Travel in Taiwan Scenery

Alishan


By Halima Dick and Kao Chieh-ju
Photos by Sung Chih-hsiung

The subject of a well-known song, Alishan is one of Taiwan's top tourist resorts and well worth a visit. The area is famous among residents and visitors as one of Taiwan's best places to watch the sunrise. The views are impressive in practically every direction. Craggy mountain peaks jut out of a sea of fluffy white clouds, which gradually turn a fiery mass of purples, reds, and oranges in a magnificent light show created by the first rays of dawn as the sun rises above the peaks.

The area was first discovered during the early years of the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) for its abundant cypress forests. There are five things at Alishan that the tourist cannot miss: the railway, the beautiful cypress forests, the "sea of clouds," the sunrise, and the sunset.


The narrow-gauge alpine railway and Alishan's famous red train take visitors up the mountain.
Alishan Railway
One of the best ways to reach Alishan is by the area's famous narrow-gauge railway, which was built by the Japanese mainly to take advantage of Alishan's wealth of timber resources. The track has been in use since around 1912. Despite massive deforestation during the Japanese occupation, the area's forests have largely been restored to their former glory by a careful program of reforestation and logging at a sustained rate.

The railroad certainly rates as one of the world's most scenic. The famous red engine pushes and pulls its carriages from an elevation of 30 meters to Alishan at 2,216 meters above sea level. In good weather, passengers can see an astounding variety of flora and fauna as the train climbs from the subtropics to the pine forests in just 72 kilometers. Construction of the railroad was no mean feat. The train passes through a total of 50 tunnels and crosses 77 bridges.

The Alishan train can be taken at Chiayi (嘉義) station. A one-way ticket costs NT$390. Return tickets are available for a 15% discount. For details of train times, please contact the station, tel: (05) 267-9833. The journey up takes three and a half hours.


Another scenic "must"at Alishan is the ancient "sacred tree".
Alishan's Forests
The forests of Alishan, with their magnificent old cedar trees and pines, present a sharp contrast to the tropical palms and banana plants of the plains around Chiayi. The area attracts large numbers of tourists, in particular Japanese visitors, during the spring, when the cherry trees are in bloom. During the afternoon, the forests take on an eerie beauty, when they become enveloped in fog.

Probably the most famous tree in the Alishan Forest Recreation Area is the "sacred tree" (神木), which is said to be over 3,000 years old. This grand old tree was formerly one of Alishan's largest trees, but a lightning strike reduced it to an enormous withered stump. In the 1960s a second tree was found growing from the stump. The sacred tree can be seen on an easy four-kilometer hike down the mountain after viewing the sunrise at Chushan (祝山 ), or, alternatively, by train. A one-way ticket to the sacred tree costs NT$50.


Alishan's famous "sea of clouds"is a must-see for tourists.
Alishan's Sea of Clouds
Alishan is known throughout Taiwan for its beautiful morning views of jagged peaks jutting out of a sea of fluffy clouds. At this time of day, it is easy to imagine what inspired traditional Chinese ink painters in their realistic portrayals of mountains shrouded in mists. The best time for seeing the clouds is probably autumn, when swathes of cloud wrap the mountain peaks. Visitors are advised that the best location to view Alishan's famous sea of clouds is Erwanping ( 二萬坪), which is the train stop before Alishan. The clouds appear to move in huge billowing waves, which sometimes swallow the island-like mountain peaks. The views from Erwanping are magnificent.

Sunrise at Chushan
Just about every visitor to Alishan will make the short train journey on up the mountain to the prime sunrise-viewing location of Chushan. The exact time and angle from which the sun appears depends on the season. Sunrise experts say that the sunrise is actually quite different in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. For instance, at summer solstice (June 22) the sun should rise at exactly 5 a.m. from Alishan's most northern point. At the winter solstice (December 22) sunrise comes two hours later, at 7 a.m., and the sun rises from Alishan's most southern point.

The journey to Chushan by train takes about 30 minutes and costs NT$100. It is advisable to depart at least 45 minutes before sunrise (your hotel will tell you what time the sun is scheduled to rise). Be warned that whatever time of year you visit Alishan, it is always pretty cold just before dawn, so wrap up well!

Hardier visitors can also take a one-hour hike up the road or along stone steps which, at certain sections of the route, run parallel to the railway. Even in the dark, the route is easy to pick out, especially if you visit on a weekend when the hundreds of other tourists will lead the way. When you reach the summit, you can enjoy a cheap breakfast from a number of vendors while you wait for the sun to appear.

Sunset at Alishan
While not as well known as Alishan's sunrise, sunset at this popular resort is also pretty amazing. The thin air at this elevation makes the sun's rays particularly strong. This means that as the sun sets the sky appears considerably more blue than normal. The best places for watching the sun set are the Alishan Guesthouse and Tsu-yun Temple (慈雲寺).

Travel in Taiwan Scenery
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