For the island of Taiwan, the project to build a road over and through the mountains in the middle of the country was of major significance. It also claimed the lives of many labourers and the temple to their memory is quite poignant in its simple beauty
. The dangers of living and working in this area are brought home at the moment as following the previous week's typhoon, parts of the road through the gorge and even the tunnels through the rock have been washed away. The gorge is littered with rock and broken trees which bear testament to the forces of nature that were at work so recently, but other than that and the murky water trickling through the gorge, there is no sign and certainly no sound of what came before. It is only when you return to the beach and see the scattered boughs stripped of bark and even more imposing, the container ship that has been snapped in half.
Hualien is also famous for its granite. The tour I took to visit the gorge also took in a granite factory and a shop selling granite and jade art work and jewellery. These shop tours are an integral part of tourism in this part of the world, but this one was a pleasant change as I came away with some real information and didn't feel like I was being hassled to buy things. I didn't feel the need to test whether I'm looking at real or fake jade or granite, but maybe it'll come in useful one day! The Japanese tourists on a day trip from Taipei certainly enjoyed their shopping. Actually, the number of Japanese I met is one sure way I could tell I wasn't in mainland China.
At the bottom of the Taroko Gorge, the dry river bed spreads across 300 metres and is sprinkled with boulders and in places sprouts grass. On either side of the narrow channel of grey rippling water are blankets of damp grey sludge. The water looks awful, but I've seen pictures of it flowing clear and blue. The slate grey river is the only immediate sign that anything is amiss. The geographical surrounds bear testimony to the fact that this place knows nature at its most powerful. Much of the water that falls on the mountains of central Taiwan finds it's way down to the ocean at this point and the Taroko Gorge is testament to the power of this water through the years. It is also a strikingly beautiful place.