Travel with me #111 : Taroko National Park, Taiwan!
Dear Steemit Friends:
I am looking forward to taking you around Taroko Gorge in the Hualien Region of Taiwan. To see is to believe, my friends, and I just can't wait to show you the amazing sights of this beautiful area. Taroko Gorge is set within Taroko National Park in the northern area of Hualien County on the east coast of Taiwan. In spans 920 square kilometres and contains mountains well over 3000m tall.
The Taroko National Park was established in 1986 and is one of nine national parks in Taiwan. It marks an important commitment from the Taiwanese government to preserve the the natural beauty of the country. Taiwan has experienced rapid economical growth in the last half century, and that commercial development has had its impact on the environment as cities grew and industry expanded. So in 1972 a law was passed called the 'National Park Act of the Republic of China'. This was designed to protect the natural scenery, history, wildlife and important scientific areas of the natural world.
What is very interesting about the Taroko National Park is that is rises very quickly out of the ocean. It is rare to have mountains of up to 3700m high, so close to the coast. These mountains are spectacular, and because of how rapidly they rise up from the ocean the rivers are very powerful here. The steep drop from mountain peaks to sea level has caused massive erosion, leaving huge canyons and gorges in their wake. You will see Taroko Gorge today, from which the national park takes its name.
The Taroko Gorge is sometimes also called the Marble Gorge because, as the name suggests, much of the rock is marble. The area would have once been at the bottom of the sea bed, but after immense pressure and the moving of tectonic plates, the mountains have been thrust up high into the sky. I was told that in fact this area of Taiwan is growing taller by 0.5cm per year. Over millions of years that makes pretty big mountains!
The Taroko Gorge itself is reported to be around 19km long and it is very deep, with almost vertical cliffs on either side. The river that runs through the gorge and that has carved this natural marvel is the Liwu River. As you will see, the river itself is as impressive as the gorge that is has carved and you would find it difficult to find a more beautiful setting in all of the world with mountains, rivers and canyons all combined.
The gorge itself is accessible by walking and no more than sensible trainers are needed for most of the main pathways. You can access other areas of the national park on more rugged trials but you should seek the permission of the authorities if you intend to stray off the main tourist routes. The climate of the area is much cooler than many other areas of Taiwan due to its elevation and proximity to the coast. It is not unusual for the area to be covered in mystical low cloud, obscuring the peaks of the mountains around you in a layer of mist that trials itself around the green canopy of the trees that run over the mountainside.
When you arrive at Taroko Gorge you are first most aware of the noise. The river is very powerful, it has carved the huge gorge that you will now see, and there is a lot of fast moving water. The sound of the river echos off the walls of the gorge and mountains to fill the air with the sounds of nature, power and water.
At the mouth of the gorge you catch the first sight of the Liwu River and I was amazed at how blue it was. Blue, I think, is not even the right word. It was what I would call 'cartoon blue' - the sort of blue that water is in cartoons but never in real life. Well this really was this colour! You can see some of it behind my body here, I am teasing you a little bit, but you will see more of this amazing river soon. I was really quite entranced!
I had yet to enter the gorge properly, and I knew there were so many sights to see further into Taroko National Park but I had to take a while for my eyes to adjust to the beauty of the water. I don't know about you but water can be a bit hypnotic and therapeutic. You know how you can stare into an open fire and just pass the time and watch the flames? The water is much the same but this blue had me even more fascinated and I just wanted to sit and stare! Finally I pulled myself away with thoughts that there would be much more water and many more sights to see as my day went on.
It does not take very long before you enter a completely different world. The walls of the gorge rise up around you to shelter you from all noise except for the rushing of the water. The route winds along the side of the gorge, quite high up. You can see how deep the gorge is below you but also appreciate how high the mountains are around you. It is amazing to think that water has carved this deep channel into the marble.
In the distance you can see there is a bridge that crosses the canyon. This is very narrow and made only from some flexible wire and other similar materials so that people can cross the gorge single file if needed. It was not that windy when I visited but I could still see the bridge swaying from side to side slightly, which looked very scary! I didn't see anyone cross it, and perhaps that was a good thing! I would have been so nervous just watching, let alone trying it myself.
And now what I've been teasing you with, the amazing water and the sheer canyon walls! Can you believe that this is not fairy-tale water? Cartoon blue, crystal clear, beautiful water. From this height, you could see all of the water swirling around the rock walls of the canyon. In the rock, as you can see there are many different layers of rock that have been carved through over the years by this very same river.
Each stripe of rock represents a different era in history and the smooth rock wall, smoothed by millions of years of water erosion, shows these off beautifully. Higher up the wall you can see the more red colours and lower down there are stripes of white and blue. I didn't know what these different layers meant but they must have been very different bits of history for the marble rock to look so different.
This area of the Taroko Gorge is called the Swallows Grotto for the hundreds of holes in the rock walls that house nests for swallows, small nimble birds that come here to have their young. I can't imagine any predators can get them up there! And they get such a good view as well. What a lovely place for the little baby swallows to be born and to hear the sound of the water and see the blue of the river below them as they learn to fly. I imagine that these area is quite sheltered from the wind but that it must get very wet! You can see the moss above the holes has 'dripped' down with the rain water that runs down the rock during heavy storms.
Further in to the gorge, following the route that hugs the sheer rock walls, the path is cut into the rock beside the river, dozens of metres up. At this point, there is a legal requirement that you wear a helmet because there is a great chance of falling rocks. The very same power the has created this amazing gorge causes the rock walls to erode and for stones to call. You just have to look at the riverbed behind me to see the giant boulders that have fallen down into the Liwu River and been swept a long by flood waters.
Here you can see the true immensity of the Taroko Gorge with the overhanging cliff walls, hundreds of metres tall. You can also see the ingenuity of man and the thousands of hours of work that it took to build this route into the side of this beautiful gorge. The path is cut straight into the cliff and was done largely without machinery, just man power and a lot of hard work.
Here also you can see how important it is to stay safe with a helmet because the rocks can easily fall off the roof or down from the cliffs too. I felt very inside of nature in this spot and I spent a long time just standing in this very special and unique place. Inside this area, the sound of the water was all around you as it echoed up the rock walls, bouncing backwards and forwards up from the floor of the gorge.
This route on which I had been walking and admiring the view from is actually called the Central Cross-Island Highway and it was built in the 1950s by the military. It was a gruelling endeavour and required thousands of hours from thousands of veteran soldiers to complete. The work was very dangerous, as you can imagine, and landslides and poor conditions caused the deaths of hundreds of the workers. The road now has restricted access to traffic, though it is still technically a national highway.
You can see very clearly here how the route is cut right into the side of the gorge. It feels quite high up when you're standing on it and looking down at the rushing blue water, but then you look upwards and realise just how high up this gorge goes. I couldn't get a proper picture to show how tall it was because, well, it was so tall!
I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the place was for people. There was of course, a few tourists around but you could always find a quiet spot to sit and admire the area and just 'be' in the environment without feeling crowded. Though there were some tour buses with big groups of people and the occasional tour guide, they moved through quite quickly. I loved being able to enjoy the atmosphere of this place.
I remember vividly the smell of water, and greenery and damp rock. The sound of the river below you, the echo of voices and the occasional sounds of birds that had made this sheltered place their home.
This a shrine to chief engineer Jin Hen who was swept away in a landslide in 1957 while inspecting damage to a dam that was caused by a large earthquake. The shrine is a sobering reminder of the human effort and sacrifice that was spent making this area of the world accessible and safe for people.
The Eternal Spring
Changchun Shrine or The Eternal Spring was built to homage those men who lost their lives in construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway. In 1987 the pavilions that you can see here were destroyed when the cliffs collapsed after heavy rain. You can still see evidence of this to the right of the buildings here and it is a sobering thought to realise how powerful nature is, even when man tries to tame it. 10 years later, the pavilions were finally restored to their former glory for us to see!
Nestled at the base of the cliff, the pavilions of the Eternal Spring straddle a small waterfall and stream that cascade down and out under the bridges and walk ways. The colours of white, orange and blue against the green of the mountainside and the blue of the water were really quite striking and I felt this was a beautiful lasting memory to those who had given so much for this place.
The pavilions at the bottom of the waterfall only mark the entrance to the shrine, which is located about 15 minutes walk up onto the mountainside. This path up to the shrine was closed when I visited, perhaps due to more landslides or slippery conditions on the hundreds of steps that lead upward. Even from down here, though, I could appreciate the serene beauty of this isolated monument, with its well maintained facade and bright colours.
The pavilions were very peaceful and less busy that I would have thought. May of the tour buses stop to take in the view from the other bank of the river but do not take you up to explore the pavilions themselves. There were beautiful views back into the heart of the gorge as well as many quiet and secluded places to sit and reflect on the day.
As my bus left Taroko Gorge I knew that this was a place that I would always remember and that would always remain special in my memories. A place without compare, the effort of hundreds of souls went into trying to tame this wilderness of water and rock. I could have easily spent many more hours just soaking up the sounds and sights that had been millions of years in the making. But unfortunately I had to leave! As the bus pulled away, I was told that there would be just one more stop before my return to my hotel - we were headed for the viewing area called Clear Water Cliff or Qingshui Cliff.
Stretching for 21km the Quingshui Cliffs are 21 kilometres long and they rise an average of 800 metres above the sea level. It is the highest coastal cliff in Taiwan so therefor offers amazing views up and down the coast. Where I had just spent many hours with rock walls rising on both sides of me, now the cliffs just rose to my back and the pacific ocean out in front of me. A real contrast to the enclosed space of the gorge, the feeling of openness was beautiful. As you can see the sky had cleared of the clouds and mist that had been present earlier in the day and I could see for miles in both directions, up and down the cliffs.
I will leave you now with some of these beautiful views. The very size of everything in Hualien County is quite humbling. The huge mountains, the rushing rivers and the majestic Pacific Ocean make it a unique place for any traveller. I am very lucky to have spent my time here.
Steemit Friends, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post today and to share in this adventure. My favourite part of the day was easily the cartoon blue waters of the Taroko Gorge and the unique and impressive route from which you view it, carved into the size of the cliff face. Of course, we must honor still some of the tragedies that occurred to help build that route and remember the men who sacrificed too much. I am humbled by my time in Taroko National Park for this reason and because of the very beauty of its nature. Unfortunately nature is a force so great and grand and huge that it is hard to tame by man.
What was your favourite bit of this exploration with me? Have you been anywhere else like this before? I'd love to speak more with you in the comments below and if you'd like to see more of my adventures, please follow me and of course vote for this post if you liked it! I will leave you now with my best and most honest attempt at a jumping photo to end my day's adventure... perhaps you can see how hard I was trying!
Until next time...
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