No trip across China is complete without a round Big Buddhas. In February I saw the Big Buddha on Lantau Island in Hong Kong—or at least it bottom half, the top obscured by fog. Today, on a beautiful sunny morning, Olga, Benny, a Mexican woman name Guadalupe, and I headed from Lazybones to Leshan, a couple hours away, to see the largest stone Buddha (and the largest pre-modern sculpture) in the world.
The Buddha faces a river, once said to be turbulent and dangerous for passing ships. A monk began construction on the massive sculpture in the 8th century in the hopes that the Buddha would pacify the raging waterway. Ninety years later, so much rock had been removed from the cliffside and dumped into the river that, according to the story, it actually reduced the currents and made the river safe for ships to navigate.
It’s difficult to capture the enormity of the Leshan Buddha in a photograph. And most photographs also fail to capture the feeling of being packed among throngs of tourists zigzagging down the cliffside stairs from the shoulders to the toes.
The Big Buddha may not inspire quite the sense of serenity it did in the 9th century, but its majesty is every bit as impressive as it was then—maybe more so, considering it has survived 1200 years of erosion and other natural disasters, including the 2008 earthquake that devastated Sichuan. The 8.0 earthquake killed nearly 70,000 people and was felt as far away as Shanghai and Beijing.
Next stop: Emeishan.
After visiting the Big Buddha of Leshan, we encountered a line of passengers at the bus station three deep that stretched to Yunnan Province. “They must all be headed to Emeishan,” we joked.
To our horror, we were right.