Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Green Shower - Forest Bathing Amidst the Towering Trees @ Alishan National Forest Recreation Area [Taiwan]

There are two advantages to staying at Alishan Gou Hotel (阿里山閣大飯店); one, it's just two hundred meters away from Zhaoping train station, and two, you are just a literal stone's throw away from one of the key hiking trails of Alishan! 

Train tracks also run alongside the hotel and we would be on it the next morning to chushan station to, hopefully, catch the sunrise, and the area's renowned sea of clouds.

It was spectacular to step into a forest where slender trees towered over us. On one of the many information panels installed along the trail, one term appeals to me; green shower! That's what we were doing, being showered by the trees' dispersal of negative ions and phytoncides. The Japanese has a nice term for it; forest bathing. 

Judging from the above, it's no wonder that the trees were placed so tidily; apparently, it's a plantation of Japanese cedar that was planted in 1947, a few years after Japan surrendered. 

Maybe to showcase the lumber industry and to input more vibrancy, wood arts were installed. I didn't have much time to check them out since the tour guide's focus was to bring us to the various attractions found along the hiking trail before sunset. 

Photo-taking is essential though. 

In addition to boring trees with trunks, branches and leaves, there were uniquely "deformed" ones that attracted much attention from fellow hikers. 

Since this was just the start of the trail, be prepared for a queue from those interested to take photos with the trees. Well, there are plenty of such trees and I am afraid you would need more than just the two hours we took. 

Remnants of what appeared to be a huge tree trunk! Propped by steel poles, I doubt it would serve as a good shelter in heavy rain. Nevertheless, it's a visual "wow" for visitors! 

Down, down and down. The good thing about this trail is that we don't have to climb too much and it's mainly a downward walk. Those worried about stability should consider investing in a pair of trekking poles.

Clear directional signage with labelled distance; always remember to stay on the path! Forests in Singapore, which is just a little red dot, are considered as playgrounds compared to forests in much bigger countries. Getting lost could mean death. 

As this trail was so near to Alishan Gou Hotel, I am wondering if daredevils would contemplate checking it out at night. It would have been darn eerie and terrifying! p.s. rest assured, I am too old to be a daredevil.

Almost reaching the first "attraction" on the trail. 

The above would have been a much more suitable "shelter"! Speaking of the tree, how was it formed?! Turned out trees were growing on a base of what appeared to be a damaged tree! Sounds so parasitical. 

Long line of visitors along the same route; I can only express my gratitude that the weather was great, without rain as it would have made this hike a lot more dangerous. 

One of the "Sisters Ponds" - this is the smaller one and to be frank, it's just a pond that wouldn't differ from most ponds you would have chanced upon in your life.

Water was still and according to our tour guide, many would take a photo from the across the above spot as your reflection can be cleared seen in the pond. 

We didn't bother but I took a photo of "others"for your reference. 

Another wooden art installation, in between the two ponds. Anyway, they were known as sisters ponds due to a legend that two sisters fell in love with the same man. As they didn't want to destroy their sisterhood, both decided to commit suicide; one in each pond! By the way, the story turned out to be fake. 

The elder and bigger sister pond, which had a twin-roof pavilion surrounded by a pretty emerald green water. Again, the water had a calm stillness, which was attributed to a lack of fish. Was it because the ponds were too high up in the mountain; about 2,100 meters? 

Photos of my dad against the backdrop of the elder sister pond.

Given the natural aroma released cypress wood, it's unsurprising that visitors would pluck off the bark; hence, the placement of signage deterring the removal of tree bark.

The Three Brothers - three similar looking trees growing side by side on a tree stump! Sometimes, I marvel at the way things are being marketed by countries dominated by people of Chinese ethnicity.

Looking like one single tree, these were four trees huddling on a stump. Guess what's their name? The Four Sisters! If there were five trees on a stump, I am guessing it would be called "The Fortunate Family". 

Nevertheless, I am curious as to how the stump was able to withstand the weight of all the trees on top? Isn't it already dead? What if it is rotting inside? Or is cypress known as for its tough hardiness?

Pig-shaped old stump.
Sorry, my imagination failed me.

Humans surrounded among nature's giants!

Opening up to the Magnolia Garden; sadly the white and purple flowers would only bloom in spring and we were a few months too early. It should have been an amazing sight as it was said that the blossoms would cover up the trees! 

I shall name this "the demon's claws".

A stone bridge with a standing capacity for ten persons?! Either the builder was being extra safe or my eyes were playing tricks on it. Or was it not a stone bridge? 

Towards our next destination! Given the nice, cool weather, I didn't break into a sweat. Imagine if Singapore were to have the same weather; that would have drastically increased the percentage of Singaporeans who shall, now comfortably, venture out to our nature reserves! 

Shouzhen Temple - built in 1948 and said to be the largest temple in Alishan, it was unfortunate that it was undergoing renovations when we visited in December last year.

Taking reference from the paper burner, I believe the post renovation pictures would be stunning! Maybe I shall share more photographs when I revisit next January; yes, I have plans to return in 2025. In fact, air tickets to Taiwan have already been purchased.

I never understand the need to have mental railings protecting the beautifully carved pillars as they absolutely uglify the artwork; might as well just cement the pillars.

Main shrine was still open; honoring 玄天上帝. I am not well acquainted with this deity except for few key ones. Frankly, the Taoist gods can be so confusing! Just on taisui, there are sixty and one will be honored as taisui every year. 

This shouzhen temple was also a stopover for toilet breaks, and food! Aside from the many food stalls, you can also get some local souvenirs like dried wild boar jerkies etc. 

Guess what I was tempted by?

Of course, the Taiwanese sausages that cost three for 100 Taiwan dollars! Maybe because it's a tourist area, I did find the size to be smaller than what I remember having ten years ago. Whatever the case, it's nice to bite into a hot and juicy sausage when it was less than 20 degrees celcius!

Such an adorable shiba inu! Many Taiwanese would bring their dogs out and hike. In Singapore, I believe we are unable to bring pet dogs into nature reserves. 

Xianglin Arch Bridge - one of Alishan's eight new wonders. I assumed this would be the bridge ahead of us but the real arch bridge was the stone one right at the back.

I wonder why it was a new wonder but I guess maybe the picture would be better if the water was gushing out from underneath the stone, arched bridge. 

A touch of color amongst the greenery.
Flowers beautify the surroundings, for sure.

This bridge, which I assumed to be the Xianglin Arch Bridge initially, was actually only for pedestrians and the name is boat bridge, given its shape.

My imagination told me this was a screaming witch who was turned into a tree. This appearance would have scared many people at night, when darkness takes over the realm. 

While there were a few trees that were grown on stumps, the above one, that was fenced up, took the cake for having all three generations, on top of each other; a classic example, of multi-generational living!

First generation was about 1,500 years ago and even the third generation was a few hundred years old. As expected, this three-generation tree was a popular natural prop for families with multi-generation.

Flowers again. 
They excite us. 

Climbing the stairs towards a building which turned out to be Sianglin Elementary School. Given the lack of any nearby houses, I wonder why it was built in the first place since it would be quite inconvenient. 

It did have a claim of being the education institution that's on the highest elevation in Taiwan; at 2,195 meters, you can also take photograph with the stake claim right outside the school.

The majestic thousand year old cypress tree which was 48 meters high, with a dimeter of over 3 meters. Information panel had conflicting info; main text mentioned that the tree was 2,000 years old whereas a summary on the side indicated only about 803-839 years. 

Boai Pavilion which was right beside the thousand year old cypress. This pavilion was rebuilt after it was destroyed by the strong earthquake on 21 September, 1999, known as 921 earthquake. 

Seemed like a traditional cast to protect the trunk of this tree. Maybe too many visitors have been plucking out its aromatic bark; it was said that the tree contains oils that deter insects. 

This might appear to be a monument or memorial but for someone who understands the written Chinese characters, three words translate into pagoda of the tree spirit. Erected in 1935 by the Japanese, it was said to honour the spirits of the 100,000 trees that had been felled. 

Xianglin Sacred Tree - as some of you are aware, there are quite a number of aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and many of them believe in the spirits of nature. In the Tsou tribe, they honor the sacred tree and when the original one, at Shenmu Station, was felled, a ballot in 2007 was held and the above tree bestowed with the title of sacred tree in the area. 

At 45 meters tall with a diameter of over 4 meters, it had a chunkier trunk although its towering height might attract lighting strikes, and could suffer the same fate of the original sacred tree.

Shedding its last few blankets of leaves, before winter cold set in. 

Ciyun Temple; built in 1919 as a Buddhist temple, it was actually not that far from Shouzhen Temple, although the latter is under Taoism and not Buddhism. We didn't explore further even though I noted that the bell and pavilion were more than a century old. 

Captivated by the blanket of maple lookalike leaves on the ground. I would love to jump into a bed of autumn leaves when I was young. Now that I am older, I guess I am going to give it a miss; what if there were sharp objects, shit or animals hidden underneath?

Not the cypress trees that we had been seeing so far; the above was the Grandfather tree at 53 meters tall and the species is known as Taiwania, the tallest tree species in Taiwan.

Before we continued our trek, we were caught off guarded by the breathtaking sight as above! It was picturesque and I can so imagine camping right at this spot so as to enjoy the view for a longer period of time.

Right in front of a cemetery though! 

Anyway, dad appeared to be happiest at this spot. I came to a conclusion with my sister pertaining to my dad's travel preference; he likes natural scenery a lot more than culture. Food, to him, is of the least priority. 

The hike after that was nothing to scream about.

Walked past this number 88 tree; well for a typical Singaporeans, we do like the number 8 since it sounds like the word prosperity in Mandarin. Did it bring me wealth? I have yet to win the top prize for TOTO.

Reaching our last destination soon!
Hint; the appearance of train and train tracks!

p.s. the wooden structure is the ticketing booth. 

Remember the original sacred tree? The above are its remains. Before it was struck by lightning in 1906 and 1956 and eventually fell, the 3000 year-old tree was said to be 50 meters tall. Do you know that the tallest tree in Taiwan is 84.1 meters tall? Click here for more info. 

Ending the forest bathing with a train ride back to the main Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. For more photos and videos of the train ride, please visit here

Sharing a short video on the forest bathing! 


Alishan National Forest Recreation Area.
Alishan Township, Chiayi County, Taiwan

Map of the Attraction
As above.

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