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Published: December 31st 2007
The Laughing Buddha
We shamelessly use this medium to wish each and every one of you a New Year filled with health, love and happiness and, of course, a little adventure!!
Two days prior, we had driven up this same road to Deqin. Now, were totally surprised at how the scenery had changed
. The dry mountains were now covered with a thin, sparkly white layer of frost, the pine trees were a golden yellow and the narrow road was super-slippery. In a few days, the road would be impassible. We were Lijiang-bound with Chengdu in our crosshairs. From Deqin, it would have taken us 5-7 days of rough, dangerous jeep safari crossing snowing mountain tops and uncertain passes. We possessed the cojones
but not the money nor the time to undertake such an adventure.
The plan was to stopover for a day in Qiaotou, 3 hours or so from Lijiang, and hike the infamous Tiger Leaping Gorge. The gorge's beauty and thirst for blood were well known. Massive landslides during periods of rain had buried quite a few hapless groups of trekkers in the not-so-distant past. And it was raining when we jumped out of the bus at Qiaotou
. A tourist couple
was waiting by the roadside for a bus and we asked them about their Tiger Leaping experience. The review wasn't good and the rain was the main culprit. Without a moment's hesitation, we tossed our backpacks back into the bus. Such flexibility
. Three accidents (thankfully not ours) and one landslide later we arrived, with sore bodies, back in Lijiang. Settling back into our old hotel, we immediately set about doing the things we loved best: exploring and eating. On the one afternoon we had in Lijiang, we rented bikes and searched, in vain, for the lost village of Baisha. But it was the journey that counted as the views on the countryside and Yulong Xueshan's snow peaks were superb. On the return trip, we rode furiously in another vain attempt to avoid lychee-sized raindrops. At night, we gormandized barbecued, kebabed veggies (especially mushrooms, hmmm) and, in cohoots with some lively Beijingers, belted out a few off-key notes of Lionel Richie's 'Say You, Say Me' in a restaurant turned impromptu karaoke bar. The family who ran YuYuan Hotel, our Lijiang homestay, shared their spicy, delicious dinner with us before bundling us in a taxi to the airport.
China air, with
its new-plane smell, made lift-off with ease. Yunnan province fell away beneath us and Sichuan beckoned. It had beckoned Shella too, a friendly Hong Kong girl with a great smile and a passion for solo travelling. We chatted up, took pictures and exchanged contact details in the air and parted ways on the ground. Dare we say it again? Yes, we had arrived in big-city Chengdu without a hotel reservation and it was after 11 pm
. Exiting the arrival hall, we were met by a lady who offered to taxi us into town for RMB 80. We agreed and followed her across the parking lot, under a flyover and into a smaller lot. Then a rickety car with other 'passengers' pulled up. We were skeptical. To add to the drama, the blue flash of a police car's beacon sent the 'taxi' roaring around the corner. The police parked some distance away to watch the happenings. We beat a hasty retreat back to the authorized airport taxi queue fearing a night in a Chinese gulag. The RMB 10 shuttle bus which showed up was a God-sent and so too was a nice lady who spent considerable time (after midnight and after
the bus' final stop) to help us find a place to stay and a taxi to take us there. Dragon Town Youth Hostel was the pick. But the only thing with hostel communal sleeping is that one has to depend on too many individuals for one's peaceful sleep. And so, early the next morning we switched to a private room at trendy sister-hotel, The Loft.
Chengdu's only crime was being a somewhat smoggy big-city. We don't like smoggy big cities and so we made a beeline for Leshan. Leshan was an easy two-hour drive and its attraction was 'Dafo', the Grand Buddha.
In the local bus, en route to Dafo, we met Sophia. An English language student, Sophia was happy to talk with us about the Buddha, the village and our trip. She even told the driver to ensure that we got out at the right stop. The Buddha Park was huge, easily a place where we could spend hours. The exhibits, too, were huge. A giant sleeping Buddha, caves full of Buddha rock carvings, a temple where devotees flocked to pray to yet another towering statue, an ancient pagoda which pilgrims circumnavigated, and on and on. Exhibits
were sprinkled throughout the park of temples, trees, bamboo, hills and valleys. One cave held an exquisite sculpture of a Bodhisattva Guanyin with a 1000 hands and another hundreds (or maybe thousands) of tiny, rock-carved Buddhas. Shanna's favorite was undoubtedly the Laughing Buddha, a mammoth, pot-bellied carving with a permanent, oddly-infectious laugh on his face. The intricate details carefully captured life-like expressions on these marvels in stone although they were many, many times larger than life. But none of them compared to Dafo. At 71 meters(234 ft)
, with ears 7 meters(23 ft)
long and a 8.5-meter(28 ft)
big toe, he is easily the world's largest Buddha. For perspective, consider that his fingernail is taller than the average human. Now, that's BIG
. Dafo overlooks the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers and, as the story goes, Haitong, a Buddhist monk, started the carvings in AD 713. He hoped that the Buddha who calm the rivers and save fishermen who plied the treacherous waters. The Buddha was completed 90 years after Haitong's death and the decades of carving remnants that had been thrown into the river served to break the current. The locals prayers were answered.
Squeezing thru a crowd
of thousands, we caught a glimpse of his black, conical dome. At the size of a small building, it was rather incomprehensible. Long, drooping ears and wide, oval eyes somehow managed to work together with his small-ish nose and wide mouth which was set with a benevolent smile. He didn't show his age, this 1200-year-old giant - a testimony to his marvelous upkeep. From our vantage point, we peered below to see pint-sized humans scurrying at his feet and the pop of the occasional flashbulb. We tried to make the trip to the bottom for a different perspective but the officials estimated, with the prevailing crush, that it would take 2-3 hours. And so, from above, we thoroughly admired the precision, skill and persistence of the sculptors and artists who had successfully made him look so peaceful and approachable. Then, it was back to Chengdu.
An early dinner was of Sichuan's renowned hotpot. Take 'hotpot'
literally. A gas-fed flame pit in the center of the table set a spicy concoction in the cauldron bubbling. Into the cauldron we threw fish-coated dumplings, sweet potato vermicelli, sweet potato sheets, cabbage, wuzhou fish, crispy bean curb and sea fish. A minute later,
with chopsticks, we extracted the tender morsels and proceeded to scorch our palates and stomachs. We'd live to regret this day. The restaurant was full and most patrons' cauldrons were bright red with chili. Ours was yellow-ish. The hostess said she had reduced the intensity.
Rounding out the night for us was a mix-and-mingle in a neon-light street crowded with Chendu's trendy yuppies, chic diners and cafes. Kidd and Jessica became our new friends and helped us navigate all the way back to the Loft. They were the fifth and sixth to tell us to visit a place called Jiuzhaigou. And although it was significantly out of the way, some 12 hours north of Chengdu, we began plotting a course. As it turned out, the only way to get there was via Songpan and so, at 6 am the following day, we hopped on a bus from station Chandianzi and settled in for the 8-hour ride. Such flexibility!!
😊 Kidd and Jessica
😊 The kind folks over at Yuyuan Hotel
😊 The lady at Chengdu's bus stop
since we've been on the road
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