A few hundred kilometres away from the furnace of China that is Chongqing lays some of the most impressive rock carvings in the world. Untouched by the cultural revolution, the Dazu rock carvings are worth a detour on your itinerary: colourful, numerous (there are more than 50,000 statues!), they tell many stories that you could easily spend hours observing in details.
It’s in the heat of summer (and in Chongqing this means a lot of humidity added to the heat) that we were taken, as part of our Viking River Tour, to explore this mysterious Unesco site. I thought I knew humidity after a long summer in Myanmar a few years ago, I didn’t imagine how wrong I was. From the moment we stepped foot in Dazu the sweating started. I’m not sure how many litres of water I must have lost on that day but there was no reprieve. The sun kept on shining through a layer of clouds and my phone kept on insisting that the level of humidity was at 90%. I’m all for a good walk but those 30 minutes to the actual carvings didn’t seem very attractive then and I was relieved to hear that Viking did plan to make use of the electric golf buggies at the entrance, to save a little hiking.
It’s with a wet t-shirt (boy was I glad I didn’t pick a white one on that day) that I finally made my way through the hordes of Chinese tourists and discovered what all the fuss was about. There were thousands of statues of all different sizes depicting scenes from hell, from reincarnation, all taken from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. While I was expecting a work similar to the Longmen grottoes, this was one an explosion of colours. As mentioned earlier Dazu was hard to access until not so long ago and was completely spared from vandalism unlike many other sites in the country. Red, blue and green pop from the characters and the backgrounds giving life to each scene.
It was with great impatience that I abandoned our trusted group to get to the Goddess of Mercy. I wasn’t looking for the shade of her small temple (maybe a little) but was simply hoping to finally get a glance at this golden statue that had been under restoration since 2008. And the Thousand-Hands Goddess did not disappoint. It’s difficult to explain how small you might feel facing such a work of art. This 800 years old restored beauty was facing me in a surprisingly empty room and my wish came true.
What are the Dazu Rock Carvings?
The Dazu Rock Carvings are part of a few important religious sights scattered around the country. They are often compared to the Longmen grottoes or the Yungang grottoes.
While the carvings started in 650AD, it’s the work of the monk Zhao Zhifeng in the 12th century that is the most recognisable.
There are two main sites that can be visited: Baodingshan and Beishan. The first one contains probably some of the best work of the area including the Goddess of Mercy, the Lying Buddha (currently being restored), the Circle of Life and the 18 Layers of Hell and is really worth a visit.
In Baodingshan, you can pick between a walk to the carvings that should take around 30 minutes or an electric car that will take you there directly. The walk isn’t very challenging and probably pleasant when visiting outside of the heat of summer.
How do I get there ?
Dazu is not easy to get to and you might probably want to spend a day for this trip. You can either get there from Chengdu or Chongqing but the later is your best option.
Many tour companies will offer a tour to the rock carvings for an extra fee, it might be worth it if you don’t want to deal with all the buses involved. Otherwise, from Chongqing, here is the most popular route:
From Chongqing Bus Station ( Caiyuanba 菜园坝) take a two hour bus to Dazu city (大足市 ). From there, grab bus 205 to Baodingshan (宝顶山 ) , to Beishan you can simply walk from Dazu’s bus station or grab a taxi.
How much time should I spend at the Dazu Rock Carvings and how much does it cost?
Because of the journey itself you should probably plan for a full day trip. The bus itself will take 4 hours of your day. Depending on how many sites you are planning to see you can probably count around two hours for the visit.
Cost varies for each place but, as you might already know, they’re not exactly cheap to enter.
Baodingshan will cost 110 to 135RMB
Beishan will be at 70 to 90RMB (low and high season)
Good to know.
Chongqing, the nearest big city, has been called the ‘Furnace City’ and really holds its name well come summer, that’s why you probably should plan a trip outside of this season. One of the best times to visit the area is Autumn when the temperatures are manageable (but, as usual, avoid the first week of October).
History and Stories:
The Goddess of Mercy depicted in Baodingshan was one of the first successful representations in the country. Depicting the thousand hands had been a puzzle for many, but using the idea of a peacock’s tail, the carving was then born. Each hand contains an eye, and is in a different position. While some people might think this was over restored, this Bodhisattva was falling into pieces and was in dire need of work. Due to the very humid conditions of the area the restorers are not sure how well their work will survive.
Where are the Dazu rock carvings located?
In red on this map you’ll find Chongqing, the green represents the city of Dazu where the carvings are.
Dazu rock carvings
Have you been to any similar sites? What did you think about them? Will you visit this one while travelling to China? Tell us more about it in the comments.
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