Friday, June 15, 2007

What the dwarves have wrought in stone...

Today we went south of Chengdu to Leshan to see two of the UNESCO cultural sites. They are two representations of Buddha, the Giant Buddha and the Sleeping Buddha. The latter is a natural phenomenon such that, when looking down the coast of one of three rivers that meets in Leshan, you see what appears to be a human body in repose. Obviously, this is the Buddha; who else would it be?

The other Buddha is simply phenomenal. It is the largest representation of Buddha in the world (and yes, we asked if it became so only because the Taliban destroyed those other Buddhas. Nope, this one was always bigger. Take that, Afghanistan!). It was built in the eighth century, and I mean all of the eighth century. It took 90 years to complete. It’s massive, at 71 meters tall and 27 meters high.

[Who was paying attention when Rui explained everything? Me, that’s who.]

We boarded a boat to go see it, as it sits at the intersection of three of the four great rivers after which Sichuan is named (“si” being four and “chuan” being rivers. This is one of the few things I could figure out without being told). I was under the impression that we would take the boat across the river, then walk to the Buddha. So I was shocked—there is no other word—when we came around a bend in the river and face-to-face with Siddhartha himself. He was truly awe-inspiring. I don’t know if he calms the intersection of the rivers, as he was created to do, but he had a calming effect on our boat.

There was also the opportunity to hike through the hills and stand at the foot of Buddha, but I don’t think anybody wanted to do it but me. There are 333 (I asked. Twice.) steps to the top of the Buddha. An auspicious number.

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