Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Day Trip to Leshan

After a few days in Chengdu, I planned a day trip to nearby Leshan to see the Giant Buddha, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.  I overslept a bit, but decided to take it easy, enjoying my breakfast before I made the short walk to the bus station.  I dozed and listened to podcasts for the two hour ride, and though I had planned on just taking a taxi to the Buddha, I followed the crowd over to a bus stop, asking a German guy if he knew if it was the correct bus.  As it turned out, he actually spoke some Chinese, and I wound up sticking with him for most of the rest of the day.  Unfortunately, the local bus took forever, so it was after 1pm by the time we finally arrived, not giving us a ton of time to explore.  We made our way up a long set of stairs, the river to our right and a number of carvings, statues, and signs to our left.  We finally arrived at the top, first checking out a large temple as I quickly devoured a questionable hot dog on a stick, the only food I spotted, realizing how late it was and how hungry I was!

Lost in translation.

After taking a peek at the gorgeous temple, we walked over to view the enormous Buddha from the top - it was absolutely huge!  The sculpture is 233 feet (71 meters) tall, to be exact, and was started in the year 713 (completed in 803) by a local monk named Haitong. We got in a very long line to take the stairs down to see the Buddha from the bottom platform, becoming wedged into a mass of people stuck in a giant bottleneck as the appropriately-named Nine Turn Cliff Road narrowed.  While the slow-moving mass wasn't entirely pleasant, the views of the river and of the Buddha, carved out of the soft mountainous rock, were astounding.  As we reached the bottom, I noticed a number of spots along the cliff wall where there had once been additional carvings, sadly many worn away from the elements or simply the hands of tourists over time.

At the base, the view looking back up and the sense of scale was indeed incredible - I could have easily stood on one of the Buddha's toenails - that's how large he was!  We saw a couple of tour boats pass by, the only way to really step back and get a good look at it in total, but sadly we didn't have enough time to even attempt a river tour.  From the base, we exited on the opposite side, and rather than going straight back up, we followed the path alongside the river out to a second temple that was included in our entry ticket, passing a small pagoda and a cluster of shops along the way.  To get to the temple, we first crossed a section of the river over a beautifully constructed bridge with red pavilions on either side, topped by beautifully curved typical Chinese roofs.  The bridge itself was a large arc, sweeping over the water to a heavily wooded area on the other side, with another long set of stairs up.  

I had completely lost the German guy when I stopped to take a photo of the stone arch bridge crossing the river, and I was a bit worried when the path split and I didn't actually see him at the temple, but I took my time looking around, catching more chanting that echoed what I had heard at the Wenshu Temple a couple of days prior.  Thankfully, I bumped into my new friend right as I was about to leave.  We looked in one last room - a large, almost bizarrely furnished space with large images of men (we didn't quite figure out who they represented) all around the circumference of the space.

Finally, short on time, we descended, following a path with signs marking the way to a bus stop.  It took a long way and another river crossing to reach it, and we only had an hour or so, so we considered just finding a taxi, but we boarded the next bus that came by anyway.  Thankfully, we made it just on time and there were seats available for the 5:30 return to Chengdu (which we thought was the last bus, though we heard there might be one at 7).  I again slept on the ride back, then grabbed a quick dinner and packed my bags, actually managing to get to sleep at a decent hour after the long day, ready for a very early wake up the following day to travel to my next stop:  Xi'an.

No comments:

Post a Comment