71 meters of Big Buddha at Leshan

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Asia » China » Sichuan » Leshan
March 1st 2013
Published: March 12th 2013
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We spent ages in a traffic jam in our taxi (15 yuan) as we headed to the bus station enroute to Baoguo, the small town at the foot of Emei Shan. If we had only realised that we were two minutes walk from the bus station we would have deserted the taxi and arrived there twenty minutes earlier... The bus station, unusually situated very close to the main city centre, was as crazy as the traffic outside. No wonder the taxi had trouble getting to the station - dozens of buses were lined up outside trying to get in to or leave the area. I'm surprised the taxi driver didn't try for a better fare when we told him we wanted to go there...
We were pleased to be leaving the chaos of Chengdu for what we hoped would be a quieter area. Two and half hours later (bus fare 45 yuan each) we arrived at Emei Shan Town, a large modern town near Baoguo, where we caught a minivan onwards to Baoguo, another half hour or so away. Baoguo was basically a kilometre long stretch of restaurants and hotels - purely a service centre for Emei Shan and the Big Buddha (Dafo) nearby. We were swamped with touts when we got off the bus but headed off down the street in search of our chosen hostel, Emei Shan C Hostel (120 yuan, large room, electic blanket/ heating, wifi) which proved to be a comfortable place to stay - despite the shower head falling off the wall and breaking in two. Surprisingly we weren't expected to pay for it. The remainder of the day was spent quietly - we checked out the gardens which lined to street and that evening admired the silk lanterns which were amidst the gardens. Next morning they were all gone - put into storage for the next New Year celebrations.

We ate at the guesthouse that night as the food in the many street restaurant menus was very strange. Despite the fact they had piles of fresh vegetables displayed in piles outside each of them they were not prepared to cook us plain stir fry vegetables. We tried half a dozen - and gave up in frustration in the end - though why our simple request couldn't be done remains a mystery. As well as vegetables, and tanks of live fish, these restaurants ducks, chickens, turkeys and rabbits in cages outside as well. Had we wanted rabbit and vegetables they would have happily slaughtered the rabbit on the spot and cooked it up for us... Anyway a burger was enjoyed - yet again - and we checked our Facebook (the second place we found in China with a proxy server) on the guesthouse computers and caught up with all the Aussie incidentals at the same time.

Next morning we caught a bus to the nearby city of Leshan, home of the Big Buddha. It took much longer to get there then expected - an hour and a half - and once in Leshan we were directed to a local city bus which took us to the site. At 71 meters tall the Big Buddha as he is affectionately called, though he actually goes by the name of Dafo, is the world's largest Buddhist sculpture. After paying our entrance fees, Jerry once again getting in for the discounted seniors rate of 50 yuan(I paid 90yuan) we checked out the map of the site. It was so much bigger then we expected. Deciding to look at the statue first and decide if we wanted to see any more later we set off. A short stop to admire a rather lovely marble tiger statue before we reached a pretty temple at the top of the site. Leshan is situated on the convergence of three rivers and over a thousand years ago - work began on the sculpture in 713 - a Buddhist monk named Haitong decided that carving a giant Buddha image into the cliff sides beside the rivers would calm their hazardous rapids. The government at the time provided the funds to begin the project but it came to a temporary halt when Haitong gouged his own eyes out in protest after the same government officials requested kickbacks. The water of the rivers did calm - though more from the rubble from the project which filled in the rapids then any calming influence.

He is very large - you really need to see him to fully understand the scale. From the top he has been carved from the face of the cliff - he's not totally separate from the wall of the cliff, but very nearly so. The site was thankfully relatively quiet and we were able to absorb his detail from all angles easily. His ears are 7 meters long, his eyes half lidded and 10 meters wide, enormous hands, and feet very obvious in his sitting position. Six people alone can stand on his big toe nail. We were very impressed with the massive sculpture. From the top of the Buddha we climbed down the aptly named 'staircase of nine turns' which ran down the side of the cliff to the feet of the Big Buddha. At the top entrance of the staircase was a long row of crowd control barriers - in the top tourist season you can wait for up to a couple of hours to actually get onto the stairs. We walked straight to them - a definite advantage of travelling in the colder months here. From the base of the cliff his head looked a very long way up and his body, from that angle, slightly out of proportion.

From his feet we went back up to his head via a 500 meter long path through tunnels in the cliff and a narrow stone set of steps. After admiring his head from opposite his eyes again and watching all the colourfully dressed families of Tibetans literally running around the site - they were all obviously on tight schedules - we decided that we didn't need to see any more temples and caught the bus back into Leshan centre where we wandered the shops for a while and found some coffee and cake. That is after we had tried the local delicacy snack food - an odd concoction of a crisp sweet wafer shell full of grated radish, sugar, green vegetables and chilli sauce. Still not sure whether I actually enjoyed it but the taste lingers so maybe I did... A bus took us on the long drive back to Baoguo where we didn't enjoy a very bland fried rice at a one of the guesthouses. I guess we probably should have actually settled on the rabbit..

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13th March 2013

I'm always interested in pictures of Dafo as his survival is so dependant on the level of maintenance from algae and vegetation attempting to eat into his surface. This pic of his left hand is a great example. Glad you are enjoying Sichuan. It is a beautiful provence.

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