We are almost there. Just 10-15 minutes more.” Danny, my tour-guide, had promised. And that was an hour back! Now, we are at the end of the Shakadang trail in Taiwan’s most-celebrated Taroko National Park, 25 km from Hualien city. Popular among locals as the ‘Mysterious Valley Trail’, it is blessed with gorgeous vistas of crystal clear turquoise waters, centuries-old marble canyons and boulder-strewn flats. One of the nine national parks in the country, it derives its name from the Taroko Gorge—the imposing gorge of the park carved by the winding Liwu river.
There is a unique Chinese red bridge that connects the towering walls of limestone, past caves, tunnels and a mist shrouded Eternal Spring Shrine, where locals offer prayers for the 250 lives lost while constructing the highway through the park.Of Taiwan’s 100 peaks, the park is home to 27, along with some 80 per cent of the country’s flora and fauna. With its tunnels, racy hairpin bends, and well-maintained trails, this nationally protected park offers some gruelling yet exciting adventures for all—the hikers, cyclists and the day-trippers.
An hour’s trudging alongside bottle-green trees and a tourist-busy incline, and we reach hotel Leader Village Taroko—a sublime tribute to the recently recognised indigenous tribe of the country, the Truku tribe. The Japanese-style wooden lodge furbished with a pink railing and embellished with woollen artefacts lies in the mid of mist-laden towering cliffs.The late evening nip in the air begins to stir things up around. There is a hidden monkey trail near the hotel that can be explored during the day. One can enjoy the authentic aboriginal feast at the restaurant in the evening. One can experience foods ranging from crispy boar ribs with wild fern, smoked flying fish, fresh bamboo shoots, a bowl of seaweed and wild rice served alongside a luscious flavour of plum wine and more.
Evening tribal performances, showcasing their customs, songs, dance, and musical instruments, are a treat to watch. The eldest person of the troupe introduces the dancers, before the teenaged Truku girls and boys—perfect in their red and white traditional dresses—start performing. It is followed by a performance by small girls on xylophone—made of nutgall and tung trees. Tunes of Re, Me, So and La reverberate in the surrounding valley.
The performance, accompanied by loud noises of cheering locals and Chinese tourists, takes you to a different world. I don’t understand a word but decide to play along with claps. And it concludes with the most-awaited performance—a young lad playing a bamboo harmonica. Anyone who’s a technology geek knows Taiwan as a giant electronic manufacturing hub. But, little is known of its natives, the indigenous tribes.
Unencumbered by loss of words or a declining heritage owing to a revolving door of colonisation by the Dutch, the Japanese and the Chinese, they continue to savour their native past, by offering it as an unmissable experience to the tourists. Taipei, the country’s capital, has built a solid electronic manufacturing market that exports ‘Made in Taiwan’ products all over the world. But people say the country’s hinterlands are its biggest surprise.And the nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people, not in the sounds or sights of beautiful landmarks.
Getting there: Closest railhead is Hualien City—22 km. Trains, cabs are available from the city.
Best time to visit: Spring (April-June), and fall (Sept-Nov)
Activities available: Hiking, river tracing and cycling