I bought a two-day bus pass at the central bus station, which was next to the train station. The staff at the station were helpful. I decided, on the bus journey, that I would take the bus to the terminus, which was the highest point in the gorge the bus reached. This would give me, I hoped, a panoramic view of the gorge. On the bus journey, I searched for hikes and trails. The alltrails website had many and I exported the GPS files to use in my app. The final stop had a trail — the Baiyong Trail. Someone had commented on the website that the trail was closed.
When I got off the bus, I saw a sign pointing to the trail. After a short walk along the road, I entered a tunnel. At the head of the tunnel, a sign said the trail was closed. However, you could go through the tunnel. I, and a few other people, walked through the tunnel. I continued on the other side but there were warnings about rocks falling and the need to wear a helmet. I turned back. (The following day, I checked with the visitor centre and they said that the trail was open for about a kilometre; so, I walked almost as far as possible.)
I returned to the bus terminus and got the bus to the Tunnel of Nine Turns. There’s a short trail there, which I (and many other tourists) followed. It was incredibly picturesque and showed the gorge in its full glory.
This photo shows a mini-gorge forming within Taroko Gorge. The river is flowing down, eating away at the rock, much like the now larger river at the bottom of Taroko Gorge did over millions of years.
I retraced my steps and got the bus back to the town centre. I went to a veggie buffet restaurant I discovered on the way to the hostel the previous day. It was packed with locals and the food was just what I wanted: lightly cooked (and gently flavoured) vegetables (lots of greens!), rice, noodles, grains, tofu and many other things I didn’t recognise.
The following day, I went to the gorge again. This time I knew the first bus was at 8.10, which I got. Most visitors walk the Shakadang Trail. It’s flat, at most 4km, and you can turn back at any point. You get a good taste of the gorge with little effort.
I wanted to do a circular walk, continuing from the end of the Shakadang Trail. An incredibly helpful person at the visitor centre showed me a map, which was not to scale and a bit confusing without an explanation. But he told me the vital information: what to avoid and when to turn.
When I reached the end of the Shakadang Trail, the path continued steeply. Straightaway, I was ascending the mountain. I met another group, who I made way for since they were going faster than me. I would be surprised if they could continue that pace in the heat.
At the 300m altitude point, the group I’d seen earlier stopped to discuss whether to continue or return. They weren’t all equipped for the hike (for example, they didn’t all have enough water for a hot and humid day). In the end, they decided to return down and go for a swim. I continued. It was steep and looking at my map again, I now saw that the ascent was going to be to 800m.
The walk was well sign-posted. The interim target was Dali village, inhabited by “Taiwanese Aboriginals”. The man at the visitor centre had said that when I reached the village church, I should take the left path. I was surprised there was no sign of life. This village seemed to have no inhabitants. I sat on a bench and had some food and drink. I started hearing some football commentary. It sounded like someone from the BBC!
I took the left path at the church and saw a man. He saw me and called me over with a hand gesture. He pointed to a chair and made a signal to say that I should rest to recover my strength. There was an outdoor tap and after confirming it was drinking water, I drank a lot of water. He continued listening to his radio, which was a Bluetooth speaker. It kept saying “Bluetooth connecting” and was wired to what looked like a car battery!
After resting, I started to leave and gave the man some money for his kindness and giving me water. He took the money and looked uncomprehendingly at it. It was as if he’d never seen money before. Perhaps, he lived on his own and was self-sufficient, with his chickens and his flower garden and few crops.
Most of the walk was amongst deep growth. The view even at the highest point was limited. At one point, it cooled, and I could see nothing but impenetrable white clouds on the other side of the trees. It didn’t affect my path.
The descent was as steep as the ascent. I made my way down, occasionally seeing other people making their way up.
The finishing point was back at the visitor centre.
I saw a couple of monkeys as I reached it. The man who’d guided me earlier was there and recognised me. He even knew roughly how long I’d taken and suggested a tougher walk next time, with an overnight stay in a hostel!
I waited about 30 minutes for the last bus out of the gorge. Again, when I returned to town, I went to the veggie buffet.
After eating, I was making my way back to the hostel when a group yelled “Hello” in unison. It was the same group who’d turned back for a swim that I’d met on the hike. I hadn’t recognised them because they had all showered and were looking more glamourous! We got talking and the subject of outward flights came up. I told them I had to buy an outward flight from Taiwan before they’d let me board the plane to Taipei from Tokyo. They were aware of websites to buy temporary flight tickets, which someone told me about in Taipei. One person said that she too was recently asked to buy an outward flight before being allowed to board. She took so long that they eventually let her on! It seems it’s a flexible rule, perhaps dependent on the mood of the airline person checking you in. Another person in the group said he had a PDF editor on his phone, with which he edits a previous flight confirmation and replaces the date and flight with new details! He said it’s never failed him!