Friday, October 5, 2007

Going to Alishan: A Road less Traveled

A road less traveled

If you’re heading up to Alishan阿里山 this weekend, and you’re not riding the train, chances are that you’ll be taking the No. 18 road from Chiayi. Indeed, you might not even be aware that you have any alternative. In the No. 159 road however, an alternative does exist.

This route which runs from Chiayi to Shijou石棹 is often overlooked, and not without good reason. It twists and turns to its destination, it is narrow, and in some places is barely big enough for one car, let alone two. It is prone to disrepair, and after nearly every typhoon, parts of its course are either littered with rocks, or have collapsed completely. It is slow, unpredictable, at times infuriating, and occasionally (after one of those big typhoons) it is just the slightest bit dangerous. Why then, would anyone ever choose this route? Well, it all depends on what you’re looking for, and perhaps on how you look for it.

The road is not, and was never meant to be, a handy expressway to Alishan. It’s a road that skirts the mountains and winds its way through remote countryside. That does make it slow, but it also provides for some jaw-dropping views and some intriguing scenery. The lack of speed turns out to be a good thing as it ensures that you are able to see every detail what lies around you.

The unpredictability, and occasional disrepair, of the road is an inevitable part of its mountain setting. Take away those inconveniences, and you would also have to take away the beauty of the virtually sheer cliff drops, and the rock formations that confound the imagination with their shameless peculiarity. The rocks that sometimes lie on the road, and the slight tingle of danger they instill, only add to the overall experience.

Take this road and you’ll also drive through Bantianyan, home to a small but important temple that often hosts large processions and celebrations. The large and ornate temple gates that frame the road and the tall golden statue of Guanyin should be more than enough to make you stop here and take a look around.

As you continue up the road you’ll pass tiny mountain villages, and through woods of bamboo, beetle nut, and pine trees. You’ll see waterfalls, cliffs, sumptuous valleys, and quiet little spots by the side of the road that are just perfect to lunch at. When you’re out of your car, you can hear the clear sound of gushing rivers from the valley floors far beneath you. To get the most from all this, and to enjoy the cool fresh air, you should really ride a motorbike.

Let’s be honest though, some of you will never drive this road on either a bike or in a car, and some of you never should. In the end it really comes down to what you want from your weekend, and perhaps ultimately, what you want from life; whether you’re simply interested in getting to your destination as quickly and conveniently as possible, or whether you feel that the journey is just as important as the destination. If you’re prepared to go the extra mile and take the trouble for a more complete experience then take a ride on the 159, a road increasingly less traveled.


Carol said...

Chris and I have been this road for many times. We love it too, but it really takes more time to finish the trip and not everyone has the luck to enjoy it if they have the problem-carsickness.

bokedglass said...

Bravo ! Remarquable