In 693 AD one of the most colossal undertakings in pre-modern history began taking place. A Buddhist monk named Haitong decided he wanted to build a Buddha statue in the Sichuan Province of China. But it wasn’t going to be just any Buddha statue. This Buddha statue was going to be carved into the side of a mountain next to a river in hopes that the Buddha would be able to control to tempestuous river spirits and allow safe passage to the numerous travelers of that river.
After saving alms for 20 years, Haitong saved up enough copper coins to begin building this monumental statue. He enlisted help from other monks, masons and his disciples and they worked tirelessly to create Haitong’s vision. Since the project was bigger than Haitong had realized, he didn’t quite have enough money to cover all the costs and he solicited a government grant. Soon after the project had begun, legend says that government officials lobbied for the cancellation of support for Haitong’s project in order to keep the money for themselves, but Haitong fought for his cause. Legend states that Haitong told them they would have his eyes before they would have the money for the Buddha statue. When they pressed further, in a fit of religious rage Haitong gouged out his own eyes and flung them at the government officials. Thus terrorized and convinced of his conviction, nobody ever tried to take that money again.
Unfortunately Haitong died before his statue was completed and after his death the government officials were successful in diverting funds from the project to their own special interests. The statue languished, unfinished, for 70 years until a regional military governor funded the completion of Haitong’s dream and the statue was finally finished in 803 AD.
Fun fact: there are 1,021 coiled buns in the Buddha’s hairdo. Another fun fact is that the ears on this statue are 23 feet long, made of wood and covered in mud.
When you first arrive at the Leshan Buddha Park, you don’t really see much. Well, after you’ve gone past a few temples and pagodas you come to this open area with the tell-tale railings that zig-zag long lines of people. And, seriously, this was a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG line. From the time we got in line until we got to the bottom of the stairs at the base of the Buddha we had been in line for a little over 2 hours. But at least the line was bunched up next to the top of the statue and we got to entertain ourselves by trying to get pictures of it without one of the billion other people that were trying to do the same thing.
Aside from entertaining ourselves that way, there was a snack cart with lots of things to choose from. The only problem is that they have it right next to the line and the only way to purchase from it is to get out of line. And yell. A lot. Those of you who have been to China know what I’m talking about.
For some reason, I got voted as the person to stand in line and fight people to get my order taken. I tried a few times and I’d get shoved or yelled over. And I’m so not kidding. People were physically pushing me out of the way. I don’t do good in crowds and this type of situation was really making my anxiety go nuts, but I eventually pushed someone back and stood my ground and got our chips and water. The next fun part was making my way back through the line to find Troy and Scott. I kept saying “excuse me” and trying to politely make my way past people, but most of the time they’d just stand there or look at me and then move in front of me. It was so frustrating!
Eventually I started getting mad at how rude people were being and started just shoving my way through people. Some people tried to block me (what the crap!) and I had to use a lot of force, which made me feel awful, but why were they not letting me through? At one point I had to shove my way through two guys who were blocking me and ended up dropping some of my stuff. It’s really hard to carry 4 water bottles and three bags of chips by yourself while trying to also protect a large camera. I really wanted to go home at that point and was about to cry. The elderly man in front of me turned around and helped me pick up my stuff and moved aside so I could get past. He was the only kind person in that entire line and I’m still grateful to him for that. By the time I made my way back to Troy and Scott I was super frustrated and told them next time we were in this situation that one of those two would be left behind to fight the crowds. It was not fun. But after a few minutes of non-stress I was able to calm down and get my anxiety back under control.
Soon we made it over to an area where we could take pictures by the Buddha and we all took turns taking pictures of each other. It was pretty fun.
It’s so embarrassing, but you can totally see how sweaty I am. It was so dang hot and humid that day. I don’t know how Troy isn’t a sweaty mess because he was sweating, too, but you can see it quite nicely on me. Even though getting the extra water had been frustrating, I’m glad I did it because we hadn’t expected it to be so hot and to be in full sun the entire time we were in line.
After an hour and a half of zig-zagging slowly we finally figured out what the holdup was. In order to get down to the Buddha you have to climb down a thin 1,640 foot switchback staircase that was carved into the side of the mountain. It’s pretty steep at the end, so people were going super slow. Kinda hard to fault them for that.
One of the neat things about the rock face (and another reason why the line moves so slowly down the stairs) is that there are carvings all down the wall. You can see several in the above picture. The few that we were able to see on our descent were pretty neat.
It wasn’t until we got to the bottom of the stairs that we faced the true magnitude of exactly how tall this statue is.
The Leshan Giant Buddha, also known as Dafo, is 233 ft tall. His shoulder span is 92 feet and each eyebrow is 18 feet. Seriously, they could fit almost 3.5 of me across one eyebrow. WOW.
Another interesting thing to note is that there is a drainage system that runs through the statue to help protect from erosion and weathering. There are holes in his hair, collar, chest and back of the ears to keep excessive amounts of water from running down the whole of the statue. And there is also regular maintenance to clean up excess moss and repair any significant damage.
We spent about a half an hour taking pictures at the base of the Buddha. We would have stayed longer, but after spending over two hours in the direct sun, we were ready to head out. But, before we did, we had to get our selfie. By this time pretty much my entire shirt was soaked. lol.
Leaving the Buddha area is a bit easier than arriving and I totally recommend visiting via the exit. We saw a few people doing that and we wish we had. People like to hang out at the bottom for a while and the exit stairs aren’t nearly as crowded as the entrance stairs. Plus they’re wider and not as steep.
There are also some neat carved tunnels to walk through. I love the texture on the walls. It’s really neat.
We also found these on a wall in the tunnels. No clue what they say, but they look really neat.
|Admission Fee:||RMB 90|
|Recommended Time To Visit:||Early in the morning|
|How to Get There:||Long-Distance Bus from ChengduXinnanmen Bus Station toXiaba Bus Station and then take Bus 13Intercity High-Speed Train from Chengdu to Leshan Railway Station and then take Bus 3
Ferries to Yibin, Luzhou and Chongqing are available at the port of the city.
You can also get there via taxi or rental car