Friday, January 21, 2011

Mukumugi & Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Taroko Gorge
Taroko National Park is one of the signature tourist attrations in Taiwan. It's located on the east end of the Central Cross-Island Highway (Provincial Highway No. 8) in Hualien, which was the first highway that connects east and west parts of Taiwan through the majestic central mountains. The budget used to build the Central Cross-Island Highway was funded by United States and the workers were veterans who fellback from mainland China to Taiwan with the Government in 1949. The construction began on July 7, 1956, and was first opened to traffic on May 9, 1960. The 190.83 kilometer highway passing through various topographies, altitude ranged from sea level to 3,000 meters and the most beautiful/majestic sceneries on the road are riveting for the last 20 km at the east end.

Most tourist groups spend only a half day in the park to visit Eternal Spring (Changchun) Shrine TrailSwallow Grotto (Yanzihkou) Trail and the Tunnel of Nine Turns (Jiuqudong) Trail. Everyday, after lunch, swarms of crowds diminish the stupendous workmanship of the trails. It is wise to visit these trails in the early morning when the solitude intensifies the majesty of the gorge and then you can really project yourself back to the time when the veterans doug through the marble of the mountainside. Except for the 3 most popular trails, Taroko National Park has much more to offer; you can easily spend a whole week hiking in the park on different trails as each trail has its uniqueness and it's a shame to miss one.

Recently, I spent 2 days in the park and finally visited the Shakadang Trail (4.4km/oneway; 3-4 hours/roundtrip) and Lüshui Trail (2km/oneway; one hour/roundtrip) for the very first time. A friend of mine once told me that she thought the Shakadang trail is the most beautiful trail in Taroko National Park. I have been to Taroko many times but I could never find the entrance of Shakadang trail so I stopped by the tourist center of Taroko and found the information: "The trail entrance is near the park headquarters to the west. Through the tunnel of Shakadang about 1km(0.6mile) from the headquarters, there is a Shakadang bridge connect to it. On the right of the bridge head, take the staircase down to the trailhead" (there is a small parking on the other end of the Shakadang bridge, you can park your car there and walk back to the entrance). Shakadang trail was built along the Shakadang river cliffs during Japanese colonial period in order to divert water to the Liwu hydropower plant. Thousands of years, the river cut through the gorge leaving mysterious patterns on marble that reflects on still, copper blue waters in a greenish background, such scenery earned the trail the name "Mysterious Valley Trail". I couldn't agree with my friend more, Shakadang is the most beautiful trail in the Park and it's worth spending 4 hours for a roundtrip.

The other new experience on this trip was the Lushui Trail. The history of the trail can be traced back 300 years. It was the trail used between Taroko tribes when they first settled along the Liwu river. Walking on this trail, high above the Central Cross-Island Highway, you can overlook the Lushui terrace. A suspension bridge, a tunnel with water dripping down, butterflies, bees, etc. along the way, it was an easy yet surprising trail.

More info:
Transportation: Tourist shuttle bus, Taroko route, (Time table and Fare Sheet)
Accommodation: Leader Village Taroko, Tienhsiang Youth Hostel, Silks Place Taroko, and a camping site at Lushui.
Resturant: Except for accommodation sites listed above, there are a few resturants next to the Tienhsiang bus station.

Meqmegi was the name of the first Taroko tribal family who settled in this area about 300 years ago. To honor their ancestors, the tribes called this area "MGMGI" and was known as "Mukumugi", a transliteration from the Taroko tribe, by others. The place was renamed "Tongmen" (copper gate) as a copper mine was found here. Mukumugi is located in Tongmen township, Sioulin county, about 20 min driving distance from Hualien City. Compared to the famous Taroko National Park, Mukumugi is less known and visited by tourists as it was closed for public visit on May 20th, 2003 in order to restore the ecosystem. The area was re-opened 3 years later, with a 300 visitors/day restriction. The Mukumugi eco-tourism started to get the public's attention as the Taroko National Park is getting over crowded, day by day. Unlike the Shakadang trail in the Taroko National Park, Mukumugi not only offers a similar picturesque scenery but also a resort that allows vistors to have a close encounter with the nature.

More info:
Entrance permit application:
1. go to the Tongmen police station and fill-out the form on the day of entrance (ID needed); go early to ensure you are in the first 300 applicants list.
2. apply the permit online at (Chinese only): you should send out your application 7-30 days before your trip; 2-3 days after sending out the application, go back to the website and check if you get the permit. If you do, print it out and take it with you to the Tongmen police station on the day of your trip and have them stamp it (no queue with others who apply the permit on site).

Free tour guide: contact the Mukumugi tourist center in advance. (Tel :03-8641822) There are two trails in the Mukumugi area. One more difficult, requires a guide. Contact tourist center for more information.