Kahlil Gibran: Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky.
How do you describe your feelings when standing in the presence of a living being that is nearly 3 000 years old? And to make it more awe inspiring, not just one, but 36 giants, many 1000 years old and older and most you cannot even see parts? The result of putting that experience into words is going to be cliché upon cliché and long lists of adjectives.
The photographer, Steve Pearce and his ecologist wife, Dr Jennifer Sanger, founders of the organisation The Tree Projects have the same problem. In an interview with the news channel Focus Taiwan, Pearce and Sanger said (they) “believe that the simple experience of seeing a giant tree for the first time can break down preconceptions and that showing people forests in all their magnificence is more effective in building appreciation for them than telling people about them.” So if the experts say words are not effective, then I’m not even going to try.
My advice is whether you are a nemophilist, just an average nature lover or a curios tourist, Ali Mount aka Alishan is a must-see when you are in Taiwan. Some of the oldest trees on this planet are growing in this area. The oldest was 3000 years old but collapsed in 1997 after heavy rain. It has been laid down and can still be appreciated. This tree was 53m high with a circumference of 25m and a diameter of 4,66m.
Down the middle of Taiwan there are several mountain ranges and one of then is named Ali Mount. (Alishan is a Chinese word and translated literally means Ali Mount). Ali was the chief of the Tsou aboriginal tribe that settled here. This area lies 2 500m above sea level. It was a forestry area and logging brought in the money till the 1970’s when it was no longer viable. The Tsou also planted tea and wasabi and those farms against the mountain just adds to the beauty of the area. The Alishan National Scenic Area was established and now tourism has taken over as the generator of income.
So what can you expect here. There is the narrow-gauge train, that has become the iconic symbol of the area, that can take you on a short trip to the Sacred Tree Station where one giant has been laid down. Walking there is easy too. From the station you just follow a well kept boardwalk that was built to protect the forest floor. This walk takes you to these old trees, most are Red Cypress. Not all are in this area, some stand alone and you have to hike different trails to get to them. All the trails are well marked and the map you get at the entrance is very user-friendly.
When you stand by these trees and you think about Taiwan and the past 3000 years… if these trees could talk they would tell about the first people arriving as farmers and fishermen. They will tell about the Dutch and the Spanish who tried to settle here, the Qing era, the Japanese rule, the Republic of Formosa and now Taiwan. The trees will tell about trees being chopped down to build a simple house and for firewood. They will tell about large scale logging because Red Cypress is resistant to rot and insects and therefore much sought after for furniture, bath tubs and even the torii gates in front of shrines and temples. They will also tell about visitors who came to appreciate their beauty and the majority who come now with their eyes glued to a smart phone screen.
The park covers an area of 415 square km so there is enough space to explore, enjoy breathtaking views, savour the fresh air and the natural beauty around you. Because the mountain is so high you will regularly be shrouded by clouds floating past, well that was my experience. In the park you will also find lots of other activities to keep the whole family entertained and fed for as long as you choose to stay here. I was visiting the area when the cherry trees where blooming and what a bonus.
I will add some photos but they do not do justice to the magnificence of the giants. If you want to see a giant tree captured in a photo then visit The Tree Projects website and read how they take photos of trees. It is a fascinating process. https://www.thetreeprojects.com
Just a reminder, I do not do selfies. When I’m alone and there are no other people around to ask to take a photo of me you will see my hat in the picture. That is my version of a selfie.