Big Buddha Big Buddha Big Buddha

By Stephen Ewashkiw | November 6, 2013

7,347 km so far.

Yup. Today is the day we planned to see Big Buddha.

But first, we had to get there.

I awoke early to the sound of monks meditating in the temple below our room. Buddhist monks do not meditate silently, but amidst the beating of drums, hammering of bowls, and clanging of cymbals. And they don’t tend to meditate alone – at least not at morning mediation, which is a group affair, with the meditation sung in unison.

It was a beautiful way to wake up, and if you get the chance to sleep in a temple, take it.

Jane’s note: I woke to the sound of our fellow temple guests shouting and laughing and being generally raucous. It was 6:30am, and the monks were meditating, but that seemed to have no appreciable silencing effect upon the ladies.

As I stepped outside our room, the sun was just beginning to rise and the mist hung over the rooftops of the many temples within Baoguo. I sat outside doing my own meditation, while the sounds of the monks’ chanting enveloped me. It was a wonderful start to what would be an eventful day.

Dude, Where’s Your Car?

Not 10 km into our ride, a car was stopped in the midst of the bike lane. This is not an uncommon occurrence in China, so I proceeded with caution, but wasn’t surprised. Then, the car pulled to the left, so I went right. At that moment the car changed course, turned right and drove right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and stopped within a centimetre of the passenger door.

Jane wasn’t so lucky. She slammed into me, slamming me into the side of the car. Shit.

I pounded on the car window, they casually rolled it down, I yelled at them, they didn’t really react at all, and then drove off slowly.

In the aftermath, we realised one of our panniers had broken apart from the impact. We did a bit of Macgyvering to keep it on my bike, checked we were both OK, and kept going. It could have been worse.

Another 15 km down the road, now on the outskirts of Leshan, a scooter driver in front of me looked over her shoulder, made eye contact with me, and stopped. As I approached, going pretty fast, she inexplicably chose that moment to begin to turn left, as if she was going to cross the road, and then stopped again. Jane and I split, Jane going left, I went right, and we barely made it past her without another accident. Crisis averted.

Literally three seconds later, the passenger of a taxi sitting at a stoplight, flung his door open right smack into Jane, sending her smashing into the sidewalk. The passenger said, “Sorry” and went on with his day.

Jane’s note: I was pretty badly shaken by this incident, even though I was lucky enough to be knocked onto the sidewalk, not into traffic. The guy opened his door with such force that I have bruises on my left leg where the door hit me, but no bruises on my right side, the side I fell on. Jerk.

After the incident, I picked myself up, moved my bike to the sidewalk, and promptly burst into tears. Double jerk.

There were other close calls, bad drivers, and near misses today. And our ride was only 40 km. We have come to realise that drivers in the south of China are much worse than the north. Or else Buddha is challenging us. Maybe both.

Like Buddha

Finally, we made it the 38 km to Leshan, with only a few bumps, bruises, and bits of broken gear. Leshan is home to the Giant Buddha, aka Dafo, which is the only reason any tourists come here.

After a little bit of riding aimlessly, as OpenStreetMaps for China are not very complete, we found a hotel recommended by Rough Guides. Xingfa is actually fantastic. Helpfully the two staff on the front desk speak some English, the rate is quite reasonable, the room has its own WiFi router plugged directly into ethernet, and it is spotless. Hallelujah!

With instructions from the staff, we went to the city bus stop catch a bus to Buddha. The bus was old, small, and packed to the gills. Two elderly passengers were seated on the transmission box next to the driver, and I was stood on the stairs at the front door. But, it was inexpensive and efficient, getting us to Buddha in no time.

incense burning in chinese temple

Incense in a temple near the Leshan Giant Buddha.

The Buddha was busy, and pricey, but these are things we have come to expect from any tourist attraction here. Plus, they were set up for massive queues just to enter the site, and we walked right in, so we are very happy to not be here in high season.

One man conceived of this sculpture and 1300 years ago began to carve away the cliff face. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.

The Giant Buddha is huge!

To get there, you climb up a stone staircase, winding your way up the cliff, passing Chinese calligraphy carved into the wall along the way.

All of a sudden, Buddha’s hair appears, and then his eyes, and then there you are, looking down at his impressive 71 metre tall figure.

Buddha obscured in a haze of tourists in Leshan.

Buddha obscured in a haze of tourists in Leshan.

From here you can see the staircase leading to his feet, and it is filled with a stream of people who, by comparison and in number, look just like a trail of ants.

big buddha at leshan china

Buddha. Note the tiny people behind him.

From the bottom, Buddha is even more impressive. Gazing up at him, imagining the vision and dedication it took to create this statue more than a millennia ago, is staggering.

big buddha leshan china

When you’re this big, they call you Mister Giant Buddha.

We topped off a rough day with a delicious vegan dinner at Xing Yun, the one Buddhist restaurant we knew of in town (thanks to the handy Happy Cow app). It was a large space, a bit of a walk from the centre of town, and we were the only guests. They could easily seat 100. We hope they have a regular weekend crown of families, and that their summer rush is busy, as the food was delicious.

Despite our tests today, we made it through, have a few more stories to share, and have a comfortable room to call home for the night. Hopefully tomorrow will be less dramatic.  

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