Impassive and gargantuan, the Big Buddha peers out from under half-lidded eyes, oblivious to the swarms of sightseers trying to photograph his bulk. In 713 AD the monk Haitong came up with the idea of carving the Buddha into the riverside’s red sandstone cliffs, using the rubble produced to fill in dangerous shoals below. The project took ninety years to complete and, once construction started, temples sprang up on the hills above the Buddha. At 71m tall, this is the world’s largest Buddhist sculpture – his ears are 7m long, his eyes 10m wide, and around six people at once can stand on his big toenail – though statistics can’t convey the initial sight of this squat icon, comfortably seated with his hands on his knees, looming over you.

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