Taking a bus from Leshan was easy enough, and when I arrive at the station in Jiajiang, I approach a female pedicab driver and show the picture of my destination in Chinese characters. She smiles, we negotiate a price with a lot of laughter, and set off. She steers the pedicab through the Jiajiang traffic, and I am surprised that sometimes, the pedicab moves without her cycling: is this a semi-automatic bike? It certainly does not look new. Anyway, she drops me off at the entrance of a small traditional street on the outskirts of town, and I walk alongside the Qingyi river until I reach a small booth where I pay my 5 yuan ticket. After visiting the Giant Buddha in Leshan, with its endless crowds and hefty entrance fee, I already love this quiet setting where I share the paths with a handful of Chinese visitors.
At a big wooden sign, I decide to first walk the stairs, pass several attractive gates, and reach the top of the hill, after which I walk down again. I find boulders with Chinese characters hewn in red, but not a single Buddha to be seen. Still, this is the Thousand Buddha cliff, and according the reports I read, should have even many more than a thousand images of the Buddha. When I reach the river, I walk the new boardwalk, see a few carved Buddhas, and know I am getting close. Then, suddenly, where the boardwalk has become a stone path under which I hear water rush, I look up and see tens of niches hewn out in the cliff. I step back, and see statues of Buddhas sculpted out of the rock surface. On a big boulder above the river, I see more niches and more Buddhas. I climb the fence for a better view before I walk up the stairs to a small platform.
This platform is perfect: it offers the opportunity to see many of the niches close by, and really see inside at the same level. It is only now that the magnitude of these works dawns on me. 162 niches with 2470 Buddha statues, according to the figures. But seeing the sculpted statues, the Buddhist scenes, the seated and standing Buddhas, the added details, and in many cases, remnants of paint suggesting that all these almost 2000 year old statues were once covered in colours, makes me look from left to right, from top to bottom, and back, again and again, always discovering new details. I walk up the stairs, find a separate, small group of Buddha statues covered in moss, and walk back again. I sit at the platform, enjoy the cliff and its niches, enjoy the silence, the thumbs-up of passers-by. What a remarkable place!
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