Leshan Giant Buddha (Dafo)
China is a country, where Buddhism has been a dominant force since the imperial times. It is then not surprising that the biggest carved Buddha in the world would also be found there. Situated in Leshan, Sichuan, the Giant Buddha is a structure that dates back to the year 803 and was built as Maitreya (or the Buddha of the Future) in the Tang Dynasty by a monk looking to calm the turbulent water spirit that had been causing loss of life and property by destroying ships passing by the area. The building of the statue resulted in so much soil being emptied into the riverbed that the waters did get considerably peaceful after its completion. It is on UNESCO’s inventory of World Heritage Sites and is perhaps also the tallest statue in the world built without the aid of modern equipment.
Most tourists travel here from Chengdu, which is 160km from Leshan. High-speed trains run between the two cities as do buses, facilitating tourist traffic. Most travelers prefer to take the train and then catch a bus to the docks at Leshan. From there a ferry (costing around RMB70) will take you on a smooth tour of the Leshan Giant Buddha and will stop right at the front to provide opportunity to take as many pictures as you like. They even have staff to take pictures of you, standing in front of the Buddha, from the ship deck. This is a much better view then taking close-up shots at the base of the statue. Timings of the attraction are from 09:00 to 16:50 and the ticket is RMB80. The whole adventure will cost you an entire day so go prepared with snacks (and spare charge for your phone).
The attention paid to the details is really amazing. For example the hair of the Buddha is not smushed from any angle and present a uniform image from all sides. In fact, there are almost 1,000 buns styled as hair and each is well proportioned. The ears were made from wood which was then incorporated into the statue. Even drainage system has been engineered into the body so that water won’t stand and cause damage. When it was originally built, a sort of wooden canopy was also built to shade the statue from elemental damage, but this was plundered and damaged during times of unrest in the country.
To reach the top, there is a staircase installed at the side of the cliff. This starts from the left toe of the Buddha; the staircase ascends all the way to the hilltop where you can see the Buddha’s tranquil face in more detail. However, the biggest drawback is that the stairs are only wide enough for one person and consequently a long line forms during the high season when the town sees the most visitors. It can be an hour long wait and you can not get panoramic views of the whole Buddha from those angles. Ferry-views are hence the real winners.