One giant reason to visit Leshan, China
Leshan itself is a busy city like any other, full of fumes, people and traffic. The town itself doesn’t have much to offer travellers, yet they flock here by the hundreds. The sole reason for this sits outside the town by the river, majestically looking out from between two sheer cliff faces – an incredibly huge, carved Buddha.
His ears are 7 metres long. The crenelations on his skull that form his tightly coiled locks of hair are the size of serving platters. Even when all you can see is his head, he is impressive. Carved into the red rock of the cliff itself, he calmly sits amongst the pushing, chattering tourists. To him we are all as ants, mere specks of activity on the surface of his peace. He has very kind eyes. The pupils alone are as big as my head and they smile down with a serene acceptance, looking out over the top of a hundred tourists to the flat grey river that is constantly flowing in front of him.
The “queue” to descend the steps at his side is a classic chinese free-for-all of pushing, pulsing bodies, all intent on getting down to his feet first. These narrow steps drop down past the imposing Buddha’s head to take in the broad shoulders, the strong chest and the giant hands resting on knees like mountains of stone. Small carvings, reliefs of long faded scenarios, decorate the cliff edge beside the path. They mostly escape the notice of the ever surging crowd. The funnel of bodies widens and releases at his feet where a small flagstoned courtyard and an incense burner look up at the giant towering above them. Each toe is the size of a sheep, each nail a pillow. His scale is fantastic when you consider the ancient hands that must have hewn him from the rock. It is a testament to the strength of religion and the power of belief.
From here it is a steep walk beside the river, via hundreds of stone steps to the Wuyou temple. Reached by a graceful covered bridge, this warm, pink-walled building perches atop a hill, far from the noise and bustle of the tourists below. The courtyard here is filled with flowers and potted plants. Their tropical aroma mingles with the heady scent of incense. The walls afford mighty views out over the river and the green forests below. The halls here are as full of elaborate statues as any other temple, the paintwork is as detailed and the devotion as evident. But the innate sense of peace is clearly what holds this special place together.
An old monk in a saffron robe shuffles contemplatively among the flowers. At the top of yet another flight of steps, a single monk sits peacefully by a golden statue of Buddha, calm and accepting. The gardens extend in lanes of trees and stone flags, where people – visitors and monks alike – wander in peace or sit in quiet contemplation. It is a place free from the worries of the world. It’s as if we left them all behind us before we started our ascent, amongst the noisy tourist stalls and drink sellers that provide such a contrast with this place of sanctuary.
Words and photographs copyright of Bonnie Radcliffe.