Leshan is a sweet little riverside town whose focal point is the tallest Buddha in the world. At 230 feet tall, his fingernails alone are bigger than most humans. According to our Chinese guide, Leshan Giant Buddha is over 1,300 years old and took more than 90 years to build. When initial funding was removed from the project around 720 AD, the monk who commissioned it gouged out his own eyes to prove his dedication, but he didn’t live to see the Buddha’s completion.
When you think about the fact that 1,300 years ago, they didn’t have electronic machinery to support their construction efforts, it’s extraordinary. How did they carve out that huge piece of rock? How did they manage to get the tools up the side of the mountain? Chinese people are small but many of them are incredibly strong and hardworking. Here’s proof, if you needed any.
The Buddha is situated at the meeting point of the Dadu and Min Rivers. If you look out at the water, you can see where the two different color rivers come together. Apparently, Buddhist monks wanted to build the giant Buddha to help calm the rapids and protect boatmen. Today, the water is allegedly calmer, but the reasons behind that are debatable.
Leshan Giant Buddha is the tallest pre-modern statue in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most impressive things about this Buddha is the drainage system. If you look closely at his face, you can see holes and dips that were designed to shed the water away from his body. There are holes strategically placed all over him to reduce degradation – one hole in the top of his head directs water through the center of his skull and out one of his ears. That crazy, eye-gouging monk thought of everything!
In order to see the Buddha, you have two choices – hike down and around the statue or get a panoramic view from a riverboat. My group had thoroughly enjoyed the Chengdu nightlife the night before, so we chose the lazy (riverboat) route. From the water, you can see two guardians carved into the cliff side, which aren’t visible from land, but there are many advantages to choosing the land route. For one, you can spend a lot more time checking out the Buddha, while the riverboat is rushed. You also have access to museums and temples before and after the hike.
It’s about a two-hour bus ride from Chengdu and they’re almost ready to open a new bullet train extension, which will get tourists from Chengdu to the Buddha in about thirty minutes. We signed up for a full-day tour through our hostel, which took us to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in the morning and Leshan’s Grand Buddha in the afternoon. Highly recommend!