The Leshan Dafo (Big Buddha) was carved out of the red sandstone cliff-face in the Tang Dynasty at the behest of a very devout monk, Haithong. He hoped that Buddha's presence would tame the turbulent waters of the river here and so prevent further suffering of the people as drownings were common.
It is said that Haithong gouged out his own eyes as a means to demonstrate his own commitment to the project and therefore to raise the funds required. The project was not completed in Haithong's lifetime but work recommenced in his memory and the project was completed in 813 CE.
It is believed that the vast quantity of stone cut away from the cliffs and deposited in the river did indeed modify the dangerous currents.
At 71 metres (over 200 feet) high the Leshan Dafo is a mighty construction. Since the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001, it is rated the tallest in situ statue in the world - beaten in height only by constructions of the last hundred years.
The Big Buddha at Leshan is an awesome sight from any angle. Visitors are lucky in that the site is well developed and they will find themselves able to enjoy views from many angles - from above and below, and from the river.
It is normal to enter through the north gate and proceed to the south gate although your itinerary will depend upon your transport arrangements.
The site contains a number of temples that are well worth a look. These should be visited before descending to the base of the Leshan Dafo statue as the path then leads away.
The Leshan Dafo statue is, of course, the main attraction and since a proper look means descending stairs cut into the cliff, and then climbing back up the other side, this is the most time-consuming section. At peak times you may well queue for hours. The wait is worth it as the whole experience is unique.
The attached Buddhism Theme Park is far from essential and most visitors do choose to walk on by. A separate entrance fee applies and this may influence that decision. Time is another factor. It takes another good hour to visit the recreated statues in this area.
The monastery near the south gate is highly recommended. It is approached over a lovely bridge and then a series of steps. Few bother and the site retains a peacefulness not found in the main area. There is an Arhat Hall in the form of a Swastika for those who have not seen one of these before.
The boat excursion is an absolute must - except if visibility is poor. Generally any mist clears by about 11:00, so plan your day accordingly.
Boats leave when full not to any schedule. This is fine if you are with a group. Else you may wait some time.
The boat will head downstream and then turn against the current so as to be able to hold position whilst photos are taken. Many visitors rush to the left side to take photos on this first pass but the boat will be travelling far too fast. Take advantage of their move and get a good position on the right. After the turn you will be in prime position. (Well not quite - the boat will stop just short and you have to pay extra to have a photo taken in the bow area). Usually the position is good enough, and the boat has to head upstream at some point.
The following Extension visits Leshan Dafo: