We traveled east by bus about 100 miles from Chengdu (the capital city of Sichuan Province) to the town of Leshan
, famous for its giant stone Buddha
. This is the largest stone Buddha in the world, and it really is quite impressive. It was built over a period of 90 years, beginning in the year 713, by a monk named Haitong and his disciples. The reason behind its construction lies in the fact that it sits at the confluence of three rivers -- the Min, the Dadu and the Qingyi -- and before it was built, there were many boating accidents in the swirling waters there. Haitong believed that if he built a giant Buddha in that particular spot, facing Mt. Emei, it would calm the waters and keep people from drowning. His plan worked, but not the way he might have expected. Apparently, all the rock that was dumped in the river from the carving raised the level of the river and made the waters less dangerous. Some 1300 years later, this is still an incredibly impressive site, and thousands of tourists, both Chinese and Western, visit every year.
(As always, click on the picture for a larger view.)
When we first arrived, we were greeted with this admonition before we started the hike up to the Buddha and the surrounding structures. There are many smaller statues set all over the site, like this one of another Buddha and his two buds. There are also all sorts of fountains and other stone carvings up the ying-yang. This Buddha head is inside one of the many temples that surround the site. ...As are these two jolly fellows (and plenty more like them). It's supposed to be good luck to rub this Buddha's belly, which is why it's so shiny. From the expression on his face, I'd say this gentleman just got lucky. I believe we mailed some post cards from the Giant Buddha Post Office. Finally, the Giant Buddha himself, carved into the side of the mountain, and with stone steps carved along each side of it leading precariously to the foot of the statue and the river below. There are all sorts of carvings in the rock wall itself as you descend and come back up the ancient stone steps. Looking at the people on the right gives you some perspective on just how big this Buddha is. It was raining that day, and so many of the pictures we took have these spots on them from raindrops. On the climb back up, you pass this building, which is a restaurant run by the local monks. I don't know why we didn't eat here, but instead waited until we finished the tour and had a meal in town before taking the bus back to Chengdu. A lone boater braves the swirling waters at the foot of the Buddha. My rock star moment: There were quite a few school kids visiting the Giant Buddha from various spots around the country, and many of them had had little or no contact with Westerners before. They were fascinated with me, especially when they learned I was from California. I spent a good twenty minutes posing for pictures with many of them, and even signing autographs (!!). Yet another statue on the grounds, probably carved around the same time as the Giant Buddha or shortly thereafter. This pavilion with a huge bell in it was a nice respite from the rain.