One of my favourite things to do in Hualien on this grad trip in Taiwan was taking a day trip to see the magnificent Taroko Gorge. Liyu Lake was beautiful, and Yangmingshan back in Taipei was lovely as well, but I think very little can compare to the natural splendour that is the Taroko Gorge. Dare I say it, it’s Gorge-ous.
We took a day trip with the hostel – our guide was the hostel owner’s partner and even though he was a foreigner, he had lived in Taiwan for a few years and knew his stuff quite well, so it was an enjoyable tour. Our van entered from the East and started from the visitor centre made our way to the middle point Tianxiang and then turned around back to Hualien.
Here are some of my favourite sights from Taroko Gorge:
Our first stop was Shakadang trail, a short distance from the Visitors Centre after the beautiful Shakadang bridge. It is a path cut into the side of the cliff face that follows the Shakadang River, notable for its beautiful turquoise blue colour, even though the waters were really low when we were there. The actual trek is 3-4 hours long, though we only went a short way on it and popped down to the river banks to touch the water before turning back.
Shakadang actually is the aboriginal word for ‘molar’. I remember our guide telling us something about teeth being strewn around the path… eeks.
ETERNAL SPRING SHRINE / CHANGCHUN SHRINE
Our next stop was a place called Changchun shrine, or the Eternal Spring shrine. We stopped at the bridge and from there, you can take a pathway along the cliff that leads to a cute little temple nestled in the side of the side of the mountain. This shrine was built to commemorate the 226 people who died in the building of the highway that runs through Taroko Gorge in the ’50s.
My friends K and P make a quick dash to see the temple while the rest of us decided to just enjoy the view of the open valley and the gigantic pile of rocks from the bridge. We spotted another 2 temples above this shrine, each higher than the next, with some really skinny looking harrowing cliff paths to get to them.
We drove up winding roads to Buluowan where we saw the native Taroko tribes do some demonstrations to showcase the artistry of their culture. I bought a little purse for my mum, thinking about how I probably would have been quite a failed woman if I had been born into that tribe because that was some intricate weaving.
Great views of the gorge and valley from up here – if you are there in the right season you get a whole sea of beautiful lilies in bloom. Also, there is 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. Funny story – one of my friends thought that ‘head hunting’ was a literal hunt for fallen heads that had detached from their bodies.
SWALLOW GROTTO / YANZIKOU
After Buluowan, our guide dropped us off at the Swallow Grotto or Yanzikou trail. This path was in the middle of some sort of valley that ran along the Liwu river – the sides of the grotto were so steep and this was a really narrow gorge, so you could see the little holes all over the rock face which is where the swallows nest. I loved how you could really see the weathering in the rocks.
This path used to be for vehicles, but they built a newer better road, and this was converted into a pedestrian only path. The path leads to a lookout point which is where our guide picked us up again.
MOTHERLY DEVOTION BRIDGE / CIMU BRIDGE
The Cimu bridge and the nearby Cimu Pavilion were built by late Taiwanese presidents in honour of their mothers. The interesting thing about the marble rock here is the 2 distinct layers of black and white.
Finally we reached Tianxiang, a little town that is the halfway point where daytrippers would turn around and head back, and those planning to travel longer would stop here overnight, before continuing their journey and finishing in Taichung.
We visited the Xiangde Temple which you have to cross a suspension bridge to get to. It is also home to the octagonal Tianfeng pagoda, a giant golden Bodhisattva statue (in my journal I wrote this as Bodhivista because that’s how that word looked like in my head *smacks self* ) and a white robed Guanyin whose alcove had a spot which was oddly quiet – no sound of the river or air around it.
YUE FEI PAVILION
This was a little stopover where we crossed a suspension bridge to get to the little pavilion. What is it about suspension bridges that make you feel like bouncing around on them? My poor friend P was rather nervous about the whole affair.
TUNNEL OF NINE TURNS / JIUQUDONG
The highlight of the tour was visiting Jiuqudong, similar to the Swallow’s Grotto, this was once a vehicular road turned into pedestrian only, and offers great views of the gorge. It’s actually right near where we saw the Swallows Grotto earlier. Spectacular scenery all around and for the record, Jiu here doesn’t stand for 9, but the sound is similar to ‘for a long time’, symbolizing how long this tunnel will last.
We woke up really early in the morning for this tour to Taroko, so we are pretty knackered at the end of the day whn we reached our hostel in Hualien City and have to nap before we could function for dinner!
We walked to the Nanbin night market by the seaside where we grabbed some street food, and decide to buy some fireworks and take them down to the beach to play. Given that Singapore has long banned these fireworks, we are hilariously inept, and nearly take out some passers-by with our ineptitude. No wonder these things got banned they are pretty dangerous! Though perhaps if we had that proper childhood initiation, we might not have been such embarrassments.