September 16, 2015

Returning to Taroko

Dramatic landscape - magic in the mountains

Recently I had the opportunity to return to Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, an area I wrote about already in 2014. Taroko gorge on the east coast of Taiwan, an area prone to earthquakes - it was not far from Taroko that the epicenter for the first earthquake I felt in Taiwan was.  Earthquakes and volcanoes are a part of everyday life when you live on the Ring of Fire, and while it's a hassle, and can indeed mean danger it has it's advantages - not just the  hotsprings and water rich in minerals, but it also makes for a very dramatic landscape. 

Taroko Gorge has been shaped by wind, rains - this is often the first area hit by the bad weather from the typhoons - landslides and earthquakes over thousands, no, millions of years. 

The mountains on Taiwan are high, far higher than the highest mountains in the Scandinavian countries, high as many of the mountains in southern Germany, France and Austria, and when it rains, it pours - and the water falls fast from the tops of the mountains and the rivers, which are merely trickles the rest of the time, become huge, untamed monsters eating their way through the landscape. Among the most dramatic landscape you can see and experience is in the Taroko Gorge, just north of Hualien, south of Yilan. 

In the 1950-ies a road across the island, from East to West was built, through hard labour, by retired soldiers no longer needed in war - a tough and very dangerous task, and many people died in work related  accidents during the building of this road - the road was, at the time of building quite infamous. Originally built for the military, by the military, to be able to pull back up into the mountains and cross over to the western side, this road is now known instead for it's incredibly beauty - formally named Highway 8, the Central Cross Island Highway. It is definitely one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have ever travelled, stunning, with a lot of areas worth stopping to get a look at the amazing view, a few places to stay over night along the road (places often booked out, especially weekends) and some camping sites, but all in all very wild, untamed, and absolutely breathtaking. You don't travel through here to save time, for that you are better off driving back up to Taipei and down again along the opposite coast, you take Highway 8 for the sheer beauty of it, and only if you have time. You will need it. 

One of the first sights you will see when you enter the Taroko gorge is what looks like a little temple on the side of the mountain. This is a shrine, the Eternal Spring Shrine, built in memory of all those who lost their lives in when the road through the mountains was built. It is ironic that the shrine itself has had to be rebuilt several times since it was opened, as it was hit by falling rocks and other natural disasters and was destroyed, just like the people it was built in remembrance of. 

There are always parts of the road and the trails along the area that are closed off, due to risk of rockfalls caused by a recent earthquake, or by a typhoon passing by, and there is, due to erosion, always work going on, repairing the road and the area around - but every year the river cuts deeper and deeper into the rock, and every year the landmass move a tiny tiny bit, continuing to press against Taiwan, this is partly what the magnificent east coast of Taiwan is built up from, something you can see the marks of if you have the opportunity to step outside, and walk on one of the many walking trails along the ravine. 

This time I wasn't able to get quite as close to the nature as I was hoping for, with two big typhoons whipping up storms and rains in Taiwan in August, many areas were still closed down, and also, because we hadn't had a chance to book well in advance, the place where we wanted to stay in Taroko was fully booked, and we only managed a daytrip. There is only so much you can see and do during one day - next time I come back I hope to stay for at least two nights in these magic mountains. 

Because I have a feeling that I will come back to Taroko again and again. It's something magical about the place... 

Learn more:
Read more about Pacific Ring of Fire on National Geographics website
Read more about Erosion, also on National Geographics website

If you want to find out more about the Taroko gorge, read my previous post and check the links there.

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