Taiwan is not a usual tourist place but there I was headed with my colleague and her family for a 5 day trip covering Hualien, Jianxi and Taipei city. At the very start, we struggled with a Chinese GPS followed by an erratic US style driving and lack of familiar sights like petrol stations, restaurants etc. All sign boards were like pencil drawings! I slept off in the car and once up, was looking at bridges and highways and then the beautiful countryside- mountains, seas and islands! It reminded me of West coast of California.
We were prepared for “SPRING” but it was 18 degree Celsius. Therefore our socks did more rounds than originally planned. On the first day, we saw a beautiful lake and then settled for the night at another beautiful, white castle of a house with splendid rooms overlooking the sea. Most of my friends were vegetarians and we had a vine vegetable dish generously garnished with ginger, fried noodles and fried rice in a famous sea food joint
! We communicated through sign language; symbols which we had printed on paper. We even went to the kitchens and selected the vegetables and waited in anticipation that we get pure vegetarian dishes or my friends would have left me there itself!
That night, I slept like a baby. In the morning, I did yoga and then chatted with a friendly Chinese guy at the breakfast table. We started on treacherous drive into Taroka Gorge. The roads were good. We were given free helmets as the place is prone to rock falls. This site was full of marble and schist. We visited the local temples, tried some local cuisine (purple rice in bamboo), crossed narrow bridges and simply enjoyed the cold weather. We spent the night in a hotel located in the middle of green paddy fields with hot springs. We all took a nice long bath outdoors.
The next morning, we did cycling in the countryside. I spotted duck farms, big tomatoes, acres and acres of green paddy fields, imposing mountains overlooking them, wild flowers and friendly farmers who tried to communicate with me in Chinese! We smiled and spoke our own languages. I loved the fresh air and the freedom of cycling in the small lanes.
We drove to a sea side tourist place where we saw sea lion performing various types of tricks, dolphin show and a slapstick comedy cum acrobats of some pirates who did amazing stunts like diving from heights into cold waters below. We went to see the Mushroom rocks but the weather was a bother. It was no fun walking in the cold, over the rocks with an angry sea and the rains just made it very difficult to see anything at all. We braved it for some photos. We rested that night in hotel called “ Beautiful Hotel”. I got to stay in a suite, courtesy my friends and enjoyed the luxuries of a private hall, a grand study table (which I used to dry my socks) and a beautiful view of the river. For breakfast, I discovered that they ate rice porridge which is boiled rice with sautéed cabbage and some greens. It was very tasty.
The next morning, we visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial to see its magnificent gates, the opera house and the smiling statue of former president much like Lincoln’s memorial but it is good to see a happy and smiling president sitting on the chair. There were two guards of honour who stood so still that I mistook them for statues. We were expecting to see the famous Cherry Blossoms but were slightly late in the season. Following this, we headed for a Confucius temple and then the Shinlin market. The market was a mayhem at its best. The hawker center was loud and so disorganized that I could not help appreciating how organized and clean it is in Singapore.
We did our last round of shopping at Tai Mall, close to airport. It was delightful to see my friend cheerful having bought her gifts and ate a comfortable lunch at Subways. The return flight was pleasant as I sat with a couple of children and was amazed at how well-mannered and sweet they were. It speaks of their upbringing to be polite in public places and to be humble. In Singapore, we simply flew through immigration and I was awestruck with their incredible efficiency.
We were like curios or museum specimens in Taiwan. Perhaps, we were the only Indians travelling there. An elderly lady even approached my friends and complemented them on how beautiful they were. I found Taiwanese women very pretty too. It was nice to meet so many friendly and polite Chinese. Indeed the breathtaking beauty of Taiwan will remain like the fragrance of incense sticks which will burn with me for a while.
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