Our second day in the mountains of central Taiwan dawned sunnier than the previous day with views across the village of Huanshan across the forested mountains. Our night was spent at the lovely Happy Ginkgo guesthouse with its ginkgo trees turned a beautiful yellow colour in the winter and persimmon trees growing in the garden.
We were kindly offered to pick our own as, fortunately for us, the persimmons were currently just ripening.
After our breakfast in the village of fried eggs, Chinese radish cakes, dumplings, and hot milk tea, we headed out for a visit to one of the local fruit farms where local snow pears and persimmons were being grown and packed for sale around Taiwan. The mountain pears grown here are particularly prized for their size and delicate flavour.
Here, we had more opportunity for fruit picking, being shown the correct way to pick persimmons and snow pears, of which we were kindly allowed to keep one of each fruit we picked. Meanwhile, chickens foraged under the persimmon trees that had finished fruiting, finishing off any fallen fruit and clearing the ground beneath the trees. Inside, we were shown how the fruit is packaged for sale. While the fruit from this area had previously been sold to wholesalers, the locals are now working to package and sell directly with more provenance, as well as benefit from the region’s reputation for the quality of its fruit.
After our fruit picking, and consuming rather a large amount of fruit, we headed on to stop at Li Shan to admire the views across the mountains and the famous Li Shan Guesthouse. Originally built in 1971 after the building of the Central Cross-Island Highway first brought tourists to Li Shan, the village and guest house were severely damaged by the Jiji Earthquake in 1999 and typhoon Mindulle in 2004 and only recently reopened. During its early days, the guest house was a favourite summer retreat of Chiang Kai-shek escaping the the summer heat of the coast. The palace-style guest house, designed by Yang Cho-Cheng, was itself beautiful and set in a spectacular position with stunning view across the valley.
After lunch, we moved on to the nearby Lishan Culture Museum displaying the history of of Lishan, the native Atayal Tribe, and the construction of the central Taiwan highway. The museum itself had amazing views across the valley towards Xueshan, literally “Snow Mountain”, the second highest mountain in Taiwan and in the whole of East Asia, rising to 12,749 ft.
In the museum, we were dressed in local Atayal dress and shown around by a lovely, and very enthusiastic, guide. The museum displays, which helpfully included many English translations, contained a wealth of information on the local area and its history. I was particularly interested in the cultural history of the local Atayal people, the information on their food, and the restrictions of their homes from the past.
With our fill of history, we moved on to another local specialty, the high mountain tea plantations that perch precariously on the mountain tops high above the valley below.
The Xin Jia Yang tea garden clings to the mountain side with its neatly trimmed rows of tea bushes covering the slopes beside the steep switchback road. The tea grown here is a high mountain oolong for which this area is famous. This tea garden specialised in tea grown without the application of pesticides, the nibbling of insects resulting in higher levels of phytochemicals in the tea leaves and reputedly improving the flavour of the tea.
Inside the tea processing building ,we had a guided tour through the different stages involved in turning fresh tea leaves into oolong.
Finally, we had the chance to taste some of the rare and expensive tea produced from the surrounding tea garden. Definitely some excellent oolong and very interesting to see the beautiful mountain top landscape in which this tea is grown.
Sadly, after our tea it was time to start the long drive back along the winding mountain roads back to Taichung. The mountainous region around Lishan was very different to the rest of Taiwan and I was very glad to have experienced it, albeit all too briefly, on my visit to this country.