18 April 2017

Leshan

A morning bus, so up fairly early into Ya’an, looking for breakfast. There was that small market street we had seen yesterday near the station, so we headed there. It was very much alive this morning, and you could hardly move between all the people and vendors. It is primarily a fresh produce market, with people selling their veggies, fish and gutting eels in front of you to guarantee freshness. Then there were the freshly plucked ducks and chickens, children shelling peas and the biggest zucchinis you have ever seen. There were plenty of people selling other things though, from shoes and clothing to doonas and crockery. Throw in some steel and plastic piping and that about sums it up. We got a couple of doughy products (steamed buns) to go with the last of our imitation laughing cow cheese and went back to get our bags.

Grabbing our bags we walked the couple of meters to the bus station. We were a good 40 minutes early, but with China, we have learnt that you can’t be certain how long things will take, although we were not really worried in this case.

The drive to Leshan only took 2 hours. OK, it is not that far, but we were impressed with the driver. He even went as fast as 100km/h! The road was pretty good, and it was toll way all the way, so we sped through tunnels (at the speed limit of 80) and through a variety of valleys, arriving in Leshan at around 11:50.

Disembarking, we found that security on this end is a bit lax, and the touts were all over us. There thankfully haven’t been that many touts in China, and we fear that as we go east there will be more and more of them. These guys were particularly annoying, screaming at each other and us. There is a good way to do it, an annoying way to do it, and a scary way to do it. This was at the far end of annoying. Pushing past them we reached glorious freedom, away from the jostling and screaming. As we were at the station we went and booked our ticket on to Dazu for tomorrow.

Going into the ticket hall, we were fairly sure it was possible, but wanted to check times. Apparently there was one bus a day at 1:30. Perfect. Sort of. A bit early, especially if it takes us a long time at the Buddha, but we booked it anyway. We are running a bit short of time now, and need to keep moving. This went off without a hitch (to the extent that Anna was worried that it was too easy, and checked the tickets later at the hotel, just in case we were going to be sent to some place closer that sounded similar to Dazu, but is in the opposite direction. It is the right place. We also found out that the trip would be around 6 hours, so the time is pretty good, as we don’t want a repeat of Chengdu!).

Then to find a hotel. The debate here was to either get a hotel close to the station and bus/taxi without the bags, or just go with the bags. We thought we may as well stay close to the bus station. Walking a couple of streets and being refused entry at each hotel we thought F@#K it, we will just take our bags to the Youth Hostel. At least we may get some information on the town and area. Then we had to work out how to get there. Finding a bus stop we were very pleasantly surprised when we fount that the bus stop not only has the numbers of the buses that stop there (so far this has been the rule and not the exception) as well as a map of town! Just not the attractions in town, but it was great none the less, as we had our map program with the hostel and could line it up with our bus!

There was a hitch though. Our hostel didn’t exist! There was a hotel nearby that was advertising 88 yuan rooms, so we thought we would try our luck. They would give us a room for 100. We pointed to the sign and with a bit of umming and ahhing, we got the room. Good shower, Nice bed, and it is called the Your Forever Home, or the Yijun Business Hotel. Highly recommended. The girl on the front desk is cheerful and helpful, with more English than most hostels so far. Although she was a bit surprised we were here. Let alone staying. Having said that, we are not sure how much anyone at hotels know about their towns, but she could tell us to take bus 13 to the tourist park, and how to catch the scenic ferry if we chose.

Now do we do the Buddha today with potentially only 5 hours to do it, or tomorrow, again with only about 5 hours?!? The ferry takes 30 minutes, and the Buddha faces south so that won’t make much of a difference, and we went off to do the park. (The bus was closer than walking to the ferry point!)

At the Scenic point (re: tourist attraction) we got two full tickets for 90 yuan each, and headed in. The stone is a little bit similar to the stone at Petra and is easy to carve. Up passed the first temple, and onto the Giant Buddha to start. There were some grottos along the way. Most had been weathered away to mere outlines, and others had been destroyed by humans, but they are still interesting to see, just not the main attraction. The one point to make here is that nobody seems to follow the rules in China. There are big signs at the entrance to say no microphones. To us, that meant no microphones or other devices to project your voice and shatter the peace and tranquillity of this sacred area. To the Chinese that just meant no megaphones, and those loudspeakers that you use with microphone and speakers is ok. The noise was annoying.

There were a lot of monks here as well, this is not that surprising, as it is a holy place for them, but we were surprised when we caught one trying to take sneaky pictures of Andrew’s hair. Anna pulled him up and asked for a photo in return, and the Monk ended up getting a selfi with Andrew! The other monks thought it was funny, and took the opportunity to take a lot more pics.

At the top of the steps (there are always steps) we came to the place where you queue up to go down the side of the Buddha. The noise was deafening. There were people everywhere, and the queue to go down was HUGE! It was wall to wall people with those annoying line dividers all over the place. While there were not full, it would take at least two hours before we could even start the descent. Maybe we would try again after seeing the rest of the park. As we went up to the next observation point, we realised how few tourists were actually here, as the dividers kept going, and there was another massive snaking line of them up here as well. Thank god it is not high tourist season!

Leaving the Giant Buddha for now, we made our way through the complex. Every 100 meters there were food stalls, trinket shops and the like, nestled in amongst the gardens and paths on the hills. Upon reaching the next section of the park, we were (well we shouldn’t have been, it is China after all) surprised to find that we would need to pay an extra 80 yuan to go into this section. It is the Oriental Buddha park, and apparently has caves and all of the statues and anything else of interest that they have hacked out of the mountain to store in one place to charge extra money for. Needless to say, we skipped it. Probably shouldn’t have, but it is the principle of the matter. What museum charges you admission and then charges you per gallery to visit? (I know, but it is a pet gripe at the moment). Still, we could see the tombs that have been carved out of the mountain, even if we couldn’t see much of what was in them. Even then, it was annoying to find that you couldn’t go into the tombs, even if nothing was left in them. I suppose that the delicate structure of the rock wouldn’t be able to sustain mass tourism, and any fine details would be worn smooth from everyone touching them if they were able to, so it was reasonable, until we came to the last one that stored all the sarcophagi from the other tombs?!? Then through a (rebuilt/new?) ancient fishermen’s town, now another series of trinket shops and cafes, over a bridge (yes, a nice bridge) and up to Wuyou Monestary. Not many people made it this far. In truth, not many people made it past the Giant Buddha walk, and if they did, it was to upload their photos to their social media pages and sms their friends to say they were here. This made it nice and relaxing. Going up the hill you could hear and see the cicadas in the trees, and at the monastery we had it basically to ourselves. The temple was nice, but the outstanding feature was the line up of figurines in another building next door. I know we were not supposed to take photos, but we did sneak one or two at the far end. It was impossible to tell how old these guys were (Yes, they were all guys, which sparked a debate on whether women could reach nivana or not.

I am in support of them being able to, as the boobs on some of these Buddhas means they must be female, even if the religion doesn’t admit to it) They could have been a couple of years old, with building dust all over them, or they could have been a couple of hundred. It was great walking around, seeing all the individual expressions, postures, dress styles and accompaniments. Some had snakes coming out their heads, another couple of guys were obviously in love and one was falling over drunk. The whole spectrum was covered. Making our way out we were given 2 sheets of calligraphy each by the monk that was looking after the place (making us feel a little guilty for sneaking the photos). Now we just have to get them translated!

Back at the Giant Buddha, the crowds had completely disappeared, and we were able to start our descent without delay. It was almost peacefully quiet as well (just ignore that kid in front of us). On the way down the Chinese couple behind us asked where we were from. This struck up a conversation, and we found out they had been on the bus from Ya’an with us! They were students at the Sichuan University of Chengdu, and had a couple of days off, so were doing the same circuit as us. We had a great time talking to them working our way down the mountain side, looking at the grottos carved into the wall and watching different aspects of the Buddha reveal themselves.

At the bottom, we could see it in all its glory from the tinnea in its feet (the stone flaking away) to the plastic surgery it had done on its legs (reconstructed stone work), the manicured nails on its hands and the amount of make up it had on its face. Still, it looked beautiful for its age! We spent a long time down there talking and admiring the view. One thing was confirmed for us down here in conversation with the Chinese couple, as we were wondering if people were actually interested in coming here, or if it was expected. With the new levels of wealth coming to people in China, it is something to show it off. The smart phone, holidays and like. They are to show off the wealth, so it is not that people really want to come here, it is that they need to come here, take the selfie,and show it off to their friends via social media. We seem to share this opinion with someone else!! They do hope that over time, this attitude will change, and tourism will calm down and again be for those that are interested, but he thought it could be 10 years away or more. He also is not happy about it, and think that there needs to be education on how to be a tourist! I couldn’t disagree.

The other thing we learnt was that behind the head of the Giant Buddha used to be a treasure trove of jewellery and other artefacts. As recently as 20 years ago they were all still there until it suddenly went missing. I had hoped to a museum, but apparently this is not the case.
Humans can change, but people will always take advantage, the same as later in the day when all the monks were doing evening prayers there was a well dressed man going around with two garbage bags taking the better offerings from all the shrines. He wasn’t a monk, and didn’t seem to be affiliated with the park. We assume that the offerings would be distributed to the needy, and also assume that the monks would organise this. We can only hope that he was a part of the process rather than the alternative.

The climb back up the other side did not seem to be the 71m vertical challenge we thought it could be. Bidding our friendly couple goodbye, we headed up to one of the higher pavilions. An old academic used to reside up here, doing his poetry, meditations and such. A perfect place to do this, and there are worse ways to spend your time.

Then back through the last temple, with some of the most glinted guardians we have seen and back out the park. Well worth the visit, and if you have time to explore it, do so.

Past the touts at the exit and bussing back to town. Time for dinner, so we walked along the river on the town side. The first place we chose was interesting. They had two menus. The Chinese one seemed reasonable, and the English one had nothing below 50 yuan. Using the translator, we ordered a couple of dishes of the Chinese menu to find out they didn’t have any of them, and had others pushed on us, so we left. I don’t think she was worried. We hadn’t ordered 150 yuan worth of food, so she didn’t care. The second place was fantastic. Good food, somewhat spicy but not over the top, and it was mostly easy to sort the intestines out of the meat. Then a stroll further along the river to watch the evening dancing and get a glimpse of the Buddha’s head lit up at night before trying to make our way back to the hotel. This took a couple of false turns and different streets, although we had a good time watching the bustling evening atmosphere of Leshan at night. It is understandable here why things are open so late, the temperature is perfect. It is just right walking around at 9pm. So why wouldn’t the shops be open to get that last deal as the dancers head home after their workout and see that perfect dress, or a quick bite to eat?

 

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