Tiger Lilies (金針花)

This blog is going to start out with a story about how even a foreigner who speaks fluent Chinese and has lived in Taiwan for 10 years can still make the same stupid mistakes that a newbie can make! 

I spent a week in Boracay, a small island in the Philippines south of Manilla which is known for having one of the best beaches in the world. I had a great time relaxing on the beach, swimming, drinking and eating great food. 

To say that I arrived back in Taiwan feeling quite relaxed would be an understatement. I had purchased tickets to Hualien before leaving the country and when I got back I didn't even bother to look at them. I just knew that I had to be at the train station at a specific time on a specific day and that was good enough for me. 

A farmer picking some lilies

On that day I arrived at the train station early enough and got in the train and sat down. One station later someone stopped beside me and told me I was sitting in their seat. I thought that couldn't be right but quickly realized that my train left from another station at 9:20am and I got on a different train at 9:20am meaning that my fast train with a nice window seat became a slow train with no seat. 

I was supposed to arrive in Hualien at 12:30pm but actually arrived at 2:00pm feeling tired and irritated. My plan for the first day was to check out the Tiger Lilies at “60 Stone Mountain” (六十石山) which is in Fuli township (富里) near the border with Taidong county. This meant that I would have to travel another two hours by car or scooter to arrive there. Given that I didn't have much time I had to alter my plans due to the fact that I was afraid I'd arrive at the mountain and have no available light for shooting. 

I decided to head to Chi Ke Mountain (赤柯山) instead as it was a bit closer than the other mountain and had similar scenery. It didn't really matter where I went because there are quite a few mountains along the east coast in either Hualien or Taidong where these Tiger Lilies are cultivated – 60 Stone Mountain was just the most popular of them and has the most iconic imagery of all of them with the lilies and the rolling mountains below them. 

Picking lilies

Picking lilies

Anyway, I was really careless and my punishment for that carelessness was that I couldn't get to the place I originally wanted to go to. 

It may seem strange that people in Taiwan plant Tiger Lilies all over the mountains on the east coast, but the reason for this is that years and years ago it was discovered that these lilies grew extremely well on these mountains due to the altitude and the temperate climate. 

Tiger lilies are important in Taiwan not only because they look beautiful on the side of a mountain, but because they are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. The lilies have been incorporated into many different kinds of Taiwanese cuisine and the roots are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for their anti-inflammatory powers. A single serving of Tiger lilies are said to have over twenty times the amount of iron as spinach making them somewhat of a mineral superhero for the human body. 

Rolling hills of lilies

If you visit any of the mountains where they are cultivating the flowers between August and September of each year there will be vendors and restaurants offering dishes like Chicken Soup with Tiger Lily infused broth (金針花雞湯), Tiger Lily tempura (炸金針花), and hot and cold Tiger Lily infused tea. 

The thing about Tiger Lilies is that the blossoms are shy and only show up for one day before they die. The farmers on the mountains spend their days trying to pick the lilies as quickly as they can and are quickly carted off to a place where they will dry in the sun for anywhere from three to five days before being sold. 

Walking along the side of the mountain. 

I would have preferred to visit the most popular place to see these lilies, but that is my own fault and even though I would have preferred to go Sixty Stone Mountain rather than Chi Ke Mountain, I'm still lucky and relieved that I had the chance to see these flowers while they were in bloom. 

The blossoming period for Tiger Lilies is very short and the season only lasts about a month, so if you plan on checking out these beauties while they're around, you'd better make your plans quickly, otherwise you'll have to wait until next year! 

Mugumuyu (慕谷慕魚)

The place I want to introduce today is one that I have wanted to visit for years. It has been at the top of my list for a number of reasons and if you know me, or follow my blog you'll know why: It’s in the mountains, it involves hiking, it is in an Indigenous village and there are even beautiful river streams for swimming and cliff jumping! As far as I'm concerned, this place has almost everything I could want in a day trip but with an extra cherry on top thanks to the absolutely breathtaking landscape.

So with some extra time left on my most recent vacation I decided to load up my camera bag and got on a train to Hualien with the sole purpose of visiting this place - and of course to tell you people all about it! 

Before I go on though, I want to talk about some of the technical things I did to create these photos - The basic idea was that I would have to lug a bunch of heavy camera gear into the mountains (much more than I usually carry around) as the kind of long exposure shots I planned on getting required some specific gear. 

If you're not a photography enthusiast, long exposure just means that the shutter of the camera closes for a set period of time (I went with increments of 2, 5, 10, 15 and 30 seconds) before opening up again. Basically what you capture with a long exposure shot is "time" and by time I mean that the shot will capture things that happen between the time the shutter closes and when it reopens. 

To achieve long exposure shots, especially during the day you need to have a tripod (so the camera doesn't shake) and something called a Natural Density Filter. My filter is the Tiffen 82mm Variable Natural Density Filter which provides variable levels (or stops) of light control. 

10 second exposure

1 second exposure

The shots I'm posting here took a lot of work and I had to carry a lot of gear with me on the hike (and the three and a half hour train ride), but I can’t argue with the results as I got what I wanted and I’m quite happy with them. I hope that the way I present these shots will help to lend a hand in showing just how beautiful this place really is – and how you absolutely need to make it a priority to visit! 

Anyway, enough with the vague references, this blog post is about “Tbsagan Mgmgi” and if you're looking at that and thinking “How am I supposed to pronounce that?” you can simply refer to it as “Mukumugi” or in Chinese Pinyin as “Mugumuyu” (慕谷慕魚) - Whatever is most comfortable for you! 

As I mentioned earlier, Mukumugi is on Indigenous lands and the original name is in the language of the Truku (Taroko) Indigenous tribe (太魯閣族) who inhabit the area. One of my favourite things about Taiwan is experiencing Indigenous culture and cuisine. I love visiting areas that are traditionally indigenous because there is always an abundance of awesome food and friendly people who are both outgoing and generous. 

5 second exposure

In the Truku language, “Mukumugi” means “What a beautiful place!” and that description is spot on as Mukumugi is a beautiful gorge-like valley where giant marble stone walls meet the beautiful Qingshui river creating some spectacular scenery with a really cool spectrum of colours. 

The Qingshui River (清水溪) which translates into English as the ‘Clear Water’ River is extremely clean and obviously really clear. When you look at it from the trail it almost appears to be emerald green but when you get close enough you notice just how clear it really is. I'm sure if you stuck your head in the water and opened your eyes you'd have no problem seeing all the fish swimming around! 

The water in the river is similar to what you would see at Taroko gorge, but one of the major differences between the two areas is that at Mukumugi there are several places where you can actually get in the water and enjoy it whereas that kind of thing is more difficult at Taroko. 

10 second exposure

If you hike the entire trail it shouldn't take you any longer than two hours, but from what I noticed as I walked further down the trail is that most people don't bother hiking the entire thing as they prefer to stop at one of the popular pools for swimming and cliff jumping rather than hiking too far.

If you do plan on doing the full hike though you'll eventually come up to a road block at the end which is near a Hydroelectricity Plant run by TaiPower (台灣電力公司), Taiwan’s national electricity provider. 

Tunnel into Mukumugi

A Truku man driving his scooter in the park.

Considering that Mukumugi is on Indigenous land, it is quite common to see the Truku people going about their daily business on the trails. While hiking through the park, don't be shy to talk to some of them or stop by any of the roadside stalls they have set up to sample some local cuisine.

With the exception of official TaiPower vehicles, the locals are the only ones who are permitted to drive their vehicles into the protected area and this unfortunately is a new development brought on by a hard fought battle that the Truku people had to wage in order to protect their homeland and their way of life.  

2 second exposure

2 second exposure

In June 2014, fed up with tour buses carting in over 3000 tourists a day, causing pollution and destruction to the natural environment as well as a disruption to their daily lives, the Truku blockaded the entrance to Mukumugi and demanded the local government make some changes.

The demands they made were not to completely seal off Mukumugi to the outside, but that vehicles would no longer be permitted in the park and that there be a cap on how many people can enter each day.

This is important, because if you want to visit Mukumugi you have to be aware that you need to apply for a permit at a Police Station in Tongmen Village (銅門派出所) before you can enter. The permit is free, but only 600 people are granted access each day (300 in the morning and 300 in the afternoon) and unless you are travelling with a tour group, it is better if you apply in person.

So if you plan on visiting, especially on a holiday or on the weekend, make sure to arrive early to ensure you get the entry permit.

The last pool of water before arriving at the end of the trail.

As I mentioned above, Mukumugi has been on my list of places to visit for a long time and I wasn't disappointed. I fell in love with the place and it has usurped some other very worthy spots on my list of favourite places to visit in Taiwan!

I'll definitely be back and when I do go back it will be without all my camera gear so that I can go for a swim, do some cliff jumping and possibly some river tracing to experience the park in a different way than this visit.  

Mukumugi may not be as well known as some of Hualien’s other tourist hotspots and you may not be able to find that much information about it online but that doesn't mean it is any less worth visiting than some of Hualien's other major attractions. If you are planning a trip to Hualien, I'd suggest you make this place a must-visit on your itinerary and even though it isn't a huge tourist spot like Taroko Gorge, you will still come away feeling happy that you chose Mukumugi.   

Sometimes it is better to take the road less travelled. 

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