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Leshan : Doubling back for Buddha

Leshan Travel Blog

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Yesterday saw the conclusion of Joy, May and I’s eventful journey from Lu Gu Hu to Chengdu.  Forced to kill some time in Xicheng ahead of our long train ride to Chengdu we spent a pleasant few hours arsing about on a small electric boat on the large Qionghai lake that sits at the heart of the city.  Lunch of spicy barbequed fish and beer on the large island that sits in the middle of the lake. [ photos included in last entry ].  We eventually arrived in Chengdu at gone midnight and as the lift doors closed to leave me on my floor of the ‘Traffic Hotel’ YHA, waving goodnight to the girls I realised with our divergent plans and me bein’ an early bird an’ all that would probably be my last glimpse of ‘em.

'Dafo' : The Leshan Giant or 'Grand' Buddha
  My first indigenous travel companions and friends.  Which it proved to be.

Today I am actually doubling back on myself a little to Leshan.  4 hours by bus  160km south east of Chengdu.  Technically it would have been possible to hit this destination on route.  This may also have been more logical.  Getting off the train at Emei and catching a bus from there to stay overnight in Leshan… but to be honest I just could not be bothered with the extra late night logistics last night.  And was perfectly happy to continue - if only briefly - in May and Joy’s company and to dump my heavy bags in Chengdu to make Leshan a day trip from there.

Leshan is the famous seat - quite literally - of The Leshan Grand Buddha or ‘Dafo’ as he is nicknamed by the local populace.

  Carved directly out of the peach-orange sandstone cliff over a period of 90 years ( 713 - 803 AD - Tang Dynasty), he is officially the world’s largest carved Buddha in any posture.  He has some seriously impressive vital statistics.  The statue is 71 metres high, has 3 metre long fingers, 7 metre long ears and an instep that can apparently accommodate 100 people sat upon its length.  Yep he’s quite a buddha of a Buddha.  Previous other examples of mega cliff-carved Buddhas were the two standing Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan (the largest of their posture in the world at 55 and 37 metres high respectively) but these were notoriously rocketed, shot-up and dynamited to oblivion by the Taliban in March 2001.

The project was initiated by the monk Hai Tong who wished to create the Buddha where he sits facing the confluence of three rivers ( the Min, Qingyi and Dadu) in order that he would appease the violent waters therein that claimed many, many lives of the local fishing community and were believed to be possessed of an evil spirit.

1,021 'coils' on Dafo's head have several theories.The main story professes that Buddha, contemplating one day in the hot Indian sun was saved from sunstroke by a cluster of snails that crawled onto his head, surrendering their lives to save his.
  Through a curious and all too rare commingling of faith and physics, the sheer amount of rock displaced into the confluence by the creation of the Buddha, the desired result was actually effected.  Good on ya Buddha!

My visit to meet ‘Dafo’ doesn’t get off to the super best start as I have to fight through another ‘China Moment’.  The tickets for the site are clearly split into two separate areas of ticketed entry.  The Grand Buddha himself (along with the Tomb of Hai Tong, the sacred Lingyun Temple, the Mahao Cave Tombs & the Wuyou Temple … basically all you will want to see) for 70RMB ( $10) and the Eastern Village complex for an additional 50RMB ( $7.30).  But can I get the flippin’ cowbag behind the ticket counter to sell me just my desired ticket for the Buddha?  Can I f**k!  She is super surly.

  Super moody and flat refuses to sell me anything but the full 120RMB whack for both tickets!  Why?  To what purpose and benefit for either one of us?!  Who frickin’ knows.  But she will not back down.  I keep pointing to the very signs above her head that very clearly label the ticketing options in English and Chinese but she will not let me pay any less than for both and keeps ignoring me and ushering Chinese visitors forward past me.  "How wude!".

I am forced to concede to this dragon lady but take my two separate tickets to the entrance and through pointing endlessly at the ticket only with the Buddha image on it and motioning I wish to drop/ tear up/ throw away the other ticket the gate people finally understand me, take the second ticket back to the dragon lady and get my 50RMB refund for me.

Incense trough at the Lingyun Temple
  I mean seriously!  What was the f**kin’ point?!  Some people are just set upon this earth to create needless ill will it seems.  As ever - stand your ground guys!

‘Dafo’ is an impressive chap it has to be said.  I’d been fascinated to see him ever since he was included in a TV series in England, Dan Cruikshank’s ‘Around the World in 80 Treasures’ and it’s pretty awesome to be stood right besides him now, staring at his super-size lug holes, fingers and toes.  Zillions of visitors crowd around the viewing platforms at the cliff top to get as close as possible to their Main Man and all jostle and pose to get snaps with them either seeming to touch his head or nose or cup his chin with their palms upturned.  It all makes for very amusing people watching.

A view of Leshan City and the confluence of the Min, Qingyi and Dadu rivers

Once you’ve had your fill at top level there is the vertiginous stairway referred to as the ‘Path of Birds’ that zig-zags with (I think?) nine turns down one of the inner cliff faces all the way down to ground, or Buddha feet level.  Very narrow but safe.  Many smaller buddha images carved into the bright stone walls.  This slow procession down offers fabulous close encounters with the various super-size aspects of Buddha’s carved anatomy.  The sandstone peach-flesh tones of his face and shoulders soon give way to the multi-coloured palette of natural incursion and erosion as your eyes move down his body.  The centuries of exposure to wind and water (and nowadays air pollution and acid rain) of course take their heavy toll on such a structure and so Dafo’s robes, arms and legs these days are a treacle-drop patchwork of mossy greens and browns and grey-black stain tattoos.

Big feet and the tourists.
  Various projects are currently under consideration under the auspices of UNESCO as to how best to move forward with long term preservation of this World Heritage Site.

There are many other sights to take in at the Grand Buddha complex but I shall not trouble you with recollection of those.  Time for me to head back to Chengdu where I meet my room mates for the night, Sun from South Korea and ‘Japan Girl’ who is lovely and we chat for some time about Nepal and earthquakes and her home nation but who in one of those curious moments of travel interaction I neglect to ask of her name.  The phone in our 3 bed dorm rings.  I pick up.  Silence.  It rings again a few minutes later.  I pick up.  “Woo you like body massage sir?”.

The 'Path of Birds' walkway down the cliff.
  “Noooo thank you!”.  Oops!  How rude.  I forgot to ask around and see if my room mates wanted one.  Hey-ho!

[ Buddha Info : Travelling from Chengdu to Leshan you need to take a bus from the central bus station (besides the river) and this will cost 44RMB ($6.50) each way.  When the bus drops you in Leshan don’t take a taxi, just walk straight to the local Number 13 bus that should practically be waiting for you there whereby you will be taken to the Grand Buddha entrance for a mere 1 RMB.  A return coach direct back to Chengdu from the same entrance spot should be easy to get on (removing the need to return to the main bus station on the #13) for the aforementioned 44RMB.  Again, just be firm about what entrance ticket you want ]

AlexandraQuinton says:
I visited Dafo today, and just wanted to comment on the issue you had with the ticket purchase for anyone else planning on visiting.
We were driven to a small entrance, just past the North gate, where we had exactly the same treatment. Fortunately, we were travelling with a guy fluent in Chinese and he translated that the only place you can buy the 70RMB ticket it at the North Gate entry point. We were dropped back there and paid our 70 each with no problems. Head to the North Gate and have your 70RMB in hand and you should be fine.
Posted on: Jun 08, 2009
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Dafo : The Leshan Giant or Gran…
'Dafo' : The Leshan Giant or 'Gra…
1,021 coils on Dafos head have …
1,021 'coils' on Dafo's head have…
Incense trough at the Lingyun Temp…
Incense trough at the Lingyun Tem…
A view of Leshan City and the conf…
A view of Leshan City and the con…
Big feet and the tourists.
Big feet and the tourists.
The Path of Birds walkway down t…
The 'Path of Birds' walkway down …
Obeiscences being paid at the sacr…
Obeiscences being paid at the sac…
Prayer lamps.
Prayer lamps.
Various States of Prayer
'Various States of Prayer'
Spinning the wheel.
Spinning the wheel.
One of the principle tenets of Bud…
One of the principle tenets of Bu…
Ooo... just a little to the left …
"Ooo... just a little to the left…
Many hundreds of smaller buddha im…
Many hundreds of smaller buddha i…
... if the ticket office lady will…
... if the ticket office lady wil…
The main man.  Monk Hai Tong, conc…
The main man. Monk Hai Tong, con…
Giving buddha perspective (see the…
Giving buddha perspective (see th…
(Dafo) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
(Dafo) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
Chinese script (abstract)
Chinese script (abstract)
White Tiger : often carved on Chin…
White Tiger : often carved on Chi…
One of the many cliff tunnel/ cave…
One of the many cliff tunnel/ cav…
Leshan
photo by: westwind57