Let’s start out our visit to Chinese World Heritage Sites with one that’s not as widely known as it deserves, near the city of Chongqing that we went through over Christmas:
The steep hillsides in the Dazu area near Chongqing, contain an exceptional series of five clusters of rock carvings dating from the 9th to 13th centuries. The largest cluster at Beishan contains two groups along a cliff face 7-10m high stretching for around 300m. There are more than 10,000 carvings dating from the late 9th to the mid-12th century which depict themes of Tantric Buddhism and Taoism.
Inscriptions give insight to the history, religious beliefs, dating and the identification of historical figures. The late 11thcentury Song dynasty carvings at Shizhuanshan extend over 130m and depict Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian images in a rare tripartite arrangement. The Song dynasty carvings at Shimenshan dating from the first half of the 12th century extend along 72m and integrate Buddhist and Taoist subjects. At Nanshan the Song dynasty carvings of the 12th century extend over a length of 86m and depict mostly Taoist subjects.
The culmination in terms of expression of Tantric Buddhism is found in the U shaped gorge at Baodingshan which contains two groups of carvings dating from the late 12th to the mid-13th century near the Holy Longevity Monastery. The very large group to the west stretches for about 500 metres and comprises 31 groups of carved figures depicting themes from Tantric Buddhism as well scenes of herdsmen and ordinary life…
Really, we need a better word than “exceptional” for these cliffs. Check them out, with person at bottom for scale:
and yep, there’s like half a kilometer of these, on both sides of the ravine, and this is just one of the reputed forty places around —
— we went to the main two and called it a day, but there’s enough around for several days if you’re so inclined —
— although only the biggest has preservation and restoration work done to a high standard:
Here’s another shot a little further along:
The pièce de résistance of the restoration work here, though, is the Thousand Hand Guanyin statue:
which reputedly has 1,007 limbs. We didn’t count them, but yep, it has plenty.
Moving along, we were particularly struck by the statues of these sages,
The relief of them standing out in front of this array of cells is striking even by the local standards which are very striking indeed —
— although we’ll admit to a soft spot for these guys, we’re not completely sure where they fit into the cosmology but they look like trolls. Chinese trolls are pretty hardcore trolls, apparently.
And here’s one more to show that these aren’t just large scale statues, the carving in the caves and niches goes right down to nearly miniature levels of intricacy:
So if you’re around Chongqing, definitely try and make some time for a day trip; or if you’re travelling between Chengdu and Chongqing, Dazu makes an excellent place to interrupt your bus journey and take a stroll through the carvings — check out the video above, like, and subscribe!