IF CRAGGY, towering mountains and marble canyons are your thing, then Taroko National Park, with its spectacular 19km-long landmark gorge, will enthral you.
One of seven national parks in Taiwan, the popular attraction (291, Fushih Village, Sioulin Township, www.taroko.gov.tw/English) is the second-largest in Taiwan.
First established in 1937 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the park was abolished in 1945 after World War II and was re-established only in 1986. And thank goodness that it was.
One can spend an entire day exploring this natural playground that is filled with breathtaking rugged cliffs, cascading streams, caves, steep canyons and elevated forests.
Be warned, though: Wandering around on foot requires quite a bit of stamina, and can take the entire day, depending on which trail you embark on.
Alternatively, hire a taxi and visit each stop by car. But the gems along the way are worth any fatigue.
This reporter began her 19km journey almost at the end of the gorge, in the area of Tianxiang. To embark on this journey, follow the sole main road (the Central Cross-Island Highway) which has signs or side roads leading you to the various sights.
If you choose to visit the sevenstorey Tianxiang Pagoda there, you would be treated to amazing views of the valley surrounded by forest-covered mountains.
A little way off you would get to admire the Pudu Bridge over the Liyu River and the peaceful Xiangde Temple – a Buddhist abode perched on a plateau.
While crossing Pudu Bridge, don’t forget to look down. Pebbles spelling out love messages from young lovers line the banks and can be seen at low tide.
TRAILS AND BRIDGES GALORE
Follow the highway, where you will find the entrance to the 2km-long Lushui Trail.
The trail yields views of cliff terrain and historical monuments, as well as a 30m-long tunnel.
Then, wander over to the Yue Fei Pavilion, a great spot to check out the waterfalls at Liyu River. A narrow suspension bridge hangs across the river.Crossing it isn’t for the faint-hearted, but brave the trip if you wish to get a good photo.
Carry on to Cimu Bridge, a hanging bridge with stone lions standing guard at each end.
Travel to the end of the bridge, where you’ll see a gigantic rock beneath the bridge which looks like a sitting frog. A pavilion – built in the 1950s under the command of the late President Chiang Ching-kuo in memory of his mother – is perched on the frog’s head, resembling a crown.
Continue on the road until you see the entrance to the Jiuqudong (or Tunnel of Nine Turns) Trail. Two cliffs are situated close together, with only 10m of space between them.
Nearby, a winding trail resembling a coiled dragon was closed when this reporter visited. It was closed because of falling rocks, but check with the Visitor Service Station at Tianxiang (tel: 03-869-1162) to see if it has been re-opened.
For lunch, stop by Jinheng Bridge and grab a bite under wooden terraces. There, you’ll find snacks such as bananas and stewed-beef instant mee, and meals like rice with meat and vegetables.
After you’re sated, walk on towards the 0.5km-long Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto) Trail, which offers you another perspective of the magnificent Taroko Gorge.
The Yanzikou Trail gets its name from the many potholes that puncture the cliff’s face, making it resemble a swallow’s nest.
Visit Buluowan, a village formerly inhabited by the tribal Atayal people. It can be reached by a zigzag road. The journey takes seven minutes by car.
Divided into two terraces, the upper terrace, where the Leader Village Hotel can be found, is simply gorgeous, with a postcard-perfect scenery of an expanse of mountains, greenery, valleys and bright, blue skies.
The lower terrace midway up the mountain has exhibition halls where you can check out handicraft from the Taroko, or Truku, tribe.
Head to Changchun (Eternal Spring) Shrine, a well-known landmark which doubles as a memorial to those who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway from 1956 to 1960.
Nestled in a cleft of the mountain, it is positioned right above the streams of a waterfall, offering a picturesque view. Visitors often wash their hands in the flowing streams, which are said to have healing properties.
UP IN THE AIR
If you are adventurous, you can go on to make the climb up the “Stairway to Heaven”, a steep trail which leads you to the Bell Tower (the highest point of the mountain).
Pause here to take in the views before you cross a suspension bridge to the Changuang Temple. The journey takes about an hour.
Visit the Shakadang Trail, also known as the Mysterious Valley. It was built originally to transport materials for the construction of Liwu Power Plant during the Japanese Occupation.
A 4.5km pathway is cut along the edges of the cliff, where one will pass by enchanting clear pools and fascinating rock faces. It’s a peaceful stroll, but takes four hours to complete.
Finally, take a cab to Qingshui Cliff – a personal favourite.
The scenic Su-Hua Highway is carved right at the cliff’s edge and is the only coastal road which leads to Taroko Gorge, offering an unobstructed view of the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
Stop at one of the many lookout points to admire the heart-stopping views. Journeying along this road makes you feel like you are flying – a feeling you’ll never forget.
This page is brought to you by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Visitors Association
National parks: 国家公园 guó jiā gōng yuán
Plateau: 高原 gāo yuán
Memorial: 纪念碑 jì niàn bēi
Coastal road: 沿海公路 yán hǎi gōng lù
TO GET to Taroko Gorge from Taipei, take a train ride from Taipei Main Station to Hualien train station.
From there, take a bus from the Hualien Bus Company. The bus will go through the Taroko National Park Headquarters and various sights before ending at Tianxiang (this journey takes about 11/2 hours).
From now until Dec 31, visitors to Taiwan are entitled to gifts, while stocks last.
Simply flash your air ticket and hotel confirmation to redeem them from Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore at 5 Shenton Way, UIC Building, #31-11. Call 6223-6546/7 or e-mail email@example.com
To view past and new instalments of this series, visit www.sgtravellers.com
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