Seated imperiously, hands on knees, gazing at eternity through half-lidded eyes, the Giant Buddha of Leshan – or ‘Dafo’ as he’s known locally – was carved in the early 8th century from a red sandstone cliff overlooking the confluence of the Dadu, Qingyi and Min Rivers, around 111 miles (180km) southwest of Chengdu. The statue – the largest of its kind in the world – took 70 years to complete and pilgrims have been pouring in ever since to admire the colossus, who is these days smothered in lichen and ferns.

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