Monday, May 26, 2008

Jhanghu, Yunlin County

Imagine riding a motorbike down a country road. Steep river valley walls fall away beneath you on one side, and on the other, dense vegetation covers the hillside. It’s a sunny day, and the scenery is beautiful. Suddenly, no more than 5 meters in front of you, a small bird flies out of the trees and is quickly pursued by a huge eagle, its wingspan easily measuring well over a meter across. The eagle plucks the bird out of the air and flies away with his kill.

All this happened a few weeks ago while I was riding on the roads beside Chingshuei River清水河. The gorges and plunging valleys that line the river are the perfect places to spot eagles, usually soaring high above you, but sometimes, if you’re very very lucky, they burst from the trees and nearly make you crash your bike.

The Chingshuei River runs down through Nantou and into Yunlin County where it has cut for itself a formidable path through the surrounding rock. The resulting scenery and natural geographical features are wonderful, and also not particularly well known. Yunlin County doesn’t get much of entry in just about Taiwan guidebook you could ever lay your hands on. There may be a few lines about Douliou, its biggest city, but not much else. While it may be true that, compared to the scenic riches of its neighbors, Nantou and Chiayi, Yunlin appears a little impoverished, the area is not without appeal.

The small town of Jhanghu樟湖would be one example. It’s a tiny little town, so small you could easily drive past it without a second thought, but it’s also home a gorgeous little gorge.

The feature may not be as spectacular as places like Taroko, but what it lacks in heart stopping drama, it more than makes up for in simple, rustic charm. A small road leads down to a dirt path and suspension bridge, from there scramble over the rocks down to the riverside.

Walls of well chiseled rock loom over your head, while strewn at your feet, lie a mass of colored, patterned rocks and boulders. Oranges, yellows and browns are the predominant colors and interesting bright pink boulders complete the scene. The views both up, and downstream are lovely and full of promise. The only problem, and the gorge’s rather glaring flaw, is that it’s difficult to move very far in either direction. A waterfall blocks your path in one direction, and the river, wide and deceptively deep, stops you in the other. There are stepping stones to make your route easier, but they’re far apart and unless you’re long limbed, or come during a dry season, you find it to be a step too far.

If you do manage to get across, the terrain waiting for you remains virtually untouched. Perhaps the greatest example of this was a tiny canyon, carved from tightly packed sand. It appeared like a miniature version of the gorge surrounding it. Were the area more popular and accessible, the feature would have surely been destroyed by a succession of curious hands and careless feet.

Pleasant as it is, Jhanghu is not a place where you could spend a whole day, but don’t worry about that, just a few kilometers down the road is another gorge, the Ten Thousand Year Old Gorge 萬年峽谷 and Caoling草嶺, Yunlin’s most well-known tourist destination.

To get to Jhanghu, take the Meishan梅山 exit from Highway 3. Drive into Meishan and then follow the signs for the 149 road to Huashan華山. Stay on the 149 past Huashan and keep going till you reach Jhanghu.

No comments: