Meet Dafo. He’s just a regular, ordinary, guy. Don’t tell anyone, but I think he’s just a little bit tall. And by tall, I mean he’s kind of a giant. After all, he’s only 71 meters or 233 feet tall!
Dafo is the claim to fame of Leshan, a smallish city a couple of hours south of Chengdu. He also happens to be the largest Buddha image in the world! Carved into the side of a riverside cliff, Dafo sits in a chair with his hands on his knees. And he is quite large…even his fingernails are taller than you or I!
Construction began in the 6th Century in an attempt to calm the river, which had taken the lives of many soldiers. By the time the statue was finished 90 years later, enough rock had been dumped into the river that the desired effect had been achieved! Today, Dafo, or the Grand Buddha is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (technically part of the same site as Emei Shan), the fourth of my trip after Emei Shan, and Laos’ Luang Prabang and Wat Phu.
An intricate network of tunnels and stars through the surrounding cliffs lead visitors very close to this mammoth statue. One can climb all the way from his feet to his head, though considering how much my legs were still killing me from yesterday, I had absolutely no desire to take on any more stairs (or pay another exorbitant entrance fee for that matter)!
Instead, I opted for a sightseeing boat, which sailed out to the behemoth, also revealing a couple of smaller carved statues on either side of Dafo. (Incidentally, I didn’t make up that name…it’s what the Chinese call him.)
Most foreign tourists come here as a short day trip and, as such, this is surprisingly the least touristy Chinese city I’ve been to! I have not encountered a single other foreign tourist anywhere in Leshan and as such, there is practically zero infrastructure here for Westerners (i.e. nobody speaks any English). It’s kind of fantastic actually and I’ve found Leshan to have quite a bit of character!
Tomorrow I set off on a whole new journey as I head west toward Tibet on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, before heading south to Yunnan province. It will be several long days on buses through the mountains (and I mean high mountains, like exceeding 5,000 meters or 16,400 feet), with stops in Tibetan villages along the way. I’m hoping it will be a rather epic escape from China’s tourist trail!