It’s two days before Christmas and we miss the last bus to Alishan. With no backup plan, we resort to hiring a taxi to drive us up the mountain. It’s an expensive endeavor, but so are the holidays. The road turns and twists for more than an hour and at times we wonder if we’ve gone too far off the beaten path with our latest adventure in Taiwan. Our driver even stops to light a cigarette in unspoken agreement that this road is something to be reckoned with.
We finally top out and arrive at Alishan House. It’s a bit too dark and foggy to gauge our elevation but we agree that having our head in the clouds is always a pretty good indicator that we’re somewhere worthwhile. It’s not until the next morning that we see the quiet Alishan forest when we set out by foot to explore the mountaintop.
We board a five-car train for a quick ride to the start of the hike, an unexpected beginning to what turns out to be a charming walk through the forest. An elevated plank path leads the way through the trees — a mix of new and old growth, cedars and cypresses, with a profusion of greenery at every turn. Giant red cypresses are the highlight — towering over us, impossible to photograph, firmly rooted in the mountainside, some for thousands of years.
Logging has ceased here and tourism is the economic force at Alishan. This has clearly been the salvation of these old growth trees. I think of the history through which they’ve existed, their lifetimes in pace with the redwoods and sequoias of Northern California on the other side of the Pacific.
We return to Alishan House for sunset where, above the clouds, we find a stunning view and finally sense our location high on the mountain. The old railway — no longer in use — clings to the opposite mountainside, a broken and dangerous reminder of years past. The sun sets as clouds roll past us and mountaintops just their heads above the fog to breathe freely from the sky, just like we do.
Alishan National Scenic Area is located in south-central Taiwan, and can be reach by car, bus or taxi from Chiayi station on the Taiwan High Speed Rail route.