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A pre-dawn start to reach

the Roof of Taiwan is

rewarded with panoramic

views of mountain tops

dipped in cloud

BNE July/August 2016 |

17

M

ost people know the small island nation of

Taiwan only for its buzzing capital, Taipei,

filled with busy streets, vibrant night markets

and street food in abundance. While there’s plenty to amaze and

astound in Taipei with highlights such as the treasures at the

National Palace Museum and the view from the 509-metre high

Taipei 101, the real heart of Taiwan is outside the city and in the

villages of the steeply sloping mountains.

There you can find, meet and share the culture of people from

some of the 14 Indigenous tribes that are acknowledged as the

island’s first inhabitants. Descended from the Austronesian people,

these tribes inhabited the island long before Han settlers arrived

from China in the 17th century and lived as hunters and gatherers,

skills they still use today.

To discover this very different side of Taiwan, I took the High

Speed Rail Bullet Train from Taoyuan Station to Chiayi City in

south-west Taiwan, the gateway to the Alishan National Scenic

Area in Chiayi County. This national landmark is a 415-square-

kilometre mountainous area known for its alpine railroad, verdant

forest and a sea of clouds. High altitude tea and wasabi plantations

are flanked by waterfalls and linked by winding trails that are

popular with hikers.

The road into Alishan is steep and twisting but there are plenty

of scenic stops along the way such as the Yawumasi Trail. Yawumasi

means ‘the pleasant sound of the water’ in the language of the

Tsou tribe and the trail, hugging the twisting Yawumasi Stream

between the rock cliffs, was used by early residents to visit nearby

villages. With tall trees on both sides, the road climbs ever higher

and offered occasional views of the tea plantations across the steep

valleys until we reached our lunch destination, Home 23 Café and

tourist accommodation, which is also home to A-Jiang and his wife.

A-Jiang welcomes visitors to his cafe at Lalauya

Jiemei Lakes, Alishan Forest Recreation Area

Eternal Springs Shrine, Taroko Gorge