On the first weekend SCC Team Tainan had the whole of Sunday for relaxation from the hectic schedule of Week 1. As recommended by our local hosts some of us decided to explore and experience more of Taiwan outside Tainan. Irv and I decided to take a day trip to the famous Alishan Mountains of Taiwan. We had booked a car with an english speaking driver/tour guide who arrived sharp at 9:30am. We left our hotel and took three freeways and exited on to the very windy road towards the mountains. Our driver Kevin was a talkative person providing us information about the places we crossed on the way and also shared with us his hotspot as a complimentary service. The road journey was approximately 2.5 hours long and on the drive up the mountain we crossed some beautiful scenes of lush green tropical trees. We were headed to the site of the Alishan Forest Railway, which is approximately 2,300 meters above sea level. Interestingly, the road up the mountains was pretty busy and we passed many tourist buses and cars on the way. It seemed everyone was headed up to the mountains on a weekend day!
We reached our destination around 12 noon and as we stepped out of the car we were greeted by a lovely gush of cool mountain air. The temperature was around 18 degrees centigrade and I was glad that I had carried a light shawl. We were hungry and decided to have lunch at a nice restaurant that our guide recommended. It was a delicious preset meal with hotpot, 5 other dishes, rice and free Wi-Fi service. Post lunch we headed to the railway station to board the train. It was a red train of six coaches that is pulled by a steam locomotive and runs on a narrow gauge. This railway line was previously a long stretch from the bottom of the mountain that had been damaged by a typhoon and therefore only a part of it at the top of the mountain was now being used for tourists. It took only six minutes to reach our destination, the Chaoping station.
Next, we headed for the Alishan Forest Park with the tall cedar and cypress trees. The local people consider the Cypress a sacred tree and worship it. There was a sign next to the cypress trees asking not to scratch the tree trunk, probably because of souvenir seekers!! Previously this forest was made up of many ancient cypress trees but due to logging and planting of Japanese cedar trees in the early 1900’s, the number of cypress trees has dwindled down to less than 40. The cypress trees were a glorious sight with their huge girth and height. Some of them were 2300 years old and it was nice to imagine how much history they have witnessed over the years. We were soon playing a guessing game about the age of the cypress trees. The youngest of them was only 800 years old! The remaining stumps of the fallen cypress trees had interesting shapes formed over the years, like the snout of a pig, a heart, an elephant trunk and so on.
The downhill walk through the forest was very refreshing with flowers and ponds along the way. We kept stopping to take pictures. Towards the end of the long walk my feet had begun to hurt but I was happy about the good exercise. We headed towards the train station as the last train was leaving at 4pm. The station was crowded with tourists like us waiting for the train to arrive. When the train arrived, I could manage to get a seat but Irv and Kevin had to remain standing for the short 8 minute return journey. Getting off the train we took some more pictures and then headed to our car for the downhill journey. Before moving on, I purchased a bottle of wasabi that is locally grown and is quite cheap compared to the city.
On the return journey we again crossed beautiful views of clouds over the mountains. Our next stop was a local town and we walked along its narrow lanes crossing shops and houses. We also got to see the wasabi plant that was being sold in the shops. We then decided that we had done enough walking and it was time to have something to eat. Kevin took us to a local indigenous restaurant where he managed to obtain a table for us since the owner was his friend. The food was made with local organic vegetables and was really delicious. You could taste the freshness of the vegetables. We quickly finished our dinner and then sat down in the car for the drive back to Tainan. I was exhausted and sat back in my seat to sleep through the return journey.
We reached our hotel around 9pm and it was time to say goodbye to our guide. As we headed into the hotel we reflected back on the day and the beautiful experience of the trip to the wonderful Alishan Mountains.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Irv for enhancing the content of this blog entry.