World of contrasts

World of contrasts

World of contrasts

Although Taiwan is seen as an industrial powerhouse, Sreerekha kaimal discovers the touristy side of a country rich in culture and colour.

The usual perception about Taiwan is that of hi-tech kiosks, electronic markets and factories rolling out goods with ‘Made in Taiwan’ tags. But there is more to the sweet-potato shaped island lying close to China and Japan, as we, a group of journalists, discovered during a trip, at the invitation of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

The capital — Taipei — with its skyscrapers housing IT and electronic companies, resembles an Asian city. The one-hour drive to Leofoo Village, on the way to Taichung, gave us the first glimpse of the land and its people.

A scientific marvel packed with adventures, the Leofoo Village is a park with four theme areas — the African Safari, Arabian Kingdom, Wild West and South Pacific. Our ride on a steam train, the Nairobi Express, to the habitat of rhinos, American bisons, yak, white tiger, American black bears, baboons and some 30 types of monkeys was an incredible excursion.

The other part of Leofoo Village has a festive look with visitors hopping from one ride to the other and children laughing and screaming while enjoying rides like the Ring of Fire, Screaming Condor and Old Oil Well. The drive on a four-wheel Land Rover into the world of Sultan’s Adventure was a ride of a lifetime.

Tea culture

Taiwan is one of the top tea producers, and tea houses are a fascinating aspect of its culture. Cut off from the outside world, they are a blend of old and modern architecture. The houses are made of wood and have a serene and aesthetic environment where people can relax and enjoy their tea. The guests can participate in tea brewing and are provided pots, cups and tea leaves, mainly the Oolong variety.

During tea brewing, guests have to maintain silence; sit upright and have the tea in three sips. The concept is to relax the mind and body, and the tea is believed to have medicinal values. We were told guests spend hours in tea houses gulping the brew.

The Fengjia night market in Taichung is among the most sought after for its wide range of shops, variety of goods and food courts. Open till wee hours, they are choc-o-bloc with shops and shoppers.

Peep into the past

Our next halt was the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village. Spread over 62 hectares, it showcases arts and crafts, the culture and lifestyle of 10 aboriginal groups. Tribe members, in traditional finery, put up a show. The performance, we were told, was a form of prayer for the welfare of the community. The best time to visit the village is in spring, when the place is full of cherry blossoms.

We then took a 1.87-km-long cable car ride from the Formosan Cultural Village Ropeway Station to the Sun Moon Lake, through the Buji Mountain Valley. The lake looks like the sun from the eastern side and a crescent moon from the west; thus the name Sun Moon Lake. At dawn and dusk, the lake gives breathtaking views and the sunrise and sunset are spectacular sights. The lake is home to several temples and pagodas. The 1999 earthquake had flattened the area, but the government, with the help of local tribes, turned it into a major tourist hub.

The Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan surrounds a tiny island, Lalu, which is revered by the tribe as they consider it to be the resting place of their ancestors. The island is full of maple trees, and is considered sacred. Tourists are not allowed to boat near it.

We took a bus ride to the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, at the north-eastern tip of Taiwan. The high mountains, cliff landscapes, falls, the whitewashed windmill, the tower bell and emerald water at the Green Bay Beach are a shutterbug’s delight.

Further along the East China coast is another varied and fascinating geological wonder — the Yeliu Geological Park. We were awestruck by the fantastic rock sculptures carved out by nature through millions of years.

The most spectacular was the Queen’s head. It resembles an Egyptian queen with her crown. The other marvellous creations were the fairy shoe, candlestick rocks, which look like thin candles, mushroom rocks, elephant rock, the ginger rocks and a formation which resembles the legendary King Kong kissing his girlfriend, as Jeff, our guide, put it. Due to varying seasonal catches, different types of seafood are available in different seasons.

Gold rush

We then headed to the Jinquashi Gold Ecological Park and the old town of Jioufen. The place has an interesting past. During the latter part of 18th century, gold was discovered in the river sand and gold mining pitchforked the sleepy village into a booming town.

Taiwan was under Japanese rule and they gave mining activity a boost and subsequently, transformed the place in their own style. Once the World War II ended, gold mining too became history. The enchanting winding lanes and Japanese traditional houses, which have retained their charm and are well kept, stand testimony to the golden era.

Some of the residences have been converted into museums which house artworks made of gold and other related relics. The mining equipment and other facilities lying defunct remind us of the Kolar gold mines. But a 220 kg 999 pure gold brick makes one skip a breath. We can see and feel the gold, and as our guide says — “If you can lift it, you can carry it home.”

On the sixth and last day of our trip, we were atop Taipei101 (101 denotes the number of floors). The elevators in the tower hold a Guinness record of zooming to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. At 382 m above the ground, we stood in the indoor observatory and were awestruck by the panoramic view of the entire city.

We tried to identify some of the buildings below. At the 88th floor, we marvelled at the massiveness of the structure that can withstand the strongest gale and earthquake. At the end of it all, images of Taiwan’s rich cultural heritage vied with those of modernity and glitz in our minds.

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