Leshan: 16th May 2014
From Chongqing, another coach took us to Chengdu. The main attraction here, of course, is the Panda Research Base. But, we’re not going there yet; the Wendy Wu people believe in keeping the best to the last. We were taken to Leshan, which stands near the confluence of three rivers, the Minjiyang, the Dadu and the Qingyl.
In ancient times, this was a very turbulent stretch of water, and many boatmen were lost trying to negotiate it. Around 700 AD, a monk named Hai Tong suggested that the waters might be calmed if a gigantic statue of the Maitreya Buddha was carved from the hillside, facing the sacred Mount Emei.
Construction began in 713 AD, and took 90 years to complete. Of course, Hai Tong passed away before it was finished, but two of his disciples continued the work after his death.
Surprisingly, the statue did have the desired effect, for the vast amount of stone and rubble falling into the river from the construction served to calm the waters.
The sitting figure is 71 metres (233 feet) tall, and, since the destruction of the statues at Bamyian, in Afghanistan is now the tallest Buddha statue in the world. A sophisticated drainage system within the statue ensures some protection from the effects of the elements. Originally, additional protection came from a 13 storey stone structure, but this was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century, and the statue has been open to the sky ever since.
Although many people set out to climb the stairs on either side, I don’t think this is really the most satisfactory way to see it. Even disregarding the number of steps to be negotiated, you also have to deal with the hordes of people climbing them. Also, you won’t be able to see the statues flanking the giant figure from the land; the best viewpoint is from the river. But, the crowds swarming ant-like up those steps did give an idea of how big the thing was.
We took to the river, for a more complete view of the statue. A veritable flotilla of boats awaited us. Somehow, we managed to find the correct one, and all set off in a convoy; a sort of cross between the Cowes Regatta, a Le Mans start and the ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’. The boats are almost identical; rectangular flat-bottomed ferries with a inside cabin and an open deck, usually finished in blue and white.
The boats sailed close enough to the immense statue to ensure a good close-up view, then was able to move further away, to give a better overall view … something that wouldn’t be possible from the shore. Then, it sailed closer in once more, and we were able to get a better idea of the size of the effigy from the myriad of people swarming ant-like up the steps up each side.
How many steps are there?
I certainly didn’t intend to go and find out; the boat seems the better option for viewing the Buddha. But, maybe, for those whose visit is more in the nature of a pilgrimage, a climb up the steps is essential?
That is the end of the ‘regular’ blogging for the moment, as I shall be away from home until after Christmas. I shall, however, be posting on the move, on an ‘as and when’ basis … if I can find a wifi connection.