Chongqing Municipality, 83km (52 miles) W of Chongqing, 251km (156 miles) SE of Chengdu

Among the most impressive and affecting artistic monuments that have survived through the ages are the extensive Buddhist cave paintings, sculptures, and carvings of Datong, Luoyang, Dunhuang, and Dazu. Of the four sites, Dazu's stone carvings, executed between 892 and 1249, are among the subtlest and most sophisticated, and worth going out of your way to see.

An unusual aspect of Dazu is that in addition to Buddhist images, it contains Daoist and Confucian statues and themes -- not only in separate areas but, in rare instances, in the same cave. Initiated outside the monastic establishment, the Dazu carvings also commemorate historical figures as well as the project's benefactors, including commoners, warriors, monks, and nuns. In addition to what these carvings reveal about artistic advances made from the late Tang to the late Song, the garments and ornaments, along with garden and architectural settings, shed much light on everyday life in ancient China.

Of the six largest sites scattered around the county seat of Dazu, two are most worth a visit -- Bei Shan, completed in the late Tang dynasty (618-907); and Baoding Shan, started and completed in the Song dynasty (960-1279). If you have time or interest for only one, make it Baoding Shan.