The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang ShanGangu甘谷 Arriving.
The Giant Moustached Buddha at Daxiang Shan大像山Gangu甘谷 is Situated in Eastern Gansu 甘肃省 province. However, on arrival at Gangu 甘谷 you will quickly discover that this is not one of China’s most attractive towns: truth be told it’s pretty ugly.
However, if you are in Tianshui 天水 visiting Maiji Shan and have a day to spare, the large 23 meter moustached statue of Sakyamuni a few kilometers outside Gangu is well worth visiting and can be easily combined with a trip to the beautiful Water Curtain Caves near Luomen.
The Giant Moustached Buddha or Sakyamuni statue
The Sakyamuni statue, sculpted at the height of the Silk Road’s importance during the Tang Dynasty, is approached by climbing a temple lined trail on Daxiangshan 大像山.
While none of the temples are spectacular, they are quiet and peaceful. You and a handful of pilgrims will be the only people on the trail even in the middle of August. The statue itself is quite special.
The colours are vibrant and the decorations surrounding it unique. But what stands out is the blue moustache, something almost unseen in the rest of China. There are some good views towards the rising Loess Plateau as you climb the trail.
You can get to Gangu from Tianshui 天水by train in just over an hour. The convenient K377 leaves Tianshui station in Beidao 北道 at 8.32 and costs 13 hard seat (buy your ticket the night before, there were plenty of seats available).
Alternatively you can take one of the frequent buses from Tianshui’s twin town Qincheng 秦城.
Hiring a taxi for the best part of a day from in front of Gangu train station costs 200 Yuan after a little bargaining. However, I don’t recommend visiting The Water Curtain Caves until restoration work has finished sometime next year (read the next posting).
One curious feature of the statue is that when you see it close up, the face of the giant Buddha has a contented expression. However, Seen from a distance, he looks quite miserable.
Another gem in Eastern Gansu, the Water Curtain Caves (Shuilian Dong) and Lashao Si 拉稍寺 take a bit of an effort to reach, especially if you are using public transport, but reward the intrepid with a valley of Taoist temples, rock carvings and paintings, without another tourist in sight.
Unfortunately, for the next year, the path up the valley is being rebuilt and building work is everywhere somewhat spoiling the valley’s isolation. The huge carved Buddha and paintings overlooking the valley are under going restoration, but at least the scaffolding is being withdrawn and they can be seen quite clearly.
However, many of the frescos are still covered. I’d recommend postponing any visit for at least a year. Some of the path up the valley is a death trap. At one point we had to clamber and crawl around some dodgy and hastily erected scaffolding that was holding up a cliff face as rocks fell all around us. Also try not to go when it’s raining as we did. The dry river bed becomes a raging torrent.
The images and frescoes were carved and painted during the Northern Wei dynasty (AD 386 – 534) and the colours are still fantastic. The object of the restoration work seems to be to try and build a shelf above the images in order to protect them from erosion and the elements.
In order to get the best views of the paintings, climb up the path in the direction of the Taoist temple, Shuilian Dong. The surrounding scenery is spectacular with domed sandstone mountains rising up above the valley.
We hired a taxi from Gangu station for the day (200 Yuan) and took in the Sakyamuni Statue on Daxiang Shan near Gangu as well ( see the previous posting for getting to Gangu). There are frequent buses between Gangu and Luomen from where you can also get private transport to the Water Curtain Caves. There are also buses from Lanzhou and Tianshui direct to Luomen.
Whatever transport you take at the moment you’ll have to walk the final 3 kilometres to the carvings and temples. It would be a stunning walk if not for the building work. Eventually the new road will go right up to Lashao Si which will be a pity as the valley’s serenity will be lost.