Trail in Taroko

NATURE'S GRANDEUR

Trail in Taroko

MAGNIFICENT A bird’s-eye view of the Taroko National Park. Photo by author

In Taiwan, when my guide Ivy Chen announced that she will take our team of journalists to Taroko Gorge, I never realised that I would witness nature’s beauty in its rawest and wildest form. We began our two-hour train journey from Taipei to Hualien to reach the Taroko National Park. Hualien is a sleepy little town and also the largest county in Taiwan. Located on the mountainous eastern coast of Taiwan, it is home to the island’s largest port. Of the two national parks — Taroko and Yushan — in Hualien, we headed towards Taroko. After nibbling on the so-called ‘indigenous vegetarian meal’, my journey to the Gorge began. Pointing to a lush, green hill range, Ivy told us that we would be spending our night in one of the hotels in Taroko.

Of trails and tunnels

The word ‘Taroko’ means magnificent and beautiful. Our bus began its uphill climb to Taroka Hill at around four in the evening. Also known as the Marble Gorge, it is blessed with abundant emerald and marble deposits, limestone and waterfalls. It is a veritable feast for the senses with it range of man-made and natural wonders including tunnels, bridges, resplendent pagodas, mountains and, of course, the Liwu River, which has carved the marble cliff of the Gorge.

Thanks to the Liwu River and Mount Nahu (3,700 meters), the Taroko National Park has salubrious climate along the Central Cross-Island Highway. Passing by the crystal-clear waters of Liwu River, I was tempted to spend some time by the riverside, but sadly, I couldn’t. It was dark by the time I could settle down in my hotel room, which afforded a spectacular view of Mount Nahu and the soothing sound of a cascading waterfall. Later, I was treated to a special dinner — a vegetarian spread, devoid of garlic, mushroom and even tofu, thanks to chef Ashis, an Indian, working at the hotel.

In the morning, it was time to trek and travel back to Hualien. On our way back, we explored the Eterno Temple, built in memory of 226-odd soldiers who had lost their lives while constructing roads in the hilly terrain. The Central Cross-Island Highway was built between 1956 and 1960 at the cost of many lives. Books written about the Taroko National Park say that the park is about 92,000 hectare with the Pacific Ocean to its east. It was established in 1986 and has 27 peaks, the tallest standing at 3,000 meters. This reflects the concern of both, the public and the government, to conserve nature, which had taken a beating, following four decades of extraordinary economic growth that Taiwan witnessed.

Our bus halted at many interesting points for us to explore the place on foot. Of the many tunnels, Nine Turns of the Coil Dragon (Jiuqudong) is stunning and has well-laid paths for walking. Wearing helmets while passing through the tunnels is mandatory because, at times, falling rocks may pose serious problems. The park authorities lend helmets free of cost. Although the tunnel is not well lit, it is safe to walk through it. A 30-minute walk leads to two cliffs, which are very close to each other. From here, the view of the Kelan River, as well as rocks in different shades and shapes, is spectacular.
After witnessing the Marble Gorge in its full glory, we took a four-km-walk along the Shakadang Trail. The walkway along the valley provided us with stunning views of the cliff — a turquoise-coloured sparkling river, white rocks and green canopy on the mountains left us spellbound. We also spotted Truku aboriginals busy picking forest produce. The park has close to 13 trails and offers two options for hiking — the not-so-adventurous can take an easy route, which will take up just 15 minutes, the adventurous can take on a more challenging route that will require nothing less than three hours.

Flora and fauna

When typhoons hit the park area, which is not very uncommon, trails may not be allowed. Another attraction at the Taroko National Park is the Buluwan Recreation Area, which has handicrafts exhibition rooms, an amphitheatre and a cafeteria. The handicraft rooms display handmade products by Truku tribals. Yamu Yagi, an 80-year-old tribal woman, was seen weaving a peppermint pink cotton shawl. Buluwan is a centre for conserving endemic plants too.

At the amphitheatre, we watched a documentary on the park, which was quite educative. It informed us that the park is home to 34 special mammals, which include the gormosan macaque, black bear and deer. It also has 144 species of birds such as the formosan blue magpie and the laughing thrush. They happily nest in the park, which has a variety of trees like the alpine juniper forest, bamboo, fir, pine, hemlock and oak, among other species.

Walking around the place, I saw a lot of youngsters on bikes and cycles, which is, in fact, the best way to get around the park. Cycles and two-wheelers are available on rent in Hualien. Guides who can speak English are also available. In terms of cost, spending a day at the park is quite economical. For a couple, a trip from Taipei to the park and a day’s stay will cost around $100.

At the end of the trip, Ivy was heard saying that Torako was the most attractive destination in eastern Taiwan. I’m not  sure if she is right, but one thing is for certain — no lens can capture the grandeur of nature here.

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