Grand Buddha

Buddhist Statue in Le Shan

Image by Suchet Suwanmongkol 500px Images

Lè Shān’s serene, 1200-year-old Grand Buddha sits in repose, carved from a cliff face overlooking the confluence of three busy rivers: the Dàdù, Mín and Qīngyì. The Buddhist monk Haitong conceived the project in AD 713, hoping that Buddha would protect the boats and calm the lethal currents.

It was 90 years after Haitong's death that the project was completed, but afterwards the river waters obeyed. Believers credited Buddha’s grace; others pointed to the construction process, in which piles of surplus rocks reshaped the rivers and changed the currents.

At 71m tall, he is indeed grand. His shoulders span 28m, and each of his big toes is 8.5m long. His ears are 7m. Their length symbolises wisdom and the conscious abandonment of materialism. It is said that heavy gold baubles left Siddartha's earlobes elongated even after he was no longer weighed down by material things. Inside the body, hidden from view, is a water-drainage system to prevent weathering, although he is showing his age and soil erosion is an ongoing problem.

To fully appreciate this Buddha’s magnitude, get an up-close look at his head, then descend the steep, winding stairway for the lilliputian view. Avoid visiting on weekends and holidays, when traffic on the staircase can come to a complete standstill and queues can top two hours or more.

Afterwards, head up the path to Sū's Garden (苏园, Sū Yuán) just above the entry and exit area to the Buddha, a manicured garden around a cliffside teahouse (from ¥20) that's lovely when not hosting lunchtime tour groups.

Admission also includes access to a number of caves and temples on the grounds, though they are a decent hike from the main attraction. Máhàoyá Tombs Museum has a modest collection of tombs and burial artefacts dating from the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25–220). Wūyóu Temple, like the Buddha, dates from the Tang dynasty, and has Ming and Qing renovations. This monastery contains calligraphy and artefacts, with the highlights in the Luóhàn Hall – 1000 terracotta arhat (Buddhist celestial beings, similar to angels) displaying an incredible variety of postures and facial expressions – no two are alike. Also inside is a fantastic statue of Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), the Goddess of Mercy.

A separate park (not included in the Grand Buddha admission), the Oriental Buddha Capital, houses a collection of 3000 Buddha statues and figurines from across Asia, including a 170m-long reclining Buddha, one of the world’s longest. There is an entrance near the Grand Buddha's south gate; otherwise exit and take bus 3 or 13 (¥1) to the Oriental Buddha Capital (东方佛都; Dōngfāng Fódū) stop. The entrance is further than it looks on the park maps.