Taiwan: A twin of lush beauty and charm
Culture, cuisine and scenic landscape makes Taiwan the irresistible 'Heart of Asia'
Taiwan is red too with a brush of blue. The island-state in Southeast Asia is a buzzing tourist resort and has all the potentials for an exhilarating holiday. What makes this culturally and heritage-wise Chinese island great is its humility, and the industriousness of its people. Bowing down as a mark of respect, as you are welcomed, is dignifying!
Taiwan has registered exemplary development and is rewriting its current history, as it leaves behind its colonial legacy and moves on. The Republic of China, as Taiwan is officially termed, is Chinese in essence, culturally and historically, and its booming industrial sector considerately eyes the mainland for commerce.
Acknowledgement of its ancient Aborigine culture is a basic ingredient of Taiwanese national lifestyle and it marks a new social contract as it evolves into a modern state entity.
Development of Taiwan is breathtaking. It is an island of elevated expressways, a cobweb of roads, Metro and train network. High-speed MRT trains (bullet trains) at a maximum speed of up to 300km/hour connects its length and breadth, and is best at commutation. Though situated on the seismic fault-lines, Taiwan has some of the best anti-quake regulations in force and Taipei-101, its tallest tower, is its best example of shock-resilience.
The country has around nine National Parks, and a countryside that is awesomely beautiful. From wildlife to serenity, and from coastlines on the Taiwan Straits to the Pacific Ocean, it is a great composition of sight-seeing and relaxation. Seventy-per cent of its landscape is forest, and the rest is agrarian.
Incidentally, Taiwan has a hi-tech farming and cultivation module, and is self-reliant for its food basket. It was amazing to see large swatches of farmland without many farmers at work. The reason was its mechanised farming pattern. From water disbursement in the crop fields to other necessary chores, it's all done through auto-time machines, and in a periodic manner. This has definitely led to productivity at minimal time consumption, as well as cost-saving on labour. Moreover, a network of bridges and small-scale dams to channelise rain water, and deluge, are pivotal to its irrigation network. Bamboo, tea, ginger, salt and other minerals form its geo-environmental crust.
Taiwan has some of the great cuisines and hotels to boast, and the choice is wide enough. From purely Chinese cuisine to an articulate mix of regional palate, its restaurants and hotels are never short of delicious and lip-smacking servings. With a blend of indigenous and modernity, Taiwan is one of the most pro-Muslim cuisine countries in the region. It is quite conscious in its effort to promote Halal-based tourism, and several of its hotels and restaurants, as well as roadside eateries, are halal-certified by the Chinese Muslim Association. Tourists from the UAE and other Muslim states can be at ease as they order their tumultuous menu.
I was quite nostalgic as I toured Taiwan. My visit to China more than a decade ago was on my mind. I was sceptical about food, and wasn't sure how easy it would be to communicate. But it was a pleasant surprise that Taiwan has some of the delicious and, at times, halal servings at many of its eateries. The local dishes widely comprise of seafood, and are soaked in a variety of vinegars, chilli pastes, a rich blend of ginger and semi-fried onion. So are the rich plates of shrimps, and a blend of indigenous and Japanese sea-produce. Marinated and at times steam-baked chicken with sauces and lamb chops served with pudding rice in bamboo-wood tube shells is awesome to try.
From five stars hotels such as Grand Hayat in Taipei to Nice Palace in Chiayi and Silk Hotel in Tainan, the country has great choices for tourists. It's completely Westernised in terms of hospitality, but with a perfect and indispensable touch of Taiwanese culture. Decorated lanterns are a must ingredient whether you pass by the hotel lobby or any mall or a decorated night street. This indicates the culture perfectionism of Taiwanese, and they go on to celebrate and highlight the Chinese fabric in their lives.
Taipei is a great getaway destination especially for Emiratis, and residents living in the UAE. What makes it so special is not only its scenic beauty, surrounded by mountains and with deep imprints of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, but also the tallest tower in the region. Taipei 101, which was once the world's tallest tower, is now replaced by Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is nostalgic, as you ride the world's best high-speed elevator that takes you to the top floor in just 37 seconds. It is a moment of silence and pause as you stand on the 91st floor outdoor observatory and witness the 360-degree panoramic view of the sprawling capital city.
Mandarin characters in neon-sign, skyscrapers, buzzing malls, museums, temples, an ordained traffic encompassing a battalion of scooter-riders and tempting food streets and spa centres are salient features of the Republic of China's capital city. For me it was like another Hong Kong, to say the least, and a great mix of Jakarta and Shanghai, owing to its amazing swiftness with which the city works. Strolling out in the nights as Taipei opens its colourful 'budget bazaars' was an unforgettable experience, and coupled with it is the opportunity try some local recipes, and get laid out for a soothing massage.
Taiwan's subtropical weather with temperature ranging from 16 to 28 degrees Celsius and intermittent rainfall makes it more attractive for tourists from warmer regions. One cannot ignore the Sulphur-rich hot springs on the island, as well as the cherry blossom season of spring. What particularly makes Taiwan a great destination is its forest beauty, and mountain trekking and bicycling. Its wetlands, expansive grasslands, state-of-the-art botanical gardens, coastal nurseries, and wildlife is worth a visit.
An epoch-making aspect of history I witnessed in Taiwan was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. A life-size bronze statue of Chiang sits yards away from a portrait, which spells out the country's current history, saying from 'Mainland to Taiwan'. I found it of immense academic interest for people who love to read history, and have an eye on current affairs.
Last, but not the least, what made my trip to Taiwan memorable is a visit to its mountainous Alishan district. Two-thousand metres above sea-level, it is home to Aborigines, and spending a couple of days in the tea-gardens was a scintillating experience. Watching sunrise - from a sea of clouds - is its major attraction, and the ambience makes it all the more romantic.
A serene tea garden in Alishan
As I packed-up for the end of my trip, little did I know that the best of it is still to come. It was the picturesque Sun-Moon Lake in Nantou County's Yuchi Township. It is Swiss-2.0 experience. Taiwan is a splendid destination to visit, and at the same time you feel at home, as you experience its ambience in a unique way of its own. Seeing is believing!
The 29th Lantern Festival in Chiayi, held on March 2, was spread over an area of 50 hectares, making it the biggest festival ever held in Taiwan. This year the zodiac sign was 'dog', portraying the theme of loyal auspiciousness, along with an indigenous child.
The innovative designs, consisting of hundreds of lanterns were technological-moulded into masterpieces of art and culture, and gave people a brand new sensory experience.
The festival, which also marks the New Chinese Calendar Year, was opened by the President of Taiwan Tsai lng-wen, and the subsequent light show proudly depicted the rise of Taiwan as a developing state, with its eyes set on a promising tomorrow.
Locals perform a traditional dance
The Main Lantern's base was designed on the Chinese Eight Trigrams, which symbolised Taiwan's traditional philosophy and culture. As President Tsai lng-wen, the first female president in the nation's history, lighted the lantern by touching the crystal ball, a smartly turned out contingent played national songs and folks in traditional attire blew the salute whistle. It was a moment of national enrichment as lights crisscrossed the skies over the plateau of Tropic of Cancer in Chiayi, which sits in front of a mountainous range and faces the sea, reflecting tradition and modernity as the ethos of Taiwan. Through years of constant innovation, the Lantern Festival has become one of the 'world's best festivals', and is duly acknowledged by Discovery channel and praised by international media as a Disneyland without a roller coaster!
Joe Y. Chou, Director General, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Ministry of Transportation and Communication, told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the media-meet that the government has allocated $210 million (NTS-Taiwanese dollars) for promoting tourism, and the country is registering a growth of 15 per cent tourists per annum. "One in five visitors to the Lantern festival is an international tourist," Joe remarked.
He told Khaleej Times, in a personal message to the Emiratis, that backpackers are welcome to visit Taiwan, and added that the government is easing visa regulations for all around the world.
The writer was on an official visit to Taiwan on the invitation of Taiwan Tourism Bureau
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei
The writer with Joe Y. Chou, Director General, Taiwan Tourism Bureau