We arrived at our hostel in Chengdu around 9:30 am. Not wanting to lose a day I signed us up to make the two hour trip to Leshan to visit the world’s largest Buddha. Our new friends Chris and Helia joined us as did a British couple, Noah and Elaine, who are on a 9-month RTW journey of their own. There was also another guy from LA (there’s always a guy from LA), but since I was three rows back in the bowels of the van, I never got his name. After a 2 1/2-hour jaunt through southern Sichuan, we arrived at the Big Buddha’s park, which is actually an extensive complex of temples, gardens, museums, and even a small fishing village. We weren’t sure which ticket we should buy, a complete or partial or something involving a boat ride, since the English explanations provided for each only served to confuse rather than clarify. We visited the information booth, which the signs promised would have English speaking guides, but when I asked the only question I know in Mandarin, “Do you speak English?” all I got was shoulder shrugs. No matter. We bought the cheaper tickets and walked the promenade along the river until we reached the park gates.
The site is popular with Chinese tourists, but thankfully their numbers were low on this particular October day. Taking time for the now obligatory Asher photo shoots, we gradually worked our way through the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon pool and fountain toward the Buddha. At 233 feet high, he’s one big boy. You reach him at ear level and peer over the fence toward his feet which touch the riverbed below. Though he may be sacred to some, the majority of Chinese pay their respects by pointing their fingers in the air so it looks like they are poking his ear or picking his nose while their friends snap pictures. We opted to defer our descent to his toes and spent an hour or so meandering the grounds.
Playing the “we’re foreigners, we don’t know what we’re doing” card, we finally went down the up staircase (much like going in the out door) and arrived at the Buddha’s feet. Wow! What an amazing view. The pyramid photo we snapped conveys the scale well. Even Tom is only as tall as a toe. By the end of the day even Kieran who had spent much of the time asking, “But what’s a Buddha?” had a perfunctory knowledge of Buddhism and an appreciation of the years and dedication required to carve this gentle giant.