It was time to leave the hustle and bustle of the city in search of spiritual enlightenment of the Buddhist variety and the first stop on our mini pilgrimage was a small town called Leshan.
The bus took us from Chengdu straight to Leshan with a quick stop for lunch on the way. I was steering well clear of any spicy food as the Hotpot from the previous night had turned my insides into a washing machine full of hot lava! So after a quick feed and a short extra drive we arrived at the home of the World Heritage protected Giant Buddha. Construction of this behemoth was started in AD 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels travelling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. Construction was completed by his disciples ninety years later. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.
We met up with another local guide but this time we hired a Mandarin speaker as she was half the price of the English speaker so with her talking in Mandarin and Lillian our guide translating in English we were told the dimensions of the deity before seeing it. The entire Buddha is 71m tall. The fingers are 3m long, The ears are 7m long, the toes are a massive 8.5m long and the distance from shoulder to shoulder is a huge 28m. Finally Buddha's hair has and amazing 1021 carved hair buns in it. So with these details in mind we climbed up to see for ourselves. It was whilst we were stopped half way up the climb looking at one of the many eroded Buddha up along the path that our presence started to draw the usual stares whispering and pointing. Most of the time it is at either my piercing or at Katie's belly. This time it went further as Katie was suddenly flanked by 3 Chinese girls and before we knew what was happening she was snapped in a photo. Very strange!
Before getting to the Buddha we spent a bit of time looking around the temple and listening to the monks chanting and going about their business. There were many Chinese visitors here as well with a lot of them stopping in the temple to say a couple of little prayers and make wishes. The sounds of the monks chanting and the wafts of the burning incense was very relaxing and if I wasn't married to Katie, expecting a baby soon, wasn't such a non believer and didn't have such an attachment to worldy goods then I could consider joining up!
When we finally arrived at the top of the Buddha even knowing the dimensions in advance didn't prepare us for how big this thing actually is. Its size cant really be appreciated until you look far below you at all the people looking up from below its enormous toenails and they look like tiny little ants. After a twice translated question and answer from us to Lillian, Lillian to the guide, the guide to Lillian and the Lillian to us we were set free to explore the lower areas of the statue. We took the steep and crowded steps down to Buddha's toes. There were of course many people burning incense and making wishes but the phenomenon of stroking the Buddha's toe for good luck has been brought to an end since it became a World Heritage Site. After a quick look around it was back up the other staircase passing the wheezing 90 year old Chinese smoking ladies who had made the trip down and were struggling to get back up and back to the bus to be taken to our Monastery accommodation at the base of Mt Emei.