Alishan and the Ancient Giants
Days 914 – 915
For our next three days, we were staying in the Fanlu Township near to Alishan – famous for its huge ancient cedars. If you've been following #GrownUpTravellers for some time, you'd know that Tim is a closet tree-hugger. When he heard about Alishan and the Ancient Giants, this area was top of our list.
We planned to drive from Puli near Sun Moon Lake to Fanlu avoiding the toll roads even though it would take us an extra hour to reach our destination. As navigator, I have to put my hands up, as 20 minutes into our journey, we suddenly found ourselves on the Freeway, which isn’t free! I blame Google maps for deciding we couldn’t possibly want to go over the mountains along the wiggly country lanes.
Oh well, after stopping off for lunch our final 40 minutes was a lot of twists and turns around hairpin bends and the scenery was magnificent.
We were arriving too early for our next accommodation so stopped off for a trek on the Eryanping Trail taking us up between the Xidingshan and Eryanpingshan mountains.
The first part was steep wooden steps through a bamboo forest. We couldn’t see much between the bamboos as the view was thick with cloud, but as we reached the top, the cloud dispersed giving us fabulous views of neat tea plantations and surrounding area.
Around each field were stone walls made from colossal rocks which, we read, some had fossils of shellfish in them. We searched but couldn’t find any.
Rather than return the same way, we walked down a lane by a farm. Strung over the path was an enormous amount of passion fruit, and I confess that I snuck two ripe ones I found on the floor into my bag. We still haven’t eaten them.
A little while later we booked into our accommodation on a farm and settled into our log cabin room. Out of our window, we imagined a fantastic vista beyond the cloud. Let’s hope it will clear soon.
The next day, we were up at 5 am – I can’t say bright-eyed and bushy-tailed though. Both of us are not morning people. The area is renowned for its sunrise, well, we were staying in Alishan Sunrise B&B! The farm owners had thoughtfully put signposts signalling where to go. At the end of a small path, we found a few other visitors eagerly waiting for the sun to show its shiny face. There was too much cloud though, but the panoramic view of the mountains and valley was stunning.
The farmer joined us and preceded to tell the small crowd about the mountains. It did make me laugh that Tim and I joined everyone as we couldn’t understand a word. I’m sure his stories were fascinating, though, and he seemed to enjoy waving his walking stick to point out various landmarks.
After another couple of hours nap, we went for a hearty breakfast, including Oolong Tea buns which were delicious. Afterwards, the farmer showed us around his garden full of Air plants, succulents and cacti. I think he tried to sell us some, but when I gave an impression of walking with a heavy rucksack on my back, he got the message that we were not in the buying market.
It was time to go and see those giant trees. Our drive through more steep winding roads took nearly an hour to the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. It was a bit commercialised, but I had read a few write-ups that it was worth visiting. Luckily for us, there weren’t too many people walking around the 1,400-hectare area 2,200 m high.
We paid our entrance fee and following the map; our first stop was at the Three Generation Tree. The first tree was 1,500 years old, 250 years after it had died, another tree grew in the withered tree roots, and then this was repeated for the third generation to thrive. It reminded us of the three-generation cedar trees we saw on Yakushima Island, Japan, but they weren’t cordoned off like these ones.
Within the National Forest is the Giant Tree Trail. It was incredible to see several trees over 1,000 years old, including Taiwan Red Cypress, Yellow Cedar and Spruce all towering above us. The oldest at over 3,000 years old was called the Divine Tree, with a circumference of 23 m. But in the 1950s it was sadly struck by lightning twice. Somehow it continued to stand until 1997 when it collapsed during a time of torrential rain. Some of its remnants lie near the Railway line looking very forlorn.
The oldest tree now is 2,300 years old with a slim circumference of 12.3 m and a towering height of 45 m. It was voted to be the next scared tree of Alishan and named “Xianglin Sacred Tree”. What a beauty.
We came across a small Buddhist temple, where a female monk picked up a tray of tea when we arrived. I thought she was going to offer us some, so smiled and said Xièxiè. I did feel a bit of a berk when she glided past me!
With the sacred giant trees outside, I find it weird that people kneel in front of a golden statue to pray. I find the energy of the trees more spiritual. There is something magical being in their presence, knowing that some have been in existence even before Jesus was born.
Being amongst these ancient trees reminded us of our time in New Zealand with the immense Kauri trees. They are still our favourite; I nearly cried when I hugged one of them.
Anyhow, back here in Alishan, we carried on our walk and suddenly came across an opening with stalls around a square with a massive Taoist temple on one side. We got chatting to Juan, an 84-year-old former doctor who used to live in New York but returned to Taiwan when he was 50. It was fascinating listening to his life story; we do meet such interesting people.
After quite a long chat, we said farewell and carried on our walk, admiring the beautiful trees. Some had decayed into stumps, and in typical human fashion, they have been given names of what the shape resembled. We saw the Love Hearts and the Pig amongst others.
Later we hastily walked past the Elder Sister and Younger Sister Ponds teeming with tadpoles with the parents hiding nearby but croaking loudly. The heavens had opened, so we didn’t pause for long and thankfully found refuge in a hotel. By this time, we had been walking for four hours and realised that we still had 45 minutes to walk back to the car.
When the rain subsided, we continued our trek and was thrilled to see a train station, with the next train in just 15 minutes. After a well-deserved hot chocolate, we hopped on the train.
We eventually got back to our accommodation, and when we looked out of our window, we were delighted to see the spectacular sea of clouds—what a treat and what a great day amongst some ancient giants.