Literally carved from a mountain at the confluence of three rivers in south western China is the world’s tallest Buddha.
With a height of 71 metres (233 feet), the carving is of a seated Buddha which, apparently, was built in order to make shipping safer in the turbulent waters of the place where the three rivers meet.
The Leshan Buddha sits facing Mt Emei, which has great cultural importance as it was the place where Buddhism in China originated in the first century. The whole area is sub-tropical in nature and is surrounded by lush forests which contain tress that are, reputedly, over 1,000 years old.
Work on the Buddha first began in 731A.D. and was led by a monk who believed that the statue would have the power to control the nearby waters. The carving is so immense that work took 90 years to complete. The irony is that so much stone was dropped into the rivers the shape of the river bottoms were changed enough to actually calm the waters enough to make them safe for shipping.
Although the Buddha looks like a reasonably simple piece of sculpture, except for its size, the statue actually has a very sophisticated irrigation system built into it which siphons running water away preventing erosion.
The statue is situated about 120 kilometres from the Chinese city of Chengdu and is accessible by both bus and train. Not that domestic tourism is booming in China, the statue can get quite busy, depending on the season, and the best time to visit is during midweek or outside of Chinese holiday periods.
The closest town is Leshan, which used to be quite a small town but has expanded to include several high rise buildings which contain hotels and other services which support the local tourism industry. The town is also connected to Chengdu by a freeway. Despite its modern look, Leshan has a history ranging back over 3,000 years.
Apart from the giant Buddha, there are more carvings nearby, as well as pagodas and temples which date back to the 9th and 11th centuries.
Given its proximity to Mt Emei, which is one of China’s four sacred mountains, many people combine a visit to the two attractions. Mt Emei also has an association with the famous Shaolin Monks who are known to put on spectacular martial arts shows for visitors. You can hike up to the temples at Jinding peak, an arduous trip which takes about an hour, or make it easy and take the cable car to the top.