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PARK OF PEOPLE
The administrators of Norbu Lingka now call people the owners of the "treasure park." The residents now in the park are more than 70 work staffs of the administration, including more than 20 monks taking care of the palaces for the Dalai Lamas.
The palaces are no longer a taboo for ordinary people, while the gardens are a favorite picnic spot at weekends or important Tibetan festivals, particularly the Shoton or "Yogurt Festival," when families camp in the grounds and traditional Tibetan opera performances are staged.
The park used to be on the old course of Lhasa River. It has finally evolved into a garden palace covering an area of more than 46 hectares since the government of Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) set up the first building for the seventh Dalai Lama in the 1740s.
Ma Yigang, head of the Norbu Lingka administration, said visitors, mainly pilgrims, are allowed to visit almost all the buildings, including the Takten Migyur Potrang, meaning Eternal Palace in Tibetan.
"For the Tibetans, the Norbu Lingka is as holy a place as the Potala Palace, so we have received a lot of devotees every year, especially since the Qinghai-Tibet railway opened to traffic three years ago," said Ma.
According to Liu Rongquan, an official with the administration, the annual number of tourists to Norbu Lingka had increased by an average of 18 percent since 2006. The number exceeded 500,000 in 2007, but dived to a historic low in 2008 to less than 5,000 because of the riot in March.
"However, no matter how many tourists come here, the Takten Migyur Potrang, or the New Summer Palace, for the 14th Dalai Lama is always one of the most popular places in Norbu lingka," said Liu.
The two-story New Summer Palace, which the Chinese central government built for the 14th Dalai Lama in 1956, is by no means an eye-catching building in the park, though its traditional Tibetan-styled appearance, featured with carved beams, painted pillars and upturned eaves is no different from its counterparts.
The inside of the palace, however, is another story.
Electric lamps and butter lamps together enlighten the rooms. Ancient roll paintings of Buddha are hung at the same room where a framed kitten embroidery, a gift from the British, was hung above the entrance.
Traditional Tibetan cushions and a set of western-styled gray sofa are both featured in the bedroom of the 14th Dalai Lama, while the wooden frame of his bed holds a spring-mattress.
The bathroom is even more an eye-opener to most of the visitors as a white western bathtub, a toilet and a washing tank unexpectedly greet the eyes of visitors.
"Like other palaces, everything here in the New Summer Palace is almost the same as what they were 50 years ago," said Liu.
The modern facilities are still a big surprise to most of the Tibetan visitors like Karma Chozin, a new graduate from the Northwest University for Nationalities in the neighboring Gansu Province, who is looking for a job in Lhasa.
"Even now, the toilet is rare to most Tibetans. I didn't expect he (the 14th Dalai Lama) started to use it more than 50 years ago, " said Chozin.
It is the second trip for the 22-year-old to Norbu Lingka. Her last childhood trip conjures memories of "many trees and the excitement of seeing live peacock for the first time at a small zoo in the park."
The young woman said her father came to Lhasa to see her from the hometown in the Shannan Prefecture, so they decided to revisit the Norbu Lingka.
"After all, the 14th Dalai Lama is still alive and I am very curious of what's his residence like." she said "I'm glad to see both the house and the things inside are well protected and my father has said the murals and the cloth paintings are almost the same as what we saw more than 10 years ago."