This post has been a long time coming because there’s so much to talk about in Taroko, so it took awhile to put together all the pix!
The next day we headed to the main attraction here in Hualien: Taroko Gorge.
Our hostel peeps organized a day trip for us, so we grabbed some breakfast and along with 2 other guys from the hostel, we took a bumpy minivan up to Taroko Gorge…
It was a bit of a disconnect that we were being shown around Taiwan by an Ang Moh dude (he’s the hostel owner’s bf and had been in Taiwan for a bit couple of years), but still he knew his stuff and it was a pretty enjoyable tour all around.
Other than the fact that rivers were really low during this season, Taroko Gorge was an absolutely magnificent place, or dare I use my favourite pun, Gorge-ous. hurhur. But seriously, really steep cliff faces and fantastic views. We were lucky that it was slightly drizzly as it kept the weather cool. Lots of hidden temples and bridges and basically just a must-see if you’re in the region.
We started off at the Visitor’s Centre. Nothing much here – picked up a few maps, had a look at a model of the whole park
Here’s a map taken from their website (which we also picked up at the visitor’s centre).
A quick overview – we started out on the right side Taroko entrance and travelled all the way to the middle Tian Siang, where we turned around and headed back out again. More serious travellers usually stop over at Tian Siang for the night before continuing their journey.
Then there was a red bridge (the Shakadang bridge) with a ton of strange stone lions lining both sides of it (every lion had a different face, bizarrely AWESOME).
It overlooked the Shakadang river, and man were the waters low that week, something that would affect the next part of our journey (more about the low waters when we get to Ruisui). The waters looked really blue though they were low, and they were crystal clear when you got up close.
From the bridge we climbed down a staircase to a little path kinda dug out the side of the cliff which was the beginning of the Shakadang trail. If you hike about 3-4 hours on you would reach a 3D cabin (which I suppose beats a 2D one, but oh well) after which you need a permit to continue. We didn’t go that far – just to a lookout point before popping donw to the low stony river banks to wade around the shallow water a bit before turning back.
Incidentally, ‘Shakadang’ means Molar in the Taroko aboriginal language. Somehow I vaguely recall the guide telling us a story about there being teeth strewn around the path, but I could be thinking of somewhere else…?
ETERNAL SPRING ??
After that we drive to another spot called the Eternal Spring (which also literally translates to ‘long youth’). There’s a bridge that we cross, and we spot a little temple nestled in the side of the side of the mountain, with a little path cut into the side like an open tunnel leading to it. K and P make a dash for it while lazy me, C and J stand there and enjoy the view of the open valley and the gigantic pile of rockslide.
According to the Taroko Gorge website, the little shrine was built to commemorate the 226 people who died in the building of the highway running through Taroko, eep.
We spot another 2 temples diagonal to this one, each higher than the next. If you looked closely, there are these really harrowing cliff paths to get there. You probably have to be some sort of mountain goat though!
We drove up winding roads to Buluowan, which is where the native aboriginal tribes people are. Great views of the gorge from up there. Also an odd head statue there which no one really knows where it originated from, though I personally think its some ancient tribal territory marking at work. This is also a great time to remind Ms P that contrary to its name, ‘head hunting’ is not a literal hunt for fallen heads detached from their bodies.
We would come back here again at the end of our journey when we looped out. The tribespeople do some demonstrations to showcase their culture – we watched an old lady weaving some pretty intricate stuff. Man, I would have throughly failed at being a proper woman if I had been a tribesperson. I can sew my buttons on and mend rips in my skirt though, albeit messily! I bought a little purse from her back for my mum.
SWALLOW GROTTO ???
Further on from Buluowan, our guide dropped us off along a covered overhand in the rocks. This was ??? Swallow Grotto, or We took a walk down the road that was turned into a pedestrian path. It looked like we were in a valley of sorts – the sides of the grotto were so steep, and peppered with little holes which is where the Swallows apparently live in. A river runs a long the base of it. Fantastic view and great especially for observing the natural rock formations and weathering.
We walk till we come out of the overhang, where our guide picks us up and drops us off again further down the road at the Lookout point. Loved the pretty red fencing, complete with swallows in its metalwork (and foxes? to eat the swallows?!)
CI MU BRIDGE (‘MOTHERLY DEVOTION’) ???
Further down from the Swallow Grotto lookout point through Jiuqudong (which we would come back to later) was more red metalwork – this time of a bridge. It’s name literally translates into Devoted Mother, and it sits over an area filled with large marble blocks, which Hualien is renowned for. This bridge and the pavilion were built by late presidents in memory of their mothers, hence the name.
Also, the Taroko website tells of a story of a frog like rock underneath the bridge. Now that our guide didn’t tell us. That just sounds kinda… trip trap trip trap. Great big stone lions guard the ends of the bridge.
TIAN XIANG ??
This is the ‘halfway point’ for day trippers where we would turn around and head back to the entrance where we started out from. People travelling longer usually stopped here overnight, before continuing into the gorge and heading towards Taichung.
It’s a much bigger area than the little stopovers we’ve made so far, a little township of sorts right in the middle of the gorge. First we troop up to Tianxiang temple to explore. It’s wayyy up a bunch of steps, and the odd thing is the 2 entrances which led to different flights of steps – one was called the door, or the “Letting go” door. The other, which led to the steeper flight of stairs, was called the door, or the “no indecision” door.
After climbing up all those stairs, there was a golden buddha statue right on top, which has the reputation of being the Bodhisattva (good lord I called it a bodhivista in my journal. Well, somehow that’s how I always pronounced it in my head!) statue located at the highest point in the world. Now that is surprising, I would have thought Nepal or such would have higher placed Bodhisattva!
We also ran across a wishing well, which was unfortunately dry. No wishes then!
We climbed up an octagonal pagoda, and what a great view of Tianxiang there was from up there! Also remember it being bloody windy!
After we finally climbed down, we passed a giant Guanyin statue – this one was white, and wayyy bigger than the gold one. It also sat in a little grove of sorts in the side of the clip, and if you stood in a particular spot, you couldn’t hear the background noise of the river et all. Odd but cool.
Wandering around on the connecting bridge, P and K, active souls that they are, decide to climb down to the river bed where other people had used rocks to form their names, and form one of their own. Here’s what they created:
Wonder how long that lasted, till the river rose or someone else came to steal the rocks away to form their own name?
We grabbed a quick bite before jumping back into the bumpy van and heading back the way we came.
YUE FEI PAVILION ???
This was a little stopover, with a suspension bridge across the river. What is it about suspension bridges that make you feel like bouncing around on them? Hee, poor P was rather nervous about the whole affair.
JIU QU WAN ???
This was my favourite bit of the whole tour! We headed back on the highway cutting through the mountains, and our guide dropped us off again for us to walk to the other end.
Jiuquwan, (literally 9 winding turns, but the Chinese 9 meaning many rather than specifically 9 bends), is basically a walk along the old highway along the side of the gorge and everywhere you turn, there’s a great view waiting for you. Leisurely strolling like we did, with lots of photo-whoring along the way, we took about half an hour? It’s a great walk and the best way to truly appreciate the beauty of the gorge.
At one spot there’s a river where you’re supposed to see a rock in the middle of it, that looks like a carp jumping upstream. i took a picture, what do you think?
Right at the end, our guide picked us up and we trundled back to the hostel.
It’s been a looooong day and everyone (but me, the person who can’t sleep in a moving vehicle) is napping in the van. The rest of us take proper naps when we reach the hostel, though intrepid P and K head out to do some laundry and run errands. It’s only evening when the rest of us can be arsed to get up and out of the hostel again.
We walk a prettttttty long way to Nanbin ?? Night market by the seaside. Besides grabbing some street food, we also buy some fireworks and take them down to the beach to play with. Given that Singapore has long banned these fireworks, we are hilariously inept, and we nearly take out some passers-by with our ineptitude. No wonder these things got banned! Though perhaps if we had that proper childhood initiation, we might not have been so embarrassing…
On the way back, we stopped in a random little eatery place where we had goose meat (good stuff) and my favourite Lu Rou Fan for just 20NTD. Oh, I could eat this everyday!
Back at the hostel, we decided to turn in earlier as we had a super early train to catch the next morning to Ruisui ??. Also, well, let’s just say our itinerary and our little party was going to have to change some, but it’s all water under the bridge now, something that was SERIOUSLY lacking when we were at Ruisui. More in the next post (phew that was a long one!)