Though I enjoyed the tourist spots, the food and the people of Taipei, there is still one thing missing on my list and that is to see Taiwan’s natural beauty, which probably what makes the sailors exclaimed in amusement.
There are many places across the country to immense myself with nature, but I have chosen the most popular one that said to represent the word “Formosa” in the phrase “Ilha Formosa”- none other than Taroko Gorge at Taroko National Park.
It must be my lucky day- I was able to secure a train seat to Hulien, able to meet English speaking (communicate better than those sitting at the information desk), honest cab driver Mr. Alex and rent his taxi for the trip and the weather is just the perfect clear and sunny that I was praying for.
From Hulien, we drove up about 30 minutes to the entrance of Taroko Gorge. He told me that we will stop later at the gate for picture taking, since he needed to enter the gate now or else we need to wait for another hour. There seems to be a directive to open/close the gate on per hour basis in order to control the amount of vehicles circulating the gorge.
As we navigate along the winding road of the gorge, I began to understand the fascination with this place. With cliffs as high as the sky, the huge block of stones combined with intersecting rivers, the marble-rock wall formation and the bridges connecting one area to another, truly Taiwan on its bare beauty.
Mr. Alex handed me a safety helmet which is free to borrow inside the gorge and told me to wear it for our first stop Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou). Safety helmet is a must, since this particular spot is known for rock slides.
A half-kilometer walk from Swallow Grotto to Jinheng Bridge (named after the Engineer who built the bridge) will allow you to enjoy walking inside the cave and admire Liwu River as it makes one picturesque view against potholes and marble-rock formations.
At the end of Jinheng Bridge, I was told by Mr. Alex to look up the sky and the surrounding mountain, then refer to the Taiwan map on my hand- use my imagination and see the mountain walls as it resembles the geographical boundary of Taiwan.
It was already lunch time but I was not hungry at all but Mr. Alex must be, since he suggested to head to Tianxiang parking lot where there are several small eateries. On the way to Tianxiang, we passed by the Tunnel of Nine Turns (Jiuqü Dong), now closed due to the recent rock slides.
As you can see rock slides are not unusual inside the gorge. Several warning signs are placed all throughout the area and visitors are encourage to avoid spending too much time wandering around. Even several bridges are deemed impassable and there are on-going restorations on some routes.
We arrived at the parking lot area and had a quick lunch. I was so excited to explore Tianxiang area and so I follow Mr. Alex orders that I should go ahead and he will be waiting for me at the parking lot once done.
When you tour the gorge either by yourself or by joining a tourist bus, bear in mind that there are designated stopping points only, even if you hire a car don’t expect that they will drop you off exactly where you want to be. A little walking is fun and necessary.
Apart from the rock formations and the flowing river, noticeable in Tianxiang is the red bridge connected to the Xiangde Temple entrance, the 7 storey Tian Feng Pagoda at the top of the mountain, and the giant statute of the Bodhisattva.
Next stop was the foot bridge at Lushui Trail. Here I got a chance to walk across the hanging bridge while admiring the view. The bridge can only hold 8 people at a time, it was good thing that everyone follows the rule, but there are kids who are jumping around with no fear of height.
Following Mr. Alex advice, I went back to the main road and continue to walk towards the H-shape, another red color bridge called Cimu Bridge (Motherly Devotion Bridge). At one end of the bridge are marble stone lions while the other end are decorated by marble lotus stones.
The Eternal Spring Shrine commemorates the 226 military veterans who died during the construction of one of the island highway. The spring water of the Changchun Falls flows all year round and together with the shrine buildings, it makes one scenic yet sentimental spot to remember the lives lost.
The original inhabitants of the gorge are Taiwan indigenous face-painted tribe of Truku which are now relocated by the government to a much safer place. Mr. Alex told me that the name “Taroko” based o the tribe language refers to the phrase “magnificent and beautiful”. The same word “Taroko!” was exclaimed by one of the tribesman as he saw the beauty of the gorge on one of his walk.
Cycling or hiking at Taroko Gorge is a popular summer activity in Taiwan. It must be an amazing experience to do at least one of those. As we leave the gorge, I kept on imagining myself standing on top of one of the cliff. Hopefully, one day I will be able to come back and do just that.