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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Giant Buddha, More Points than Terracotta Army?

Day 730

We have visited some amazing places within these last two years. According to our spreadsheet of the "Lonely Planet's top 500" in the world, the site we are visiting today has 353 points. In contrast, the Terracotta Army has 341 points. Wow – this place must be good.

If it is Day 730 and there are 365 days in the year, then that makes it two years ago that we left Bristol Airport for the first destination of our #GrownUpTravellers way of life. What an adventure we are having. 35 countries so far. I did use to know the number of beds we've slept in, but have lost count; I think it must be about 200!

Our destination, with more points than the Terracotta Army, is two hours away. Not early risers, we got going to get to the mainline station by 8:15 am, only to find out that the next available train to Leshan was at 11:24! The four trains before that were all fully booked. Lesson learnt, book beforehand. Off for an expensive coffee (you would have thought we would have learnt by now to have tea instead!), and returned to the train station.

All train stations, be it metro or mainline have x-ray machines and often security waving their wands over us for any undesirable elements.

An hour later we arrived in Leshan and now needed to find the bus stop. If anyone was watching us, it would have been like watching a cartoon. From one place to another, seeing the bus zoom past, racing to another stop where the bus driver points to near our original destination. There we see the bus station, which we missed earlier. During this time, we're bickering about where we should be – all good fun, and we do see the funny side of it…in the end!

Our bus journey took 30 minutes (cost 2 yuan each = £0.22) and we missed our exit stop! We were supposed to get off at the boat terminal. Oh well. We walked back and paid for our boat trip (70 yuan each (£7.70) and with hardly a queue, stepped onto the small passenger ferry. We were here to see Leshan's, Giant Buddha.

Along the river, we could see a crowd of photographers with enormous lenses. We wondered what they were looking for? A rare bird? Later, when we returned ashore, we called down to them, our guess was right.

Let me tell you a bit about this Giant Buddha and why it is here. A Chinese Monk called Hai Tong wanted to build a giant Buddha to calm the three turbulent rivers, Min River, Qingyi River and Dudu River. They all converged here and used to cause havoc for the sailors and local people. They put this down to a water spirit, and Hai Tong believed the Buddha would bring the spirit under control.

The construction began in 713 AD, but not without issues. When the local government threatened the funding for this immense project, apparently Hai Tong gouged out his eyes to show his devotion. I can think of better ways to demonstrate this! Sadly Hai Tong never saw its completion, even if he still had his sight. By the time of his death, the Buddha was built to his shoulders, and then insufficient monies stopped the construction. Finally, in 803 AD, the Giant Buddha was complete.

So did Hai Tong's plan work? Yes, but not how he expected. The enormous amount of rubble disposed of the carving got deposited into the river, which altered the currents. This is what calmed the flow of the rivers.

Our boat chugged past the statue, turned around and then stopped for a good 10 minutes for us to admire this amazing figure. Two other boats moored behind us so we were lucky, having the best of views.

The Giant Buddha is carved out of cretaceous red sandstone of Xijuo Peak and at 71m high, it is the tallest Buddha sculpture in the world. This wonderful smiling monk is thought to be Maitreya, the future Buddha whose attributes are loving kindness. It is sitting, resting his giant hands on his knees, gazing across the rivers with a peaceful and calming expression.

Just to give you some measurements so that you can imagine the colossal size, his ears are 7 m long, eyes and mouth 3.3 m wide on his head of 14.7 m high and 10 m wide, with 1,021 twisted spiral curls on top for hair.

Considering the carving is over 1,200 years old, it is in remarkable condition. This is due to the drainage system incorporated during construction with hidden pipes to drain rainwater and keep the statue as dry as possible.

You can walk up steep steps next to the Buddha, and we could see the long queue of people slowly climbing these, looking like ants.

With the constraints of our time, I am glad that we chose to see the Buddha by boat. We had a much better view of the whole figure than if we had been up close. It would be great to do both; the boat and walking up by the side of this enormous statue.

Afterwards, we walked along the side of the river to see if we could get down to the shoreline. No such like, however, we did come across some other ancient carvings and a very friendly Buddhist Monk who wanted to have his photo with us.

This whole area is incredible, another UNESCO site, and definitely worth a full day here. There is more to see than the GIant Buddha, other temples and Pagodas. Book those train tickets beforehand though.

What do you think? Does this remarkable Leshan Giant Buddha deserve more points than the Terracotta Army?


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