Through the Mountain Mist

Through the Mountain Mist

• Text: Joe Henley
• Photos: Maggie Song

The mountainous region of Xitou in Nantou County is less than an hour from downtown Taichung when taking a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus. Though not far geographically from the metropolitan hustle of the big city, quiet Xitou could not be more distant from any form of urban monotony. The area gives you a taste of Taiwan's central mountains as well as a glimpse into the region’s history.

 

The Xitou shuttle buses leave from both the Taichung Railway Station and the Taiwan High Speed Rail Taichung Station at Wuri, and run south through Nantou County, passing through the town of Zhushan, known for bamboo products, and the tea-growing region of Lugu before reaching Xitou, a popular forest recreation area.

STOP I / Evershine Lantern Factory
Once again (similar to previous Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus trips done for Travel in Taiwan), I was off on the shuttle bus with a stack of missions to complete. My first stop: the Evershine Lantern Factory in the Zhushan Industrial Zone. Don't let the “Industrial Zone” in the name throw you. It's more a quaint collection of artisan warehouse workshops than the dusty, dirty grid of smoke-spewing factories the name might bring to mind. As for Evershine, it's a former umbrella factory that began churning out lanterns in 1960 for everything from celebrations, festivals, and weddings to funerals. Visitors learn about the history of lantern usage and what the various lantern designs mean, with English tours available.

There is also an open workshop, where a team of five expert lantern makers produce between two and three hundred lanterns per day, doing everything from making the flexible bamboo frames to cutting the cotton cloth that will be slid over them. My mission here was mercifully less difficult than this exacting task. I was handed a completed lantern and simply had to paint a flower on it, along with the Chinese characters for “I Love Taiwan.” Though it came out something like a pre-schooler's art project (with all due respect to any preschoolers who may be reading this), I was nonetheless pleased with my work, and with a new souvenir to take home headed on to stop number two.




STOP II / Fonghuanggu Bird and Ecology Park
Though not directly on the shuttle-bus route, my next stop, Fonghuanggu Bird and Ecology Park, was nonetheless easy to reach by taking a taxi from Zhushan (30 min. / NT$500 one way; you can also take Yuanlin Bus No. 6717, which only costs you NT$83 but will take almost an hour). Part sanctuary, part zoo, and part research center, the park offers stunning views of Mt. Fenghuang, which belongs to the Alishan Mountain Range.

A husband-and-wife volunteer guide team led me around the park, teaching me about the various plant and bird species we passed, paying special attention to those native to Taiwan, such as the Swinhoe's Pheasant. The true stars of the park are the parrots, which take the stage several times a day in their own show, which is equal parts educational and entertaining. I was introduced to Xiao-Bai, a mischievous blue-eyed cockatoo, and his somewhat grumpy counterpart Mei-Mei, a blue-and-yellow macaw whose nasty disposition was brightened with nothing more than a few sunflower seeds.

But oh, yes, my next mission. Parting ways with Xiao-Bai, who had taken up residence on my arm for a good long while as he ate seeds from my palm, I was off in search of Taiwan's national bird, the Formosan Blue Magpie. With the help of my guides I was able to locate my majestic quarry, spying the trademark dark-blue hindfeathers of the “long-tailed mountain lady.”



STOP III / Lugu
Back on the shuttle route again. The next stop, the township of Lugu, is a place known for its many tea plantations and teahouses. I strode from the bus stop over to Hong's Tea House – Chun Ya Tang Tea World, where I received a crash course in tea etiquette and tasting.

My instructor, the kindly Mrs. Wu Mei-na, walked me through a basic “Art of Tea 101” session that is available to anyone who wants to stop by. Basics include filling the pot a quarter of the way up with tea leaves, heating the water to a lower temperature, around 95 degrees Celsius, for a thinner taste, and higher for a thicker taste, and using the proper brewing time, 50 seconds for the first pour, going up in increments of about 10 seconds for every subsequent round. And don't forget the proper serving form – elders first, and if everyone is around the same age, right to left.

With these basics out of the way, it was time to put my newfound expertise to the test – a taste test. Three kinds of oolong tea were placed before me, and I was to determine which of the three was the smooth dongding variety I had sampled earlier in my visit – for which Lugu is best known – a tea said to aid digestion, best enjoyed on a full stomach. I also had to match each cup with the different types of leaves that had been placed in three separate bowls. Much to my surprise, and thanks to Mrs. Wu's expert teaching, I was able to get all three correct, and after one or two more quick cups of oolong it was time to be on my way again.

STOP IV / Xitou Nature Education Area
Next up was a place well-known to tourists in Taiwan, to the tune of about a million of them per year, Xitou Nature Education Area. This park was the site of a Japanese logging operation during the 1895~1945 colonial era, during which almost all the native Taiwanese cedar was cut down. The Japanese cedar planted in its stead have since been allowed to reach up toward the sky without the threat of the saw, and the Taiwanese variety is starting to make a modest comeback.

The showpiece of the park is the named Sacred Tree, a 2,800-year-old red cypress that has survived no less than three lightning strikes, spared the blade due to the fact that a fungus left it hollow and unusable.

Another highlight, and the subject of my mission for this stop, is the Skywalk, 220-meter-long walkway built seven-stories-high above the forest floor. It was originally built for visitors to observe canopy life from above; but since its construction in 2004, the surrounding trees have actually grown past it. Unfortunately, the Skywalk was closed for maintenance during my visit, so a picture taken with me standing beside it will have to do.

STOP V / Monster Village
Conveniently located right next door to Xitou Nature Education Area is Monster Village, a quirky collection of shops and restaurants tied together with a Disney-esque horror theme. Even the food is “monstrous,” with snacks including tang yuan (boiled balls of glutinous rice flour) made to look like eyeballs, and “biting cat buns,” so named for their use of a stinging nettle found in the Xitou area, Urtica thunbergiana, commonly called “biting cat” in Taiwan. The plant, if handled, produces an itching sensation similar to poison ivy, but is perfectly edible after it's cooked.

Speaking of which, my mission was to try this ominously named treat, and it didn't take long to find the bakery that was the village's first shop, opened decades ago. On the way I passed by the village mascots, Bado and Kumar, representatives of black bear and clouded leopard species native to Taiwan (the latter now extinct), and also took in a performance by an indigenous music troupe.

The village provides a free performance area for musicians, and shows are held every day of the week. The biting cat buns, I'm pleased to say, were delicious, as were the biting cat pineapple cakes. Feel free to try some the next time you find yourself in Xitou. And say hello to Bado and Kumar for me.





 

Evershine Lantern Factory (光遠燈籠觀光工廠)

Add: 11, Yanping 2nd Rd., Zhushan Township, Nantou County (南投縣竹山鎮延平二路11號)

Tel: (049) 264-2394

Website: www.ever-shine.com.tw

Fonghuanggu Bird and Ecology Park (鳳凰谷鳥園)

Add: 1-9, Renyi Rd., Fenghuang Village, Lugu Township, Nantou County (南投縣鹿谷鄉鳳凰村仁義路1-9號)

Tel: (049) 275-3100

Website:fhk.nmns.edu.tw

Hong’s Tea House – Chun Ya Tang Tea World (宏記茶業–春雅堂名茶)

Add: 88-9, Xingchan Rd., Lugu Township, Nantou County (南投縣鹿谷鄉興產路88-9號)

Tel: (049) 275-5798

Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區)

Add: 9, Senlin Lane, Lugu Township, Nantou County (南投縣鹿谷鄉森林巷9號)

Tel: (049) 261-2111

Monster Village (妖怪村)

Add: 2-3, Xingchan Rd., Lugu Township, Nantou County (南投鹿谷鄉興產路2之3號)

Tel: (049) 261-2376

 

 

English and Chinese

Alishan Mountain Range阿里山山脈
biting cat buns咬人貓麵包
dongding凍頂
Sacred Tree神木
long-tailed mountain lady長尾山娘
Lugu鹿谷
Mt. Fenghuang鳳凰山
tang yuan湯圓
Wu Mei-na吳美娜
Wuri烏日
Xitou溪頭
Zhushan竹山
Zhushan Industrial Zone竹山工業區