Saturday, August 25, 2012

Taroko Gorge: More Fun in Taiwan

Day 2 of my Taiwanese escape began early. I woke up at 5AM to catch at 6AM train to Taroko National Park in Hualien, in eastern part of the country. 



Ever since I planned to go to Taiwan, I told myself that I will be visiting the Taroko Gorge. After a very fulfilling experience in the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China, I wondered if this trip would be at par (though I didn't set my expectations high). 


The train ride took 3 hours and as usual, I had no previous arrangements. I hoped that as I step out of the station, there would be taxis to take me to the Taroko Gorge National Park. But to my surprise, as I stepped out, there was nothing. I began to ask around, as the crowd as thinning already. Most have already left, and I may not be able to find someone who can speak English. Good thing someone led me to the tourism office near the train station, where I met up with a driver who was willing to take me to the national park.



The Taroko National Park is probably the most famous national park in Taiwan. The Taroko Gorge is the world's deepest marble canyon and has some of the tallest peaks in mountainous Taiwan. 


Our first stop in the park was the Changchun Shrine or the Eternal Spring Shrine. Beautifully set on an isolated cliff, water flows from the shrine like nerves. One had to walk up tot he shrine through a narrow pathway by the mountainside. Don't worry, it's not a hiking trail. There's really a paved walkway to the shrine made specially for tourists.


The Taroko Gorge reminds me of somewhat of Tiger Leaping, but now I am taking the tarred route - meaning, no actual hiking. I was driving around in a taxi, hopping from landmark to landmark.



It was also a bit cold and windy, and I was asked to wear a helmet in some parts of the gorge. Since I had limited time, I just decided to take on the popular spots and then do one short hike.


The next stop was the Swallow Grotto. It was actually a part of the gorge that had pockets or nests for swallows on its walls. The descent was steep, so the view was quite amazing.


The Tunnel of Nine Turns was being renovated at that time. Some parts were closed, but we were able to see the start and end of the trail. The driver told me that it was the most magnificent part of the gorge with sheer cliffs facing each other. Awesome scenery indeed.


After the Tunnel of Nine Turns, we then approached the Cimu Bridge (Motherly Devotion Bridge), which is an H-Shape hanging bridge with marble stone lions on each end and with marble lotus stones on two sides. The driver told me that the rock beneath the bridge that looked like a frog. A pavilion was built on this frog rock, becoming the crown on the frog. 


I decided to get down the taxi and walk a hanging bridge with the Laoxi River below flowing from the marble valley into Liwu River.  



Several marble blocks dominated the ground below, and majestic as they seemed, they looked like an earthquake just happened. It was quite scary crossing the bridge, since the drop was quite high.



We then decided to have lunch in a stopover area where there were a couple of restaurants. I enjoyed my lunch that I let my driver pick for me.


Before heading out of the park, I told my driver to drop me off a trail where I could hike for a little while. She did so, and I was set on an adventure that made me reminisce my part hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge. 


Though the hike would only take 30 minutes, I enjoyed every minute of it. The wind was cool, and the surroundings were peaceful and raw. There was even an unlit tunnel on my path, that made the hike more exciting.


Now I know why my driver gave me a flashlight. I thought it was for safety purposes, like if I get lost and it ends of dark. The tunnel was around 50 meters long, so it was quite scary to cross it with only a flashlight. I came to the end of the trail with the driver waiting for me nearby. I boarded the taxi and soon headed out of the park and back to the train station.


I bought tickets back to Taipei at around 2PM. I wanted to share the snack that I had while wiating for the train - a bottle of green milk tea and caramel ice cream coated in waffle. Sarap!


The train arrived on time and I soon boarded it a little tired. I slept through the entire journey back home. It was an express train, so I managed to get into Taipei after 2 hours. I was amazed how easy it was to get from place to place in Taiwan, so I was already planning my next day excursion.



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