Away from the hustle-bustle of big cities like Teipei, — the hills, rivers, forests and farms at Alishan Mountains are catching up as one of the coolest destinations not only for tourists but for locals too, who come here to unwind. SANGEETA YADAV finds time to roam the beautiful Taiwanese countryside
Lush green mountains covered by cedar and bamboo forest, lavish farms, tea gardens, wasabi and fruit plantations, local markets and a ride in the toy train to Alishan Mountains — Taiwan has a Nature all too amiable, Nature that lets you unwind and relax amidst in the supreme tranquility of the area. The Alishan Mountain area, located in Chiayi and covering 1400 hectare, is best known for its breath-taking sunrise, a sea of clouds and dense green forests through which some of the most picturesque trails in the world pass.
The journey to Alishan is as engaging as the destination itself. Hop on to a train at the Chiayi Railway Station. From the huge round clock hanging from the pole to a spick and span platform and people sitting calmly on wooden benches in the waiting room, the Chiayi Railway Station is simple, ancient and elegant. Having an island platform and single-story wooden structure, the station was constructed in 1896 and renovated in 1933 with streamlined modern designs.
As you ride through the narrow tracks watching quaint houses and markets whiz past, it gives one a feeling of travelling on the Shimla toy train. But as you cross through the tunnels, the place in front of you opens up to a breathtaking landscape and mountains covered with greenery criss-crossing the narrow-gauge path up the hills. Watching the tea plantations, bamboo forests and people sitting on platforms selling eggs is an unusual sight that keeps you engaged throughout the journey.
It takes two hours, 30 minutes to reach Fenchihu, the midpoint stop for Alishan Forests. Here the major attraction is a huge museum showcasing the locomotive trains, railroad artifact and coaling stations.
Right outside the Fenchihu railway station, there is a narrow lane that takes you to the Fenchihu Old Street which is also famous as the farmers market. This high altitude old street is a must-visit to experience local products like the famous Fenqihu boxed meal, Alishan Oolong tea, aiyu jelly, salt powder, wasabi, rice cakes, biscuits and souvenirs, all produced by Taiwan’s mountain people. The quite old world, this market lane looks frozen in 1912 when farmers going to the forest used to stop by at the station for lunch.
The best way to explore the mountains is to go on trails and that’s what Alishan is most famous for. There are total five famous trails— trail of cloud, trail of fog, trail of tea, trail of cherry and trail of xia. Each trail has different feature.
If you are a morning person and love to see the sunrise, the Longding Trail is must. Breathe in the fresh mountain air and feel the mist on your face as you walk up the wooden deck 300 meters long. A place famous for photographers and nature-lovers who come from far away much before dawn to shoot the scenic sunrise at 5.05 am. From the top, one can see Mt Jade, Tataka, Longtou peak, North and South peak and the Dabang and upper Zengwan rivers.
A forest carries a strong aroma of Phytoncide. Then there is what locals call the enchanted forest which is a thing to die for through the Cloud Trail which is 670 meter long and connects to the Tea Trail and Mist Trail. As you walk through these trails, the sound of insects and frog calls are like music to your ears. The accompanying beautiful dense fir and cedar forests where the sun plays hide and seek with tall trees is Alishan’s showstopper.
Amidst the Alishan forest are Taiwan’s delectable farms. Imagine, experiencing the traditional farm life in a farm surrounded by forest. The Long Yun Leisure Farm is one unusual farm famous for its scenic beauty. Owned by the third generation of the Teng family, the farm house was earlier used as base camp for climbers.
“Our first guests were mountain climbers. Now we have a well-furnished guest house where tourists can feel at home. We often Indianise the food for our Indian guests,” 19-year-old Frank Teng, the youngest in the family, tells you.
Taiwan has around 16 different aborigines, one of which is found in Alishan. “When we have big festival, they get together and drink rice wine. Because they all live in the mountains, they come down to our farms only during big festivals. Some of these festivals are the Chinese New Year, the Moon Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival. In the Moon Festival, we have a grand barbeque session and eat moon cake. In the Dragon Boat festival, people participate in a dragon boat competition and eat rice dumplings. There is another tradition called Mochi or sticky rice where the villagers get together and pound the rice until it becomes ready as a dessert,” Teng says.
A three-day trip to Alishan is a revelation of Taiwan’s countryside beauty. The Alishan Forest Recreation Area, YuYuPas and Fenqihu are must-visit places. The best time to travel to Alishan is spring also known as the cherry blossom season which is a very short bloom in February-March.
(The article also got published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/backpack/alishan-way-of-life.html)