Moved in Taiwan

Moved in Taiwan

Moved in Taiwan

As I peered out of the towering Taipei 101, I had a breathtaking view of the glitzy high-rises and belts of humped woodland, all sprawled in the Taipei Basin. It was indeed a great start to my five-day sojourn in Taiwan! Taipei 101 spoke eloquently of Taiwan’s financial prowess.

Named for the number of floors it holds, the 509-metre-high building was the world’s tallest building until 2009, when Burj Khalifa consigned it to the second place. Currently, it is the world’s tallest green building. The elevator ferried us at an astonishing speed up to the 89th floor in 40 seconds.

Equally impressive was the tower’s structural integrity. An enormous gold-coloured iron wind damper sphere, the largest in the world, keeps the tower stable through typhoons and earthquakes.

To me, the very name Taiwan evokes memories of ‘Made in Taiwan’ watches, gizmos and colourful umbrellas. I realised there’s more to Taiwan than electronic markets. Beautiful but often overlooked and shunned by mainland China, democratic Taiwan has metamorphosed into a fiercely independent and dynamic country.

The splendours of Ilha Formosa (The Beautiful Isle) were first brought to the limelight by Portuguese mariners in the 16th century. But very few are aware that this beautiful isle has countless claims to its credit. ‘It is nearly 60 per cent forested, ultra-modern, but steeped in tradition, holds East Asia’s highest mountain, world’s deepest marble gorge and the best collection of Chinese art, myriad hot springs, indigenous tribal groups, and above all, incredibly friendly people and their humble hospitality!’

Places of superlatives

From the heart of Taipei, we moved to the National Palace Museum rated as one of the world’s top four museums. Its jade-green tiled roofs and yellow walls loomed dramatically out of a mountain valley north of downtown Taipei. We saw hordes of tourists queuing up to have a peek at the largest collection of Chinese artefacts and artworks in the world.

With a collection of more than 6,50,000 items, including calligraphy, paintings, books, documents, delicate blue-and-white Ming  porcelain vases, bronze vessels with carvings, jades, ceramics, curios, a hand-sculpted olive kernel, it is hailed as the ‘Louvre of Asia’. I saw several tour groups craning their necks to admire the museum’s pride — a large polished, multi-coloured jade ingeniously carved to look like a cabbage, with a locust and a cricket hiding near the top.

From there I headed to the imposing Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Centre with its octagonal pagoda-style blue roof and white marble façade, to pay homage to the late President Chiang Kai-Shek. As I stood in the hall waiting for the hourly changing of the honour guard ceremony, I could sense people’s reverence for the icon of Chinese Nationalism.

No trip to Taiwan is complete without a visit to its ubiquitous night markets. I visited only Shilin Night Market, Taipei’s most famous, and Raohe Street, one of the city’s oldest night markets. It is a great place to sample local specialties like sautéed crab and passion fruit or pearl milk bubble tea.

In Shilin Market, I passed by clusters of vendors, stalls and food courts peddling all kinds of traditional Taiwanese fare: oyster noodles and omelettes, Taiwanese tempura, stinky tofu, milkfish belly stew, ‘little cake wrapped in bug cake’ pork knuckles, Taiwan’s most famous mango shaved ice, and an endless variety of other snacks.

Taiwan’s cross-island highway is rated as the most breathtaking drive in Asia! I felt tempted to hop on the humble scooter (an icon of Taiwan) and whizz along the highway, but I boarded the high-speed rail to Hualien in eastern Taiwan instead. Embarking on the Shakadan trail along the Liwu river that flows through its craggy landscape in Taroko National Park, I was dazzled by the vertical walls, contorted tunnels, sheer precipices and towering marble cliffs that drop down through gaping gorges.

Highways through tunnels

As I trudged along with other tourists from Swallow Grottos, I tarried a while to admire the awesome scenery from Swallow Grottos to the Cimu Bridge, where the highway runs mostly through tunnels or along grooves carved into the vertical sides of the gorge. The Swallows Grottos is composed of marble cliff faces covered with many potholes, the result of long-time corrosion by the river and ground water. The name came about because house swifts and Pacific swallows often forage and nest here.

The next morning I headed to the luxuriant Mataian Wetland Ecological Park at the foot of Masi Mountain in Hualien County for a close communion with the traditional Ami tribe. Originating from the Masi mountain, River Fudeng meanders through the wetland nourishing the lush life of the area and the exuberant ecology that shelters myriad species of fauna and abundant aquatic animals.

It was an enthralling experience strolling along a network of wooden bridges crisscrossing over lotus fields. We were treated to a demo of fishing using ingenuous, traditional three-layered fish trap or palakaw. This ecological method in the wetlands is based on the natural life cycles of aquatic animals.

Through the sustainable use of natural resources like large hollow bamboos, the trunk of the common tree fern, the trunk and branches of the south crape myrtle etc, they made a three-levelled structure for the fish and shrimp to roost and breed inside. After the angling, a cooking session followed when freshwater fish and wild vegetables were cooked in a dry leaf bowl by adding heated river stones. We had a taste of the red sticky rice and salt roasted, scaly tilapia grilled over charcoal — the speciality of the region.

Forestry cultural park

From there I headed to Lintienshan Forestry Cultural Park, the erstwhile logging base during the Japanese rule in Taiwan. It was named ‘Molisaca’ in Japanese, meaning a slope with dense forests. Today, the defunct forest base is transformed into a forestry cultural park to conserve a unique logging heritage.

One can see vestiges of the public facilities built by the Japanese: a disused logging railway, sawmills, machine repair factory, besides several stores and a Wood Carving Gallery, which is lined with sculptures crafted out of redwood by the best artistes in Taiwan.

I believe one must save the best for last. Hence I saved Sun Moon Lake for the tail end of my Taiwan sojourn. From Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, an amusement park cum cultural hotspot, I hopped on to a cable car that provided a stupendous panorama of the lake huddled by undulating mountains. Mist swaddled the lake after a downpour.

The lake’s name is inspired by its distinctive shape, with a rounded main section likened to the sun and a narrow western fringe compared to a crescent moon. Lalu Island, known as the abode of ancestral spirits, sits daintily in the middle of the lake.

Located in the heart of Taiwan, it is the island’s largest freshwater body, its tranquil, emerald-green waters creating the country’s most jaw-dropping landscapes. This destination can take your breath away and make you exclaim ‘this is it!’ It’s no wonder this destination was the favourite retreat of Chiang Kai-Shek. Soaking in the scenery from the balcony of the hotel, I realised why the Portuguese mariners gave the country its first name — Ilha Formosa (The Beautiful Isle), when they first saw it.

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