With its picturesque scenery, Jiuzhaigou is certainly a natural wonder of Sichuan. However, this mysterious land also boasts some overwhelming man-made beauties in which the human element has been skillfully integrated with nature.
From a gigantic Buddha statue carved out of a stone cliff to a golden temple at the summit of a sacred mountain, these masterpieces reflect the connection between nature and humans. Most of them are located around Mount Emei (峨眉山), 150 kilometers south of Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu.
Soaring 3099 meters above sea level, Mount Emei (or Emeishan) is the central piece of Emeishan National Park. The very first Buddhist temple in China was built near the summit of this mountain in the first century, marking Buddhism’s arrival in the Eastern world. Today, the mountain houses more than 30 temples and is considered one of China’s holiest sites.
Atop this sacred mountain is the epic statue of Samantabhadra or Puxian in Chinese. It is said that the Samantabhadra has meditated here. Hence he/she has become the protector of the area, as well as the patron Buddha of monasteries in the region. The towering statue reaches a height of 48 meters and is covered thinly with gold. With massive graven heads faces in ten directions, the statue represent Samantabhadra’s ‘Ten Truths of Universal Worthiness’.
Leshan Giant Buddha
Facing Mount Emei is the remarkable Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛). At 71 meters high (equal to a 23-story building), it’s the largest Buddha on the planet. The gigantic sculpture was carved out of a cliff face overlooking the confluence of three rivers. The construction began at the beginning of the 8th century and took 90 years to complete. Together with Mount Emei, Leshan Giant Buddha has been declared as a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1996.
Tips for visiting Sichuan
- Mount Emei and Leshan Giant Buddha are accessible by buses and bullet trains from Chengdu. It is possible to visit both sites as a day-tripper, but it could be exhausted, especially if you intend to hike Mount Emei.
- To Mount Emei: Take the Chengdu-Leshan-Emeishan Intercity High-Speed Train to Emeishan station. Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes. Then, change to bus 5A, 8, or tourism bus. The buses also stop at various stations on the mountain.
- To Leshan Giant Buddha: Take the same bullet train but to Leshan station. Duration: 1 hour 20 minutes. From there, take bus 3 or 601 to reach the site.
- The journey on foot to the Golden Summit takes more than two hours, up steep stairs and winding through the valleys. A more comfortable way is using the cable car. For me, it was the only option because the weather was so bad and hiking in the fog is not really wise. The fog, somehow, did add a mystical touch to the whole area.