Market moves to modern mall as Lhasa safeguards the past

A traveler from the Kham region in the east of the Tibet autonomous region chooses bowls at Barkhor Shopping Mall in Lhasa on Friday. The modern mall houses about 3,000 street vendors relocated from Barkhor Street.

CHINA - More than 3,000 street stalls along Lhasa's Yutok Street moved to a new shopping mall on Friday to better protect and upgrade the ancient city centre.

The stalls, which had encircled the Jokhang Monastery in the capital of the Tibet autonomous region, used to be scattered along busy Barkhor Street.

They were moved temporarily to nearby Yutok Street late last year as part of the ancient district's renovation to meet the needs of burgeoning businesses, increased religious activities and to improve people's lives, officials said.

All 3,000 stall owners will be exempt from paying rent for eight years, say officials in the city's Chengguan district, where Barkhor Street is located.

Officials also say relocation to the mall will improve the area and provide more space for religious activities and a venue for tourists.

Those handling the relocation have promised that no stall owners will lose their jobs.

The move began after the end of the peak autumn tourist season and all stall owners signed relocation agreements.

One of them, Lhakpa, said excitedly: "I made it! I made it! I've got a position in the middle of the mall. I am so lucky."

Many stall owners in the mall hung hada - white silk scarves symbolizing purity and auspicious times in Tibetan culture - on their shelves along with good wishes for business.

"We have been relocated to a more organised market with a better operating and management environment. I will get a subsidy of 2,000 yuan (S$400) in the first year and I believe we will have more customers," said Droma, 26, from Qamdo prefecture in eastern Tibet.

Dawa Wangmo, 53, from Lhasa's Doilungdeqen county, said: "My business remained the same when we moved from Barkhor Street to Yutok Street. Now, I have the chance to operate in a big mall. I'm not sure how it will go, but I'm hopeful about this change."

Officials said the allocation of stalls at the mall was carried out based on the principles of "fairness, openness and justice".

Stall owners welcomed the chance to draw lots in public to decide their places.

Liu Liang, acting head of the Chengguan district government, said: "Moving indoors will help operators avoid exposure to bad weather. Visitors and tourists will see a cleaner, neater street with the relocation."

Hundreds of volunteers were on hand to help the stall owners move their goods.

The old district is believed to embody the soul of Lhasa, showcasing the city's charm and history.

The government has renovated 1,300-year-old Barkhor Street many times.