Mountains in Taiwan
Autumn is the best season in Taiwan for hiking in the mountains, when the scenery is beautiful and the temperature is mild and comfortable. This month we feature several famous and widely popular mountains in Taiwan such as Alishan, Yushan, Taroko Gorge, Yangmingshan and Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area. These are all ideal places to visit when you come to Taiwan during the season of the falling leaves.
The Alishan Forest Railway is one of only three remaining alpine railways in the world. The Japanese built the railway to convey lumber from the forests. From Chiayi City about 30 meters above sea level, the railway ascends into the mountains to over 2,000 meters above sea level. There are 49 tunnels, 77 bridges and numerous wonderful sights along the railroad. Because of the steep incline, the train has to zigzag upward, making the ride an unforgettable experience. Because there is only one train trip scheduled daily (two on weekends and holidays), it's best for visitors to check the timetable when making travel plans.
About half way up the Alishan Forest Railway stands Fencihu Station, next to which is an old street with stalls selling famous local snacks such as Train Cakes and the famous Fencihu box lunches. The railway terminal is situated in the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, which is best known for its spring cherry blossoms. Many people also like to come here in the summer for its cool weather.
During the Japanese colonial occupation, Alishan became famous for its rich forests, especially the vast fields of Taiwan yellow and false red c. Alishan is also famous for its cherry blossoms, as well as its sunsets and even more beautiful sunrises, when the sun rises slowly above a sea of clouds. In the Alishan area live the Tsou tribe, which is famous for its Millet Harvest Festival or Homeyaya Festival as is called in Tsou language. The time of the festival changes every year. Usually it is held in August when the tribesmen start to reap the first millet harvest. At the Mayashivi Festival in mid-February every year, visitors have another chance to witness true Tsou culture.
Located in central Taiwan, Yushan (Mt. Jade) is Northeast Asia's highest peak, with a height of 3,952 meters. Layers and layers of mountains ascend into the sky and the climate changes from sub-tropical to alpine as one ascends. The flora and fauna alter accordingly, which makes Yushan one of the best areas in Taiwan for sighting a wide range of animals and plants. Taiwan's precious indigenous animals, such as the Formosan black bear, the Formosan serow, the white-faced flying squirrel, the Formosan sambar, the Formosan barking deer, the Formosan Salamander and wild boar can all be found here if you just keep still and wait long enough.
Within the Yushan Mountain Range there are numerous peaks over 3,000 meters: Siouguluanshan (Mount Siouguluan), Guanshan (Mount Guan), and Sinkangshan (Mount Sinkang) to name a few. They all present considerable challenges for mountaineers. In the depths of the Yushan Mountain Range resides the Bunun aboriginal tribe. Its world-famous Pasibutbut, a chorus of eight chromatic alterations, is sung to pray for a bountiful millet harvest. The chorus is composed of eight ascending scales that complement one another to form one of the most harmonious and amazing works of music in the world. The ascending scales create a world of sound that echoes the layers of mountains in the region.
There are four visitor centers in Yushan National Park: Shueili, Tataka, Meishan and Nanan Walami. Both Shueili and Tataka are located in Nantou County, and nearby attractions include the Central Cross-Island Highway, Dongpu Hot Spring, Caihong Waterfall (Rainbow Waterfall), and Yunlong Waterfall. Meishan is located in Kaohsiung County; famous attractions in the area are Jhongjhihguan, Guanshan Trail, Tianchih, Daguan-Yakou Tunnel, Kuaigu (Valley of Taiwan False Red Cypress), the Bunun Culture Exhibition Hall, and Meishan Indigenous Botanical Park.
The Nanan Walami Visitor Center is in Hualien, with attractions such as Nanan Waterfall, Shanfong Waterfall, Jiasin, Laku Laku River, and the Kesipala Monument, erected in memory of warriors from the Bunun tribe, who rose up against the Japanese during the colonial occupation. For visitors who wish to go sightseeing, hiking, and mountain-climbing in Yushan, note that a permit may be required for certain areas due to the risks posed by the changeable weather. It's best to contact the Division of Park Recreation and Tourism, Yushan National Park Headquarters, for related information if you are planning a trip.
Taroko Gorge is formed by the Liwu River carving its way through marble mountains, forming spectacular canyons whose precipitous cliffs are draped with waterfalls and overhung with lush jungle vegetation. As the river flows through the gorge, it forms v-shaped valleys and precipitous cliffs, on which beautiful stone patterns can be seen. Cliffs, faults and clefts in the marble surface are very common in the gorge due to the continuous tectonic movement. In some places, the stone walls of the valley stand so close together that they only allow a thin line of sunlight through. Waterfalls cascade off the cliffs, and trees cling to the vertical surfaces. With a new view around every corner, the gorge is a source of constant amazement to visitors.
Taroko National Park in Eastern Taiwan covers a wide area, including parts of Hualien, Taichung and Nantou counties. Its topography is mountainous: valleys, gorges, mountains, rapid rivers and waterfalls characterize most of the area. Its spectacular scenery is world famous, especially along the Central Cross-Island Highway between Taroko and Tiansiang.
Taroko is located where the Central Cross-Island Highway and the Suao-Hualien Highway meet. The spot is marked by a Chinese-style gate to commemorate the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway. The starting point for the highway, a popular photo spot, is a gathering place for many local aborigines who still wear traditional costume for photographers. The highway winds its way through the mountainous forest. The Tunnel of Nine Turns (Jioucyudong) is a man-made wonder created by the builders of the highway. Here the highway penetrates the mountains through winding stone caves and tunnels. On one side of the road is a deep valley and on the other side are vertical stone cliffs. It's not hard to imagine how difficult and heroic its construction was. Cihmu Bridge is another attraction along the Highway. The bridge is faced with snow-white marble from Hualien and is located at the confluence of the Liwu and Laosi Rivers.
The highway was first built for military purposes soon after the KMT government fled to Taiwan. Ex-soldiers from China worked without rest, drilling and exploding their way through the precipitous marble valleys and cliffs. The Eternal Spring Shrine standing in front of a cliff down which falls a plume of white water commemorates those who gave their lives to the building of the highway. The serene location of the shrine is reminiscent of a traditional Chinese watercolor. Behind the shrine are some stone steps called “The Heavenly Stairs”, leading up to Guanyin Cave and Changuang Temple. Nearby are the famous Swallow's Grottos (Yanzihgu), natural holes carved out of the marble by the erosion of the Liwu River. During late spring and early summer the holes serve as the nesting place for thousands of swallows.
Tiansiang marks the terminus of the Taroko section of the Central Cross-Island Highway, and the township has lots of tourist facilities such as the Grand Formosa Hotel, the Tiansiang Suspension Bridge, Pudu Temple, and the nearby Baiyang Trail. Return back down through the gorge and you'll reach the Suao-Hualien Highway, which is set between the Pacific and the high mountains of Eastern Taiwan. The Cingshuei Cliffs are a particularly magnificent sight that you don't want to miss.
Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area
The third place on our tour is the Tri Mountain National Scenic Area, which is situated southwest of Taipei and covers three beautiful mountains: the Lion's Head Mountain, Li Mountain, and Bagua Mountain. Each mountain has its own character and scenic attractions, and together they comprise one of the most spectacular and interesting scenic areas on the island. Lion's Head Mountain, so called because from the right angle it looks like a bust of the king of the beasts, is the home to many Buddhist monasteries and retreats. The mountain is riddled with caves, and many of the Buddhist temples and retreats were built originally inside the caves. The mountain is a thriving Buddhist center, and there are many restaurants serving vegetarian food, as well as study centers for the texts of Buddhism. The mountain is peaceful and has many walking trails where you can enjoy the view, the sights and sounds of the forest, and the enchanting pagodas. The surrounding area is the traditional home of the aboriginal Saisiyat tribe, and tourists here can witness some of the tribe's festivals.
Li Mountain is home to another of Taiwan's aboriginal tribes, the Atayal, and visitors here will be impressed by these peoples' festivals, with their dancing and wonderful singing. The mountain sits on the central cross-island highway, and is a hub for travelers going from East to West and North to South. The journey along the highway is hazardous, especially in the wet season with its frequent mudslides. The area was affected by a major earthquake in 1999, but still provides spectacular views reminiscent of Switzerland's Alps. The mountain is a staging post for visitors on their way to Syue Mountain, Taiwan's second highest peak, which is covered in snow in the winter months.
Bagua Mountain, is really a gentle hill situated south of Taiwan's third largest city, Taichung. The hill is home to a large statue of Buddha, which dates from the 1960s and which is one of the biggest in Asia. The statue is hollow, and inside is decorated with scenes from the life and thought of the Buddha. Behind the statue is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Taiwan. The area is well developed for tourists, with facilities such as multimedia exhibition centers, gift shops and cultural centers. A few hours spent here afford the visitor an insight into the island's interesting and varied religious life. The area around the mountain is one of the primary tea growing centers in Taiwan, especially famous for the Songboling Evergreen Tea. Bird watching, especially hawks, and cycling are some of the activities that tourists can enjoy here.
Yangmingshan is located within 30 minutes by car from downtown Taipei. Yangming Mountain is a dormant volcano and is densely dotted with hot springs, fumerand craters, and is very rich in geothermal phenomena. Many hot spring spas are concentrated in the Beitou area. These resorts provide different kinds of spring pools and have wonderful restaurants. Cingtiangang is a popular spot for astronomers in north Taiwan. Its location high above the city allows for great stargazing on cold winter nights.
Yangming Academy was once a summer holiday residence of Chiang Kai-shek's. Visitors can see historical documents, photographs, the offices, meeting rooms, private bedrooms and some personal belongings of the former president and his wife, Madame Chiang. In early spring, the huge calla lilies of Jhuzihhu on Yangmingshan are in full blossom; the lily farms are open and visitors are welcome to pick the flowers.
Taiwan's mountain ranges are particularly beautiful in the coming season of autumn. If you love mountain climbing and are looking for new challenges, or even if you just prefer milder hiking and enjoying the view, Taiwan is a place you don't want to miss!