Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
My friend Melynie is an expert tour guide and had a full agenda of amazing sites. Her home is near Puli, Taiwan, the geographic center of the island. First we went to the top of the 2nd tallest mountain, Hehuanshan, over 12,000 ft. The view going up was lovely but the top was in cloud providing pelting, freezing rain so we quickly descended to a lower elevation for a lovely picnic.
One day we went to see reproduction aboriginal villages of Formosa, the original name of Taiwan. At this park was also a mini amusement park with an imitation Space Mountain ride and a short cruise through Jurassic World. It was almost spring so we got a hint of flowering trees. The grounds were beautiful and would have been lovely from our gondola ride if we weren’t in yet another cloud. Highest building, tallest mountain and beautiful lake all had the same view on my trip—-pure white. Fortunately there were less cloudy days and the tall, sharp mountains with mist and pagodas made a picture-perfect scene straight out of a Chinese painting—yes it really looks like that. I shopped for tea sets and jade and ate at McDonald’s. I also tried Hot Pot. The vegetables and tofu were lovely boiling in broth, as long as I didn’t add duck intestines or pork belly. We ate at noodle shops with the kitchen on the street and tables behind. We visited a giant Kwan Yin statue presiding over a lake and feed every koi we could find. Just as we would run out of fish food I would dump the last in and start a fish riot—those things are noisy when feeding. But the highlight of the visit was—you guessed it– temples and they are world class.
The Mount Great Buddha took my breath away. High on a hill sits the world’s largest outdoor bronze and gold Buddha- 558 feet tall. It is a place of pilgrimage and a sign gave instructions for the traditional ritual for blessings. Make a half bow, with your hands clasped. Circle the statue clockwise three time while reciting the name “Amituofo”. Make another half bow and then a prostration.
Inside on the main floor are three 12-ft. tall Buddhas under a painted dome and 88 gold Buddhas, one for each sutra. On the upper floors are thousands of gold Buddhas along the wall with lights on the floor that looked like galaxies. It felt like I was walking in another dimension. This amazing temple, finished in 2011, is Western Pure Land on earth. Words fail me trying to convey this truly spectacular holy site. It is powerful and yet approachable. We were the only ones there that day and I felt like I had my special moment with this breathtaking Buddha.
Across the valley was our next temple, the Chung Tai Chan Monastery. Finished in 2001, this monastery was build for spiritual cultivation and refuge. This award-winning building embodies the Dharma with art, culture, science and the teachings of the Buddha. Four 40 ft tall temple guardians, the tallest in the world, greeted me letting me know that this is a holy place that I was to approach with reverence. Up the stairs is the red granite “transformation Buddha” also know as “the Great Majestic One”. Silence is required before this holy Buddha as he reflects his compassion in the world of suffering.
We joined a Chinese language tour so that we could see the rest of the building. On other floors were sparkling white Buddhas, a seven-story teak pagoda with the Medicine Buddha, two stairways for pilgrimage and meditation halls. Everywhere I looked were thousands of Buddha images. Although both of these temples are new, the power of the devotion to the Buddha gives them a serenity of deep sacredness.
There was one last temple that day. I don’t know the name as there were no signs in English. It was being prepared for the Chinese New Year and a conference. The smell of flowers and incense permeated this holy place all made even more beautiful with the sounds of the monks chanting their prayers. Each temple that day was a perfect and unique experience. Any one would have been more than I could have hoped for. But, the three together made an unforgettable experience in the heartland of this beautiful country.
The final day in central Taiwan was the blue blood eclipse moon on January 31. Unfortunately pesky cloud cover kept me from seeing the eclipse so I thought it was a good day to go to Sun Moon Lake. First we climbed 580 steps to the pagoda overlooking the lake and then took a boat ride on the lake. Street food was the perfect lunch, tofu stuffed with vegetables and spiralized deep-fried potato plus bubble milk tea. I live for bubble (boba) tea. This Taiwanese creation consists of milky tea with ice and large tapioca balls that you drink with a big straw making it a chewy, sweet treat. This original tea is the best I’ve ever had and I’m a connoisseur. I’m now trying to reproduce it at home so next time you come for a visit we will have iced bubble tea on the porch—a new Southern tradition.
Of course there were more temples. At Xuan Zang Temple the nuns were chanting as we walked around and viewed a relic from the 7th century. Next was a Toaist temple, Wen Wu, much more elaborate than the Buddhist temples. Every inch is red or gold, carved and beautiful. There are many levels, each one increasingly lovely. Both of these temples where modern but I liked that they are living temples and not relegated to just history.
The last day in Taiwan Melynie and I went back to Taipei so I could catch my flight the next morning. We spent the day at the National Palace Museum. Melynie had not been there yet and it was fun to explore together. Chang Kai-shek, the founder of modern Taiwan, saw the cultural revolution coming in China and packed up all the art collected for hundreds of years by the emperors and shipped it to Taiwan. The best of over 700,000 treasures are on display, spanning thousands of years of history. The most popular object in the museum is a Bok Choy carved from jadite—a unique choice but fun. You can buy a replica of this cabbage in every imaginable form. A walk in the formal gardens and it was time for supper. We ate in the mall deep in the central station. Melynie was so happy to have American food and find a book store with English books. She felt like she had a mini-vacation and a taste of home.
It was hard to part the next day. Everyday was fun and enchanting with sacred sites, beautiful scenery and lots of bubble milk tea. It was the loveliest adventure with the dearest of friends.