China Deep Dive: Leshan

Community Highlights Asia China Deep Dive: Leshan

Outside of Chengdu, Sichuan doesn’t have a great deal to offer casual tourists. The main reason many travelers come to Sichuan is to see the giant pandas but my research on that subject indicated that this was an overrated activity. There aren’t really any up close experiences aside from volunteering to clean the enclosures (yuck) and otherwise it’s largely like visiting a zoo with just one type of animal, at quite a high price point. My kids aren’t particularly fascinated by wildlife so it wasn’t a hard decision to skip the pandas. Sichuan also has some far flung nature preserves but these would have required hours of driving for uncertain benefits. That left the Leshan Giant Buddha, a Tang dynasty creation that is the largest stone Buddha in the world. It was too far for a taxi so we took a very convenient train that brought us to the city of Leshan in about an hour and a half. From the train station we had to split into two cabs that brought us to the entrance of the site.large_IMG_6537.JPG

The two ways to see the statue are from sightseeing boats or via the steep pathways that snake upward through the cliffs. By chance we ended up on the line for the boats which moved excruciatingly slowly but after about half an hour we were able to board. The Buddha was located close to the confluence of the muddy Jin River and the dark green Dadu River which traveled alongside each other for a distance without mixing, creating a sharp demarcation between colors.

Once we approached the main attraction everyone moved to the starboard side of the upper deck. The statue was impressive in size but somewhat cruder in design than I had expected. Most of the detail was in the head, hands, and feet while the rest of the body was only roughly distinguished from the stone cliff in the background. Even the more detailed features of the Buddha seemed to have been somewhat carelessly carved, whether by plan or due to lack of resources. Smaller statues were hewn from the cliff face on either side of the Buddha. People choked the platform below the statue's feet and made their way up a vertiginous zigzag staircase to his right. Once we had returned to shore it was not a difficult decision to forgo the land-based method of seeing the Buddha. Between the heat, the crowds, and the climb it would have been absolutely excruciating.

We had to take two taxis again to Su Ji, another touristy old town with two parts separated by the Emei River. It seemed to be a common permutation in China. We walked over a modern bridge to enter the town. Two covered arcades in Chinese traditional style extended along the length of the bridge on either side of a lane for two-wheeled vehicles. Bollards prevented the entrance of cars. It seemed that the arcades were used for markets but they were presently occupied only by pedestrians seeking relief from the sun and a couple of beverage vendors.

On the other side of the bridge there was a street lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and snack kiosks. The design and decor helped to create a general atmosphere of antiquity but there were no buildings that seemed to be more than a hundred years old at most. It was a nice place to get a bite to eat but it didn't compare very favorably to the multitude of old towns we had already seen on this trip and in the past,

At the end of this commercial street we came to a stone footbridge which was by far the oldest appearing structure we had encountered thus far in the town. We crossed the river into the other section of the town which had narrower streets and some buildings of a more convincing historic appearance. Of course all these buildings in the center had been converted into stores and restaurants as well with the obligatory posters and red lanterns. We knew there was nothing here we couldn't find in greater variety in Chengdu so we returned to the town entrance where we we were able to get a ride in one taxi back to the Leshan train station.

That evening we went to a night market called Jianshe. It didn't have all the bells and whistles of Jinli Ancient Street but in terms of food it had a lot more going on. There were so many food stalls that we had to pace ourselves to make sure we weren't stuffed before we had even covered a third of the market. They had all of our favorites including succulent crawfish. I finally got around to trying a snack I had seen several times before which consisted of pork intestine wrapped around a core of green onions. Once I tasted the savory combination of strong flavors I regretted not having tried it earlier. As darkness fell we encountered a cadre of men in giant green frog costumes. We had seen these folks in Xi'an as well but I have no idea what they were selling.

On our last day in Chengdu we had a late afternoon train to Chongqing which gave us some time to see a few things we had missed within the city boundaries. We took the metro back to Tianfu Square and emerged from the station to see the base of the enormous fountain we had admired a few days earlier. We walked a short distance to the Qing Shi Qiao fish market. Across the street from the market we passed a small restaurant that emitted a tantalizing smell. Inside was a bubbling steel cauldron filled with long ropes of pig tripe.

Qing Shi Qiao was a surprisingly large and variegated seafood market considering how distant Chengdu is from the Pacific coast. Shellfish were ubiquitous, especially the enormous and succulent oysters that are popular for grilling. There were also huge tubs of crawfish and tiny snails and a large variety of fresh fish.

The fish market operated in close proximity to a broader market with the usual slabs of beef and pork on hooks and rows of chicken carcasses. As always in Chengdu the local specialty of rabbit was prominently featured. On the upper floor of the main building there were specialty stores providing anything from condiments to European cheese.

We still had time to return to the Wenshu Temple which had been closed on my attempted visit the previous day. The souvenir stores and small restaurants across the street were doing a brisk business during the temple's open hours. The most appetizing was one place offering every conceivable variety of vegetable on skewers.

The temple occupied a sizable area with numerous buildings in a classical Chinese style. The original temple on this site was built in the sixth century but was destroyed in a war almost a thousand years later. The present structures were built beginning in the late seventeenth century. I hadn't done much research in advance of our visit so we mostly just wandered around appreciating the traditional Chinese architecture.

The main building of the temple had altars on the upper and lower levels with cushions provided to facilitate comfortable kneeling. The upper level had hundreds of small gold-colored Buddhas occupying grids of alcoves along the walls. It was quite an opulent display.

We returned to our hotel and collected our luggage from the front desk. Fortunately we had enough manpower to carry all our belongings for a few blocks to the metro station. The metro would bring us to the train station where we had just a ninety minute train ride to our next destination. I had a feeling Chongqing would be an impressive city, but I had no idea of how great it would actually be.

This featured blog entry was written by zzlangerhans from the blog Fledgling Explorers.
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By zzlangerhans

Posted Sun, Feb 18, 2024 | China | Comments