Monday, November 4, 2013

Leshan Giant Buddha

Back to China posting! The final leg of our journey was to the south to Chengdu. We got in late on Thursday, which was a holiday, Autumn Festival, where people give each other moon cakes, even though I kept calling them moon pies, which are more tasty than moon cakes. That was a long sentence. 

Just a mere two hours outside of Chengdu is Leshan, where there's a ginormous Buddha relief sculpture carved into the side of a cliff. We went to it on Friday. 

We made a major mistake in (1) going on a holiday weekend and (2) passing up the private car for the public bus. If you are going to travel more than one hour in distance in China, take a private car. They're not that much more expensive, and it's worth the comfort and ease. You can negotiate a price before you get in the car too. 

After two hours in a dirty charter bus with some weird Chinese movie playing where people were getting tortured and killed, we arrived in Leshan. Then we had to take the city bus to the giant Buddha site. 

We ate lunch across the street, then bought our tickets. This was the entrance. I kinda felt like we were in Chinese Jurassic Park. 

The entrance had a huge patio, so Daisy enjoyed walking around. 

We took some pictures in front of the river (which river? I can't remember) before heading into the park. 

There's a mild hike to get to the giant Buddha. Along the way there are smaller statues, including this cool tiger. 

I carried Daisy on my back in the ergo carrier. We didn't bring the stroller to Leshan, and that was a big win. There are WAY too many stairs for a stroller. 

When we reached the top of the mountain and walked through the arches, we saw the top of Buddha's head. Those are people next to his eyebrows. He's giant. 

Because it was a holiday, there were TONS of people there. Our friend who lives in Chengdu said that it took him about two hours to do the entire giant Buddha experience. In two hours of waiting in line, we hadn't even gotten to the to the point where we could descend the stairs to the bottom of the cliff. 

While we waited in a Disney-like switchback line, Daisy was entertained by Angela's beautiful hair and by all of her many fans. If we held her up, then everyone in line took pictures of her. If we put her on the ground, then only the people in front of took pictures of her. 

It was crowded. 

Chinese people have no concept of "personal bubble." If there is an empty space, they will fill it in. This is not out of ambition to cut in line, as much as it seems common sense to them to fill all empty spaces. We foreigners had to use elbows and wide stances to create enough space for Daisy to stand and breathe at our feet. 

So many people, so little personal space, but you can see they love Daisy. 

We descended very steep stairs all along the side of a cliff. The entire time I was envisioning dominoes of people falling down the stairs. 

It was steep, but the railing was taller than me, so I felt pretty secure. 

A view from the bottom of the stairs we descended.
When we finally reached the bottom, we weren't even sure if we cared anymore. It had been almost three hours of waiting in jammed-packed lines. The only good thing at the bottom was that there was plenty of space to walk around.

After I recovered from near claustrophobia, I was pretty taken back by the size of the statue. We theorized how the monks carved him out, but it all happened so long ago, that there's no real way to know. It was incredible to be able to witness another thing that had been around for hundreds of years, even possibly thousands (like the terra cotta warriors and the great wall). My mind can't even believe it. 

The only bad thing about being at the bottom is that we had to climb out the other side. It's like canyon hiking: all the work is on the second half. All the stairs I climbed in preparation for our trip and during our trip was conditioning for that moment of climbing out of the Leshan Buddha monument thing with Daisy on my back. It was an incredible workout. 

Another view from the top on the exit side. 

We rode the city bus back to the bus station, then had to wait 40 minutes until the next bus back to Chengdu. We ended up getting in late, but went out for a late dinner with our friends anyways, because we were only with them for a couple days. 

Basically, Leshan was very tiring and taxing on our foreign nerves, but in retrospect, it was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. The climate was also very pleasant and cool, and the park was beautiful. I would recommend it, but under certain conditions: 

Travel Tips and Takeaways:

1. Take a private car from Chengdu. If we had gone private, the driver would have driven us straight to the giant Buddha park and waited for us to take us home. She would have been on our time, and we wouldn't have had to ride in a dirty, crowded bus. Daisy could have slept in the middle of us in the back seat. 

2. Don't bring a stroller. This excursion had more stairs than the Forbidden City. There's NO way we could have used a stroller. We would have carried it folded up the entire time. 

3. Don't go on a holiday. Our friend went on a regular day, and he did the entire part in a couple hours, which leaves time to enjoy the city of Leshan and even possibly climb the mountain there. It took us about four hours in the park and three hours of travel each way, so we're talking a 10-hour day just doing the Buddha and lunch. 

4. Take the stairs. There's a boat option that we wondered if we should have taken, but you are prevented from seeing the Buddha up close, and it's definitely worth the hike to see it so well. 

Bonus video: Here's our reactions after the descent: 

Update: Here's the wiki page if you want more information: Leshan Giant Buddha on Wikipedia.

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