her left hand holding a string of beads
and her right hand spinning a prayer wheel.


More than half a century ago, Drolkar relocated to Lhasa which is the popular and holy city for China travel deals.
In those days, Barkhor Street was still dirt and often turned muddy
on rainy days. Eventually, the street was paved with stone, but became
bumpy over time. Then, the ordinary stone was replaced with hard,
polished granite, but that rock proved too shiny for the plateau’s
sharp sunlight. Finally, the street was paved with stone slabs from
5,300-meter-high mountains in the nearby Shannan area. The flagstones
remain unpolished and retain their naturally rough textures to
preserve the old city’s vintage atmosphere. “Paved with this stone,
the street doesn’t reflect sunlight,” notes Drolkar.


Lhasa, literally “place of the gods” in Tibetan, has long been
deemed a holy, mysterious land and has lured countless pilgrims. Last
December, the city launched a conservation project to renovate its old
district around Jokhang Monastery and Barkhor Street. The area is not
only the most populous area of Lhasa - it also sees heavy tourist
flow amidst a high concentration of unique Tibetan cultural relics.
Some worry that the project will assault the ancient city’s cultural
singularity. However, the project planner and builders have made every
effort to revive the traditional appearance of the plateau city.


According to Tseda, deputy chief of the construction headquarters
of Lhasa’s conservation project, many buildings in the old district of
Lhasa were crumbling and residents suffered from underdeveloped
infrastructure. In recent years, with a sharp increase in both
population and vehicles, the streets of Lhasa’s old district are
increasingly strained. Aging power lines and fire-fighting facilities
could pose hidden hazards. The project aims to improve the living
environment for residents in the old district through upgrading
electricity, communication, heating, water supply and drainage.


After consideration from local residents, the plan won their
support. Tsering Yutso, who operates a Tibetan souvenir shop in
Nyisang Trimpo Market on Barkhor Street, must-see for your top 10 China tours,
admitted that the project caused inconvenience during construction.
“But we’ll trade short-term inconvenience for a better future,” she
explained. She expects to see a bump in business once the project is


On the south side of Jokhang Monastery’s square, builders installed
a decorative golden roof above a shop named Tibetan Cottage. One
builder, Xiong Shuibing, revealed, “We took pictures of the historic
buildings in the old district before the project to ensure restored
buildings are identical to the originals.”


During the project, builders also adopted traditional techniques
and materials to repair or replace worn-out pieces of buildings under
supervision by experts in ancient Tibetan architecture, cultural
heritage, religion, and folklore. Throughout the process of
restoration, the materials, tones, and styles of the old buildings
have been strictly maintained to ensure the consistency of Tibetan
history and culture.

“Fire and flood are two natural enemies of the cultural relics in our
monastery,” illustrates Nyima Tsering, a monk at Jokhang Monastery in
Lhasa. “By improving the firefighting infrastructure, the project will
protect relics from the hidden danger of fire. Previously, the
monastery was often soaked in water during rainy season due to an
outdated drainage system. Moisture is a great threat to relics here.
The project upgraded the drainage system, which is important for relic


Over the last two years, Lhasa has launched many projects aiming to
protect cultural relics in its old district. According to Ma Xinming,
a local publicity official, nine major conservation projects
concerning Lhasa’s old district are now ongoing, with a total
investment of 300 million yuan, including a mural conservation project
at Jokhang Monastery (famous attraction in Tibet and must-see for your popular China tours) and a mural protection and Buddhist sculpture project at Ramoche Monastery.


Jokhang Monastery is a holy icon for Tibetan Buddhists. More than
300 years ago, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama, summoned
prestigious monks and experienced artisans from across Tibet to paint
murals in the holy structure. Along with religious figures, the murals
also depict Tibetan history, culture, economics, and art. For this
reason, they are referred to as an “encyclopedia of Tibetan society.”
However, after centuries of weathering, some are fading and falling


In June 2012, a project was launched to restore deteriorating
historic murals in Jokhang Monastery, with an investment of 10 million
yuan and a three-year plan. “All restored murals are guaranteed to
look identical to the originals,” stresses Guo Hong, a supervisor of
the project. “The monastery receives numerous Buddhist pilgrims each
year. This project aims to restore the monastery’s religious art.”


Although the project is scheduled to take three years, Guo said it
could last longer if necessary, to ensure every mural is perfectly
repaired. When that day comes, all the precious treasures in Jokhang
Monastery will see some new rays of dawn.?For more others via China tour guide.

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