Temples in the Trees

Food aside — Taiwan’s capital is famous for its beef noodle soup and its dumplings — the best part about Taipei is that it is surrounded by mountains. You can look up into the hills, see a temple far up in the distance, and say to yourself, “I want to go there.” And that’s exactly what I did after a morning of museum visits.

It’s amazing how quickly you can leave the streets and find yourself in a maze of walking trails and hiking paths.

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In the lower sections, these trails are downright civilized:

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Wooden signs (in both Mandarin and English, thank goodness) help you find your way:

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The people I met on the trail were very friendly, though I think they were wondering what a white lady in a sundress and nice sandals was doing climbing up these hills (one man gave me a thumbs up and said, “good job!”).

I went up, up up, past unidentified wildflowers …

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… irises …IMG_0252

… and the occasional orb spider:

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The trail mostly led up through trees and tropical underbrush, with signs of human habitation here and there along the way.

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Eventually the path crossed a street, and then I found myself smack in front of a temple.

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I am pretty sure that this was Jiulian Temple …

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… and that the view from the balcony looked out over to Yuanming Temple …

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… but there was no signage in English on these buildings, so I can’t be positive. I just know that I love exploring temples and looking at the detailed iconography:

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After I’d cooled down a little — it can get really humid in Taipei — I decided to keep going up the stairs beyond the temple, just to see what was at the top of the hill. Eventually I found a side path that took me out to this vista:

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If I turned to my right, I could forget that the city existed at all:

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My return path downhill took me past this unexpected structure …

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… which was home to a crude but fascinating altar:

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At the next street crossing, I saw this sign:

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Again, I am working on my best guesses here, but I think that the man in the imposing black boots is Zheng Cheng-gong, a Chinese Ming loyalist of the 17th century who fought against the invading Qing and eventually fled to Taiwan. Once on the island, Zheng Chen-gong attacked the Dutch colonists and then went about setting up Taiwan as a home for other Han Chinese loyal to the Ming cause.

Today, many people see Zheng Cheng-gong as a hero, the “original ancestor of free Taiwan,” according to Wikipedia (though I have to wonder whether the indigenous people would adopt the same language). Some individuals also revere him as a god — and indeed, they have built a massive spaceship-looking temple — complete with a scrolling LED banner — in his honor:

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Zheng Cheng-gong himself looks a bit stiff …

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… but I love that he is guarded by an orange guy …

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… and he has a fantastic view:

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You can even see down to the National Palace Museum complex from this temple:

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Given more time and more cooperative weather (it was hot and humid on my first day in town, and raining on my only other free morning), I would have spent much more time up in these hills. There are waterfalls and mountain peaks and even a national park within easy reach of the city. For a hiker, this is a great place.

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