The really Giant Buddha at Leshan by Mark Sukhija

11th July 2009

The face of the Grand Buddha
After a 2 hr 30 minute drive from Chengdu, we arrived in Leshan to see the Grand Buddha. At the confluence of three rivers, the Giant Buddha stands 71 meters high and took 90 years (three generations) to build. The Giant Buddha is the largest statue of Buddha since the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan some years back.

Carved into the cliff itself (rather than onto the clifff face) the Grand Buddha face alone is clearly visible standing at the top - the cliff from which it is carved concealing the rest below. Looking across the face, to the other side, other visitors are dwarved by the scale of the face - the ears alone measure over 7 meters in height. Red sandstone is highly vulnerable to the elements and so an elaborate drainage system was designed and incorporated into the statue - with being set into the cliff has helped preserve the Giant Buddha for over 1,000 years.

Carving detail on the steps leading down to the feet of the Great Buddha
The steep steps down to the feet of the Giant Buddha, carved into the cliff face, narrow markedly with descent, reducing the flow to one at a time. Backpacks became tougher to turn on each corner.

Numerous carvings line the cliff face on the way down - ensuring that the steps, in themselves, are a worthwhile visit. Erosion and exposure to elements over a millenia has taken its toll on the carvings, several scences and charecters are clearly identifiable - such as the temple scene pictured.

Descending further, progressivly slower with each step, more of the Giant Buddha becomes visible. Pilgrims take their time to admire this wonderous statue.

Gazing up at the Giant Buddha the size of the statue becomes apparent. As Giant Buddha looks out across the confluence of three rivers towards Mount Emei as he dwarves the people standing at his feet. Even his toes are enormous - one could eat a picnic on his big toe.

It's difficult to imagine how the statue was built in the first place - over 1,000 years ago. Although, on the cliff face there is evidence of what could have been scaffholding placed here during the construction and or to protect the Buddha from the elements.

The journey to the top was, surprisingly, easier than the journey down. Or perhaps we were expecting it to be harder. Either way it seemed easier. Luckily we had arrived early in the morning - before the crowds. Many arrived after us and the pilgrims visit the crimson and yellow Temple before descending to see the Giant Buddha so the queues had reached fever pitch. We returned to the front of the complex through the crimson and yellow coloured temple which sits above the Giant Buddha.

A short drive down the road, we boarded the boat. The boat - which is an excellent compliment to the steps - allows a fuller view of the Buddha with only minimal risk to your neck. Even more apparent from the boat is the scale of the monument - a full view of the Buddha with the people dwarved at his giant feet, each foot several people wide and above every person.

It's kinda hard to express just how giant the Giant Buddha in writing. So I'm gonna stop. The scale of the Buddha is best experienced by both walking to his feet and taking the boat out to the river.

Go forth and see for yourself.

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Further reading

Chengdu - trip to the Wenshu Temple - Travelogue from our afternoon in the Wenshu Temple in Chengdu

Chengdu - three day stay in Chengdu - Travelogue from Chengdu, including the Wenshu Temple during our 18 day trip to China

Visit to Chongqing - Travelogue from our time in Chongqing during an 18 day trip to China

2008 eclipse in Nunavut, Canada - Information on and about the 2008 total solar eclipse section in Nunavut, Canada

2008 Solar Eclipse Path - Path information for the 2008 total solar eclipse, including an orthographic view

2008 Total Solar Eclipse - the post-mortem - Total Solar Eclipse in 2008 - post-mortem

2008 Total Solar Eclipse travel information - Travel ideas for the Total Solar Eclipse in 2008

Barnaul - Getting to and from Barnaul

Nadym - Getting to and from Nadym

Nizhnevartovsk - Getting to and from Nizhnevartovsk

About Mark Sukhija

Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook