TAROKO GORGE - bazancik

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No trip to Taiwan is complete without visiting Taroko. Or so they say.

This was my second visit to Taroko and, although absolutely stunning, I still prefer the mountains and Hehuanshan. As impressive at is is, Taroko does not easily give you the same close relationship and encounter. It is more of a 'drive through' feel than deep, hands (and legs) on experience. Don't get me wrong - it is still stunning and remember I am comparing two GREAT experiences! It just is a different type of experience.


If it comes to fotos, it's just harder. You are working in an constrained space, steep vertical walls, enormous scale. Hard, hard and hard. Two days was not enough - will have to return with more creative approach to the landscape. But even these two days already gave me some ideas...

Looking for practical info? check the section at the bottom.


Stay in a church - or a temple


There are only a few accommodation options in Taroko – but fortunately you can also stay in most of the churches and temples. The Tianxiang Presbyterian Church (天祥禮拜堂) offers simple accommodation in one of the most scenic setting: simple rooms, clean bathrooms, fantastic location. What else could you want? You will have a better view than from the hotel below. Tianxiang remains relatively quiet even over weekend. Most tourist come for a day and tend to congregate at the other end of the gorge. Simple rooms, clean bathrooms, fantastic location.

Chonguang Temple also offers rooms, as does the Tianxiang Catholic church.


Accommodation

One of the main attraction is the Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道).

Unfortunately, only part of the trail is currently open – but even these few kilometres offer some fantastic way to experience the mighty gorge and connect with the past. The trail has an interesting and rich history of local tribes and Japanese taking turns in 'managing' the passage. You might want to read on the history a little before heading out - the information on the trail is a little sporadic.

The trail starts with a bang - a long suspension bridge across the valley that will take you away from the main road and crowds visiting the Swallow Grotto.


Crossing the chasm

  • Crossing the chasm
  • Crossing the chasm
  • Crossing the chasm

River runs through it

  • Tiver runs through it
  • Cliffs and bridges

Though the stream below the suspension bridge might look peaceful and quiet, remember that this is the little stream below that carved the gorge. Silently it has continued to work through solid rock, creating this magnificent monument of nature. As you walk, a second bridge soon follows, spanning the steep walls of the gorge.


Cliffs in the mist

Mist and cloud

Unfortunately the day brought low cloud, mist and drizzle. Although much nicer to walk in, compared to scorching sun, the lingering mist meant there were no expansive views of the gorge below. No views of the steep cliffs.

The visibility was mere few meters. This was really not working for photos. It looked just like my recent trip to Switzerland or our hike to the top of Hehuan North Peak.

But, in a way, it added some drama to the landscape, bringing an air of mystery.With a little bit of quick planning and adjustments some vertical panoramas (hand held) seemed to do some justice to the landscape.

Especially as the surrounding mountains and forest felt like from a fairy tale. You could not see where the path was leading to, not were you ever sure if something lurked in the mist. The shadows, the shapes and the soft whisper of the falling rain added to the mystique and surreal feel. The landscape seemed to came to life with each step, playing a hide-and-seek.


And then the rabbit - hole, a portal to another world. A shadow disappearing in the portal, maybe never coming to the other side.


  • Rabbit hole
  • The path

Greenhouse effect?

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. The massive leaves certainly were greener on that day.


Despite the weather, it was a great walk to do. We did not get to see the sheer scale of the gorge, nor did we get to experience looking down the cliff. Yet, it was well worth it.

Guess will have to do it again.


Some practical info: 

First, even before you set off, check if the trails you planning to do are open (here). There were plenty of disappointed people who drove for a few hours just to find out that the trail they wanted to do is closed...

To access the Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道) is controlled and the number of visitors per day is limited. Hence, you need to apply for a permit (see info here). Weekends are booked well in advance so make sure you apply early. It can be done online, but you will still need to go and see the park wardens to get some stamps (stamps are important in Taiwan...), followed by more stamps in the local police station. So if you planning to go early, make sure you do your stamping exercise the day before. We did our in Tianxiang, which was quiet and took around 30 minutes.

Greens

Yanzikou  - Swallow Grotto (燕子口步道)

The Zhuilu Old Trail begins nearby the Swallow Grotto so-called trail. With 500m in length this is hardly a trail and more like a long carpark!

But here you can admire the beautiful patterns of the sheer granite walls and see the power of the Liwu River below. There is also some interesting plumbing issue going on - with a fountain of water gushing out of sheer granite wall.

Somebody call a plumber!

  • Somebody call a plumber?
  • Water fountain
Selfie time

The Swallow Grotto is a major tour-bus stop and so expect selfie-bonanza.

We have learnt some new techniques there - so a good place to catch up with the Asian pop culture...






Nearby an easy walk by the Shakadang River (的圖片搜尋結果) offers you some more views of the amazing patterns that make the gorge.


  • Devil's in the detail!
  • Forces of nature

The car-park in front of the Eternal Spring Shine (長春祠; Changchun) is the main tourist stop. And for a good reason. Surrounded by lush vegetation and with a waterfall in the centre, the shrine perfectly blends to the steep mountain wall. Although impressive as it is, it is dwarfed by the mountain. The shrine commemorates the 226 military veterans who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway.

  • Eternal Spring Shine (長春祠; Changchun)
  • Eternal Spring Shine (長春祠; Changchun)
  • Eternal Spring Shine (長春祠; Changchun)

The carpark can turn real busy and real noisy during weekends. Just crossing the carpark can give you an adrenaline boost with the selfie sticks coming from each possible direction, trying to attack your eyes, your hands, attempting to trip you with each step you take.Then there are the tired passengers who desperately need a fag. Even if it's next to the 'no smoking' sign.

The good news is, most of the large and noisy couches (many of which carrying mainland Chinese tourists), stay only for 15 minutes or so before they head off to the next (15 minutes) carpark-stop . Walk away a few steps, wait extra 10 minutes and you will have a chance to enjoy the view by yourself. 


And make sure you do not miss the real treat:  the Changuang Temple majestically sitting on the hill above.

No Smoking?

Changuang Temple (的圖片搜尋結果)

To get to the temple you need to cross a suspension bridge above the road. It looks great from the road and it offers same astounding views as well.

Bridging the gap!
  • Taking in the view
  • Suspended
  • Changuang Temple; Taroko.
  • Buddha
  • WWW
  • At peace


The temple offers a quiet space away from the buses full of noisy tourists. You welcomed to stroll around or sit down and meditate. It also offers simple accommodation.


But remember - Taiwanese drivers have little, if any, consideration for pedestrians (pedestrian = dog turd). You have been warned…

Warning! Killer cars!

Illuminated

Morning tree

Steep walls and deep valleys mean a lot of light and shadow games happening every morning and evening. As the sun travels across the sky, its rays dance on the walls and valleys of the gorge.


It often illuminates small parts of the landscape, creating this game of deep contrasts, of darkness and warm morning light.


High above, on the cliff nearby the church sits a lonely tree perching on a small outcrop. In the morning it catches the early rays of the rising sun. As it bathes in the warm light, the rest of the mountain hides in the shade.


And just round the corner a pagoda, bathing in the early morning sun.


Pagoda

Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖)

Qingshui Cliff (清水斷崖)


One way from Taroko takes you through the precarious Qingshui Cliff (清水斷崖). It's a breath-taking stretch of the road. Clinging to the mountainside, winding its way up and down. But it is precarious for another reason: the betel-nut-high drivers in their rusty, old trucks. They seem to lack any imagination or common sense. They charge like a raging bull, they get closer than you ever really want any of them to be. There is only one piece of advice when you scooter around Taiwan: keep as far as you can from the trucks. If you check the statistics – or watch any of the so-called news (not sure it deserves the name!) you soon understand why.

Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖)

Some practicalities


Accommodation and places to eat are few and far between in Taroko. In a way this is good news.

If you looking for accommodation, check the churches and temples: almost all of them offer rooms and these can be very cheap. If you prefer a bit less busy place check out Tianxiang - a great place to stay. But not to eat. The local food place around the main square is pretty bad for what it offers. You might think there is some choice- but it turns out all the joints are owned and run by one owner. Here goes the idea of competition. Seven 11 was a better option and it gets properly stacked for weekends.

But you will be much better off to drive / ride out of the park. Highly recommended is the 168經濟小吃 - tasty, fresh and much cheaper than anything in Taroko, and especially Tianxiang. Make the trip, you won't regret (as much as we regretted having some food at 天祥餐廳, which was stupidly overpriced and barely edible). 

Once in he area, check the local maps and ask your hosts for any other local walks: you can find some surprisingly nice, short walks - but if you stuck'em up... For example, the Lüshui Trail (綠水步道) might only be a couple of km long but offers some pretty nice cliff-path and views. And not very well advertised.

Finally, if you feel like having a hot spring deep, there is the Wenshan Hot Spring. Although officially closed due to the typhoon damage back n 2005 (mind the slippery stairs and pieces of metal rods sticking out) and risk of rock fall. Don't be surprised if there is no space to squeeze in - it gets pretty busy.  No photos - too dark.


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