Marble masterpiece - Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

There are no smiles in the photo of the ex-soldiers who carved the road through  Taiwan's Taroko Gorge by hand.

They sit frozen  in long lines and some of the stoic faces belong to  the 226 men killed in work related accidents during the construction of the Central Cross Island Highway from Taroko to Dongshi.

The gorge's towering marble cliffs and u-shaped valley are made from tough marble and its hard to imagine more back breaking work than chipping it away. But that's what they did under orders of the Japanese who were in control of Taiwan at the time.

Taroko Gorge is on the eastern side of Taiwan and easily accessed by a three hour train ride from Taipei snaking alongside the island’s central mountain ridge.

We have travelled here by car to explore the valley but the road is busy and as time is short we have taken the first stop available.
On the other side of the valley I can see the Eternal Springs Shrine. My guide, Francis, tells me this is the third shrine in this location. The other two fell foul to landslides and all that remains are two piles of rubble. It's a constant problem in this part of the world where tectonic plate shifts cause regular landslides and rock falls.  In fact there are several signs warning me not to linger long on the walkway.  

A stop at the information centre at the entrance to the gorge revealed that the the 192 kilometre road was the first highway to cross Taiwan's Central Mountain Range.  It was built for national defence, to shorten travelling time between east and west Taiwan, to resettle decommissioned servicemen and allow natural resources to be exploited. Every day 5000 to 6000 men worked on the highway building it with 'blood, sweat and tears' plus a few explosives.

I also saw many plants which I have grown at home in Australia, including a treasured hoya from my grandmother.

As we walk to the shrine I notice red Chinese letters carved into the cliff face.  My guide translates the message as 'Don't just look at the view, listen to the sound of the water as well." Maybe they were listening to the sound of the water when they found alluvial gold in the river during the Japanese occupation. It's all gone now but the river doesn't seem to mind as it flows past into the valley.

The path is a little slippery and wet in places but easily accessible. Higher up the mountain I can see small figures returning from a trek to another shrine.  It looks like a big climb.

When I reach the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to commemorate the men who lost their lives, I see there is indeed a spring with water tumbling down to the valley below.  

Once again I am stunned by the beauty of this country and the determination of the people.  It's something you should see for yourself. 

Getting there:  Scoot flies from Sydney and Gold Coast airports to Singapore and from Singapore to Taipei.

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Disclaimer: Ed+bK travelled to Taiwan courtesy of Scoot Airlines and Taiwan Tourism.