A few years ago we were invited to Taiwan, a place we did not know much about. There were some official meetings, but we had some extra time to see some of the northern areas during our 4-day stay there. Our hosts, the Taiwan Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, were very helpful and gracious, so we really enjoyed our sightseeing.
We were based in Taipei (‘pei’ means North in Mandarin), the capital, and decided to keep our journeys short, and see what we felt were interesting in this area
Our first outing was to the Northeast coast to visit some villages. We were a small group with excellent local guides. Enroute, we first stopped at a small Buddhist temple. This was near the seacoast, and was very colourful… and literally so. Further on, we stopped again to admire the unique rock formations on the seacoast. There was one shaped like a human nose, another which formed an abstract shape; and yet another in the shape of a fish that looked as though it was embedded on the rock. The rocks were all shades of brown, having been weathered by the wind and rain.
Our next stop was at some small shops in a lane, somewhat like an arcade. These displayed goods, unique to Taiwan. Here we were introduced to yam soup, which I found delicious. Even the dried fruits (small oranges, plums) and local cakes were treats to cherish there and we took some home. Children’s sandals and ceramic, animal shaped flutes were good souvenirs from this arcade.
From here we walked towards a small village perched on a steep hill, and hence difficult to climb up. We had learnt earlier that gold was mined in this area, so the closely packed houses were built clinging on to steep mountain side. Now the gold is gone, but the quaint houses are left, with shops and temples dotted in between.
The next day, we went north of Taipei to visit the beautiful Yangmingshan National Park. It is spread over a large area and has several places of interest. First, we visited the Chungshan Hall which was built over 40 years ago, and first served as the home of the National Assembly (now defunct). It is a beautiful building, combining modern Taiwanese architecture with traditional Chinese artifacts and designs incorporated in the interior. It is set in the mountains, and the grandeur of its exterior blends beautifully with its surroundings. Interestingly, it is built over a soft and hard base of sulphur springs. Sometimes we could see the uneven floors and smell the sulphur (like rotten eggs). This has been the venue for many state visits and banquets and also houses an exhibition of contemporary historical events of Taiwan.
After visiting a beautiful park, we travelled to the Hot Springs. The area we were in, the Tatun Mountain range, has the largest number of hot springs. The Yangmingshan Hot Springs, the ones we visited, were of the mild alkaline sulphuric kind. We had a choice of two types of bathing, open (without clothes) and private. Bathing in hot springs is supposed to be beneficial for several health problems and is also relaxing. However, out of our group of 10, only two of us took the plunge! It was a refreshing experience, taken inside a private bathroom, but other benefits were not noticeable straightaway!
The first two trips were organised for us, but we also did some unscheduled roaming around. Our hotel was near a shopping mall, so we took a walk to it and around it, a couple of times. It was well laid out and full of beautiful shops.
Another trip we did was to the erstwhile tallest building of the world, Taipei 101. This tourist spot was thronging with people. We queued up and went to the top of the tower in a high-speed lift and from there got a panoramic view of Taipei. Also there were many souvenirs to buy and nice places for refreshments.
On our last day we visited ceramic factories full of beautiful, artistic pieces, but too huge and heavy to take home. But we did pick up some small souvenirs, tea, etc. But what made the trip most memorable are the Taiwanese people who are very warm and hospitable, just like Indians, and very fond of art and natural beauty. The beautiful artifacts in the hotel lobbies and the gorgeous flowers were visual treats. We saw many colourful orchids… their size, colour and variety are a delight for flower lovers.
The writer is past president of RC Jalandhar South, RID 3070.