Repair of quake-damaged monasteries a priority

YUSHU, Qinghai, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese government is prepared to repair all the 87 monasteries damaged in the April 14 earthquake that shook a Tibetan area in southern Qinghai Province, a local official in charge of religious affairs said Saturday.

"Such repairs will be one of the priorities in our quake relief and rebuilding efforts this year," said Leshi, chief of the ethnic and religious affairs committee in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu.

"By the end of this year, we hope to restore the living quarters of the monasteries for more than 8,000 monks now living in makeshift tents."

Yushu, where more than 90 percent of the population are Tibetans, has 238 monasteries with more than 23,000 monks.

"The residents rely on Tibetan Buddhism for spiritual support and for many, the monastery is viewed as more important than their own homes," said Leshi.

The 7.1-magnitude quake seriously destroyed some of the best known monasteries including Trangu, Gyegu and Renyak.

Trangu, a monastery at least 700 years old in the suburbs of Gyegu town, was reduced to rubble. The main hall, now a ramshackle, was the only structure still standing at the site.

All other buildings in the compound, including the monks' living quarters and smaller halls, collapsed in the quake. Centuries-old Buddhist scriptures, frescos, traditional Tibetan thangka paintings and statues of Buddha were buried.

"We managed to retrieve some of the relics, but most of them were seriously damaged," said Living Buddha Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche. "Many people cry at the sight of the ruins, they are not able to vent their grief in words."

The Living Buddha said he kept telling everyone not to worry. "We'll do whatever we can to restore the monastery."

Trangu Monastery houses the biggest library in Yushu prefecture and has a huge collection of Buddhist scriptures. "We're moving them into waterproof tents," he said.

The Living Buddha said he appreciates the work of the People's Liberation Army officers and soldiers, who saved many of the monastery's treasures while searching for survivors in the ruins.

"Our most precious Buddha statues were kept in safes and were retrieved already last week," he said. "Everything was chaotic here and we haven't had the time to open the safes and check them out. Hopefully everything is intact."

After the earthquake struck, the monks joined the PLA officers and soldiers in the rescue operation to save lives, said Leshi. "They helped save the injured, deliver relief supplies and bury the dead."

Eighty-four monks were killed by the quake, which had claimed 2,192 lives in total as of Friday.

Of the 12,000-odd people injured, at least 100 are monks, said Leshi.

According to the government's rebuilding plan, repair work on the monks' residences will be completed before the end of this year.

Within two to three years, the monasteries will be totally fixed as well as upgraded to include running water, electricity and Internet, previously unavailable at some lamaseries before the quake, said Leshi.

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