Sichuan's Anyue (安岳) County is home to hundreds of thousands of carvings, statues, and scriptures representing the confluence of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism in the region.
Without a UNESCO stamp of approval, Anyue's grottos don't seem to have garnered the international reputation of related sites at Dunhuang and Dazu, but they nonetheless form an important link with the other sites, and their discovery has made significant contributions to the understanding of the region's history.
The caves and grottos were constructed over hundreds of years starting in the year 521 and peaking during the Song Dynasty.
The sculptures they contain are distinguished by their delicately carved details and serve as representative artworks of the Song and Tang Dynasties.
Because of the county's size, visiting without a private vehicle can be tricky. The more than 200 grottos are spread across the county's nearly 3,000 square km, with up to 80 km between points of interest.
Among the most notable sites are Yuanjue Cave (圆觉洞), with nearly 2,000 statues; the nearby Mount Yunju slopes and its three well-preserved, 7-meter-tall statues; the Thousand-Buddha Camp (千佛寨), housing 3,000 statues as well as cliff-side reliefs, tablets, and inscriptions; the early Daoist statues found at the Xuanmiao Temple (玄妙寺); the cliffs at The Sleeping-Buddha Temple (八庙卧佛), home also to a 23-meter-long (and the world's largest) left-reclining Buddha; the relatively small but detailed and well-preserved Pilu Cave (石羊毗卢洞), which houses the finely detailed black-bamboo Guanyin statue (紫竹观音); the Huayan Cave (华严洞), which holds a grotto reflecting the combination of the three religions; the Mumen Temple (木门寺); and the Mingshan Temple (茗山寺).
Anyue County lies approximately 170 km southeast of Chengdu (about halfway to Chongqing) and falls under the administration of Ziyang City.
Today the county is home to a population of 1.6 million and also enjoys a reputation as the country's top lemon-producing region.
Buses depart hourly from Chengdu's Wugui Qiao station to the Anyue bus station until 6 p.m. The ride is approximately 3.5 hours.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 48 ("art, music & more"). Photos by Leo Chen