At night, our guide took us deep into the forest for a walk, and to look at 2 types of animals - the "flying squirrel" and fireflies. I especially enjoyed watching the hundreds of fireflies, giving out a green glow in the dark. It was a magical experience for us city dwellers.
This tree, a Taiwanese red cypress tree, has been around for 2300 years! It was tall and huge and was named as the Alishan Siang Lin Sacred Tree. It is also one of the monuments of the Alishan Forest Reserve. It has another name - Guangwu Cypress, as it had been around during Emperor Guangwu's (Han Dynasty) time!
We saw red maple leaves on Alishan, and some wild cherry blossoms. The cherry blossom is a major attraction every March, and our guide told us that many visitors would make their way up to Alishan to view the flowers. All the wild cherry trees would be full of pink flowers by then.
The nature reserve is run by an indigenious tribe - the Zou tribe. These fishes are a protected species, and they feed on algae on the rocks in the rivers. When feeding, they turn their bodies belly-up, and expose their silver bellies. When viewed at a distance, these feeding fishes appear as silver streaks in the river.
Our guide brought us to this place (Ai Yu Bo's House) to eat our railway lunchboxes and to enjoy a cooling desset - Ai Yu. Ai Yu is made from a fruit, the fruit is grounded into powder which turns into jelly when mixed with water. Each bowl of Ai Yu is topped with bits of passionfruit...Yummy! This place has been visited by scores of Taiwanese celebrities, e.g. Jacky Wu (popular host), Fan Wei Qi (singer) etc.
As trains travel slowly and the journeys are long, some people with good business acumen started selling "railway lunchboxes" at the train stations to the hungry passengers. These lunchboxes are actually quite famous, and some people are actually known to travel from Taipei to Fen Qi Hu, just to eat these lunchboxes!
We ate these railway lunchboxes for lunch at Fen Qi Hu, and it tasted really good.
During the old times, there used to be commercial logging activities on Alishan. The trains and railway system were used to transport the logs down from the mountains. Nowadays, these trains are used to transport people from Fen Qi Hu to Alishan. The trains travel at a slow speed, and there are only 2-3 trains arriving / departing from this train station every day.
The climate and altitude of Alishan was also suitable for the cultivation of wasabi plants, which were introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese. Some stall owners were selling the wasabi plant and its sauce, others were selling wasabi-flavoured sausages.
Inside the Alishan Forest Reserve, there is a Sisters Pond. As we went there during winter, the water level is lower (the water level would be much higher during the summer season). There is a legend behind this pond. It was said that 2 beautiful sisters, belonging to one of the indigenious tribes on Alishan, drowned themselves in the pond in an attempt to save their tribe (hence the name, "Sisters Pond"). After their death, their enemy (a hunter from another tribe) passed by this pond and the water rose up to engulf him.
Sunrises and sunsets are what Alishan are most famous for. I didn't have a chance to see a sunrise at Alishan, and didn't see a full sunset either, but I did see some beautiful scenery on the Alishan highway on the way down to Chiayi, and partially saw a sunset. The Alishan Highway winds through thick, rugged, forested mountain peaks and tiny villages to Chiayi, and many points along the road afford amazing views of the setting sun.
Elephant Trunk Tree (Xianbi mou) (?Û•@–Ø) is one of the typical photogenic stumps in the Alishan Forest. At one point the cypress tree that is now the Elephant Trunk must have been quite large, considering the width of the stump. The stump got its name because viewed from a distance, the fern and moss covered stump looks somewhat like the head and trunk of an elephant.
The Alishan Sacred Tree (Alishan Shenmou) (ˆ¢—¢ŽR?_–Ø) was originally one of the biggest attractions at Alishan. This giant cypress tree was about 3,000 years old when it toppled in 1997. It was originally one of the largest trees in the Alishan forest. Today the fallen tree is still there; from the Alishan train station, walk across the tracks and you'll see the giant trunk of the once glorious-tree. Alishan tourist brochures used to list this tree as one of Alishan's five wonders, but after the tree toppled they changed it to the Alishan forest as a whole.
Three Generation Tree (San-dai mou) (ŽO‘ã–Ø) is a very interesting tree (or I should say, trees) in the depths of the Alishan Forest. Apparently, a large and venerable cypress tree grew there a few hundred years ago and toppled. Later on, another tree began growing in the stump of the first tree, but then also died. Today, a young tree has sprouted from the top of the second tree; thus three generations and the name of the tree. The tree itself isn't immensely photogenic but there's no doubt it's quite a weird tree.
The Ciyun Temple (Tzi-yun Si) (Žœ‰_Ž›) is a small Buddhist temple near the Sacred Tree. It honors Sakyamuni Buddha; the temple itself is very tiny, and visitors are relatively few. If you notice the temple's design, you'll see that it is very simple and unornate; inside, many of the walls are bare, and there is no minutely detailed paintings on its doors. Still, it's quite a peaceful place and worth seeing.
These are two natural ponds in the Alishan forest just a few minutes by van ride from the main Alishan village, and are named since the two are side-by-side like an elder and younger sister (Jie-mei tan) (©n©f¼æ). From the regular drop off point, you can hike about 300 meters to the ponds. The Younger Sister Pond is quite tiny and not there's not much to it, but the Elder Sister Pond is much larger and much more photogenic. It is ringed by trees, and a small bridge leads to a kiosk in the center of the lake. During rainy days (like the day I was there), the thatched roof of the kiosk provides a great relief from the drenching rains.