Chengdu had little appeal for me, it was cold, grey and drizzly and the constant sound of horns honking was driving me crazy. I had been dropped off at a motorway petrol station (on the wrong side) by the bus from Xi’an, a good distance from the city center and it was 01:30 in the morning. With no map of this area it took me some time to reach a point where I could use the digital maps I had downloaded. It seems the word ‘easy’ doesn’t apply to me.
I finally booked into the Hello Hostel at a little after 07:00 a.m. and promptly crashed out, food or a shower could wait. When I finally decided to join the world I made my way to the canteen and sorted out priority number two, food, closely followed by priority number three. The WIFI in the hostel was virtually useless, so it wasn’t long before I went to explore my immediate surroundings and search for a supermarket. I didn’t stay out long, the drizzle combined with the chilling wind soon had me retreating back to the hostel, where there was no heating and so my bed was the only warm place I could find.
If Chengdu has one redeeming feature, then it has to be the Panda Breeding & Research Center. Too much of a tourist trap for me, they offer baby panda holding or volunteer days (where you can hold and feed them) if you have the spare cash. Signs (in both Chinese and English) asking visitors to be quiet so as not to disturb the pandas were totally ignored by the hordes of (mostly) locals who would call out to try and attract them, before fighting each other for space to take photographs – it was not pretty but then I chose a pretty stupid time of year to go (weekend and the holidays!).
I put Leshan on my itinery due to having to renew my Chinese Visa for a further 30 days, to enable me to try and find some sunshine (and warmth) in China’s south. More than any other part of my trip through China, this is what I’d been looking forward to as I head towards the Yangtze river and Tiger Leaping Gorge. Getting the extension proved pretty straightforward and I’ve added the details to the bottom of my ‘The Visa Jungle’ page for the benefit of other travelers.
It really is quite uninviting here at the moment, as the sun is on holiday. The cold winter mist (and no doubt smog) has enveloped Leshan making everything seem grey and unattractive. It’s hard work trying to stay warm and apart from Dafo (the giant Buddha) and the surrounding temples, I struggled to actually see anything.
Even with the grey skies, the cycle along the riverside to see Dafo was quite pleasant as I passed underneath a very impressive archway and into the park area, which is kept nice and tidy considering the volume of tourists it gets. Stopping to photograph a fountain I looked out onto the river and the visibility was appalling. I hoped it would clear a little before I reached my destination, otherwise I would have to re-consider actually paying my entrance fee!
Of course I did stump up my 90 Yuan and duly entered the grounds clutching my ticket and camera bag, after securely fastening my bike to a large tree across from the ticket office. No sooner had I gone through the turnstile than I began to start taking photographs, as first up was the White Tiger and Dragon Pool. It was said that the white tiger and black dragon, inspired by Buddhist sculptures, changed themselves into a stone dragon and a jade tiger to guard Buddhism. In Buddhist scriptures, the dragon and the tiger are regarded as guardian angels.
According to the Record of the Buddha, during the period of the Five Dynasties, there was a fat monk named QlCl who used to carry a sock with him and tell fortunes. At the time he was going to die, he murmured in gatha again and again “Maitreya is really great, he has a million images.” This fat monk was later regarded as the figure of Maitreya. The statue was set up in the Ming Dynasty, and is also known as ‘Big Belly Arhat’.
In one of the temples were huge golden figures which many tourists stopped in front of and gave prayer. I was a little uncertain whether I should photograph them, but decided to do so when no-one was around. These statues made more of an impression on me than the main event I had come to see.
There is so much to see here and it’s certainly worth the entrance fee. I didn’t get all the way around the park because I hadn’t realised it was so huge and I had to reluctantly cut my visit short to collect my visa. So after capturing a few more images on the way, I headed for the giant Buddha.
I was truly awestruck and it felt so good to be back doing what I enjoy, photographing history like this. When I’d set off to come here in the cold and grey smog, I never imagined I would see such sights. I hadn’t even reached the parks ‘Pièce de résistance,’ which really was truly magnificent.
Note the people hanging over the railings on the top right of the picture, which gives you an idea of the scale. I know many of you like a little background, so this is what I dug up. Begun in the year 713 in the Tang Dynasty, and finished in the year 803, it is 71 meters high, and has 8.3 meter-long fingers. The 9 meter-wide instep is big enough for one hundred people to sit on. It was a monk called Hai Tong who initiated the project. His concern was for the safety of the long-suffering people who earned their living around the confluence of the three rivers. Tempestuous waters ensured that boat accidents were numerous and the simple people put the disaster down to the presence of a water spirit. So Hai Tong decided to carve a statue beside the river thinking that the Buddha would bring the water spirit under control. After 20 years’ begging alms, he finally accumulated enough money for the plan. When some local government officials had designs on tempting this amount of money, Hai Tong said that they could get his eyeball but not the money raised for the Buddha. After Hai Tong dug out his eyeball, these officials ran away scared. The project was half done when Hai Tong passed away, and two of his disciples continued the work. After a total of 90 years, the project was finally completed.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs and looked up, it was difficult to photograph the whole of the statue as the sky bleached out the top. Here is my best effort.
I just had time for one more look across the river before making my way back to base and collecting my visa extension. It had been a great afternoon out, the crowds had been (relatively) small and I had thoroughly enjoyed playing at being a tourist myself.
My next destination was planned to be Emei Shan and trekking up the mountain, but speaking to an Australian couple in the park who visited it a couple of days ago, they said it was great hiking but all in mist and they didn’t see much at all, except close up. I’ll be passing through the lower slopes, so we’ll see. Most likely I’ll continue on and make my way to Lijiang. More soon…