Sunday, June 21, 2009

Visiting Sichuan: Leshan & Jiajiang

I've long wanted to visit Sichuan, if for no other reason than because I have a number of friends from the area, and they kept talking it up! I ended up making a very quick trip out, and while I wasn't entirely impressed I'll start out on a high note by talking about some carved Buddhas.

OK that maybe sound horribly boring, especially if you happen to not be me, but the Leshan seated Buddha gets a special pass for being two hundred fifty feet high - the largest Buddha in the world, ever since the Taliban blew up the standing Buddhas carved out of a cliff-side, not so long ago. It really is an impressive sight, especially as one can walk right up to and alongside the Buddha, which also happens to show the sense of scale. Those people on the far side look tiny!

One doesn't just walk around up top, there's also a thin path down, right alongside the Buddha. When I went it was pleasant except for a heavy fog (which is on par for Sichuan), but I've heard it can get horrifically crowded, and there were even Disneyland-style barriers set up, so the lines would have to snake left and right. I could just skip right past them. Anyway it's interesting to go down the cliff, there's all sorts of different views. The Buddha faces a river, and it's also possible to get a view from a boat or a nearby sand bar.

Leshan is a couple hours away from Chengdu, and it's a no-horse town where I get the idea you just have a look at the Buddha and then go on somewhere else. Jiajiang is much the same, only worse. Jiajiang's one claim to fame, for a tourist anyway, is the Thousand Buddha cliffs. That said, all the Buddhas are pretty impressive. Therels really hundreds, or perhaps even a literal thousand Buddas tucked away:

The site was probably a lot more impressive forty or fifty years ago, before the Cultural Revolution came to town. About half the Buddhas had their head knocked of, and I wouldn't be surprised if their were other Buddhas that were destroyed altogether:

Additionally, these Buddhas were really all there were to the area. OK, I don't want to complain too much. If the site was located in Shanghai, it would be a must-visit. On the other hand, Jiajiang itself is out of the way, and then from Jiajiang Bus Station it was a weird local bus ride, where after driving a few blocks, everybody got out of the bus and walked a couple blocks over and changed buses. I'd recommend a taxi, on the other hand it's probably impossible to catch a taxi from the cliffs, so it's best to hire one - no idea how much that should cost. Additionally, although Jiajiang tries to play up the whole cliffs area as a sprawling tourist area, really the cliffs is it. I have nothing more to say so I'll end this with a picture of a flower my sister took:

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