Friday, May 30, 2008

On Tour with Buddha

We chose to visit Leshan on my second journey through Chengdu in August of 2006. We booked a tour through the Wenjunlou Hotel--a private car and guide for a full day outside the city.

Maggie, our guide, met us at the hotel early in the morning to arrive at the Giant Buddha (乐山大佛) before the vacationing crowds. There was already quite a crowd by the time we got there, but it only got worse as the day went on. Unlike our two tours in Beijing a week prior, our guide this time spoke English quite well and didn't pressure us to rush through the sites or purchase any tourist junk.

The Giant Buddha was carved out of the mountain beginning in the 8th century under the supervision of a monk named Hai Tong. The Buddha overlooks the meeting of three rivers to protect ships that pass through (prior to this time, many ships were lost in the river). Hai Tong lived in a cave in the mountain during the sculpting and never saw the completed work because he supposedly gouged his eyes out when faced with officials trying to extort money from the project.

As we entered the park and walked along the trails through the mountain that is home to this enormous seated Buddha, Maggie provided us with bits of history and other conversation unrelated to our day of sightseeing. She pointed us to the line that led to steps down to Buddha's feet--we decided we should get in line before it grew any longer. From this point we could only see the top of Buddha's head.

The line was slow, but fortunately well shaded. August in this part of situation is also unbearably hot and humid--it was actually worse than Shenzhen. Along the steps down the mountain, we met a friendly woman with her daughter. She was surprised to hear that we had come to Sichuan after visiting Xinjiang, which happened to be her home province. I sent Jia a text message about meeting someone from Xinjiang in Leshan. Jia sent a message back from the train to Shenzhen saying that she just met someone from New Jersey. Strange timing for a coincidence.

As we greeted Buddha's feet, we realized just how immense this statue carved out of the mountain really was. Buddha is 71 meters tall--and figures and photos don't even come close to the feeling one gets from seeing this statue up close.

The area surrounding the Giant Buddha is beautiful, with many trails and small sites. With the heat and humidity, however, we didn't have the energy to see anything else that day. On our ride back to Chengdu, Maggie offered to take us to places we hadn't yet visited. As this was our last day in Chengdu, we thanked her and said we had seen everything we wanted.
Supposedly, the statue was not damaged during the recent earthquake.


1 comment:

Julia said...

Wow, that's so cool! I'm super interested in Buddhism. Do you get many opportunities to speak Mandarin in China? I have been studying at a great site it's great to have lots of free help for learning Chinese!