About 200km east of Chengdu and 100km west of Chongqing, sleepy Dazu town is the base for viewing some fifty thousand Tang- and Song-dynasty Buddhist cliff sculptures, which are carved into caves and overhangs in the surrounding lush green hills – most notably at Baoding Shan. What makes these carvings so special is not their scale – they cover very small areas compared with better-known sites at Luoyang or Dunhuang – but their quality, state of preservation, and variety of subject and style. Some are small, others huge, many are brightly painted and form comic-strip-like narratives, their characters portraying religious, moral and historical tales. While most are set fairly deeply into rockfaces or are protected by galleries, all can be viewed in natural light, and are connected by walkways and paths.

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