Thursday, March 14, 2013

OH MY BUDDHA!

As I was studying up for Chengdu, I found out that nearby was the largest stone Buddha in the world.  In a little city (by Chinese standards, anyway - 2.3 million people beats out my hometown of Kansas City by 7.5 to 1) called Leshan, two hours down the road, lies a marvel on par with the Sphinx of Giza...according to the Leshan tourism board, at any rate.  I wasn't sure if I could fit it in - I was only there for two days, after all, and the tour I'd signed up for that included both the Buddha and the pandas got cancelled because I was the only one signed up for it.  However, I talked to Domestic Goddess, who said that missing it was one of her biggest travel regrets OF ALL TIME, and after reading up a little more I decided I could be on the first bus out at 7:20, since the bus stop was so conveniently located next to my hotel, and make it there and back with some time in the afternoon to see a little more of Chengdu.
So here's the story: an 8th century monk named Daitong decided that the best way to deal with the treacherous meeting point of three rivers was to carve Buddha into the cliffside, that he would calm the river.  The Buddha actually took 90 years to carve out, and in the end, the river did become calmer, although whether it was caused by his divine influence or detritus from carving him is debatable. 
How big is the Leshan Buddha?  He is one BAMF (the "B" in this case standing for "big").  He is so freaking big that it's hard to get a photo with all of him in it.  Can you see the puny mortals standing on the cliffside behind him?  You could fit a bunch of them in his 23-foot long ear.  That's how bloody big the Leshan Buddha is.
On one side of the Buddha is a set of stairs wending their way down the cliffside.  The Chinese monks in olden times had names for this path - for example, the bird's way, because it was only fit for the birds.  It's kind of fun except for the million or so Chinese tourists pushing their way past you...that tends to be a little nerve-wracking.  Don't get me wrong, I like the Chinese (on a good day), but the idea of patiently waiting for the line to move doesn't always appeal to them, and the idea of falling down a cliff definitely doesn't appeal to me.
I couldn't understand the rush, personally.  I was snapping pictures all the way down.  One of the things I loved the most was all the niches with Buddhist sculptures carved into the side of the cliff - they were a little worn from the wind and the air pollution, but still just absolutely beautiful.  You can actually get up to the top fairly easily, even on a pair of feet that were very weary from way too much walking.  From the bottom, you have to go up a less steep, exposed path to get back to the top, which is a lot more exhausting, but it's worth it to see the Buddha along the cliffside path.  There are tourist boats that depart from the other side of the river and give you a much better view of the Buddha, but my "bus" - a 6 passenger van that was very comfortable (guess the early bird really did get the worm in this case - the bus on the way back was less comfortable) - dropped us off right outside the tourist area gate, which was kind of nice.
If you've never traveled with me, you may not realize that a 25 year-old pound purry named Peppermint shares my adventures.  She's a much lower key traveler than I am, and often prefers to stay in the hotel room than go out wandering...after all, she doesn't have my sense of direction and might not be able to find her way back if she got lost.  However, she was really excited to see the biggest stone Buddha in the world, and insisted on having her photo taken with it.  She and I were both a little offended when a tour guide asked us what we were doing.  I was taking a picture of my cat.  Duh.

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