Plenty of tea is still produced in Maokong by holdout farmers and the remainder of the hike to Sindian passes through the more picturesque of their fields, at its higher elevations, with arresting views of Taipei and, of course, Taipei 101 providing some postcard juxtapositions.
So after enjoying far too much of the tea-leaf fried rice, tea-leaf fried veggies and tea jelly and drinking too much Tieh Kuan-yin tea in Maokong, it was high time on my visit to burn off some calories by hitting the small trail that leads over the hill through an isolated glen of vegetable and tea fields to one of the best-hidden temples in Taipei. Tucked partially behind a waterfall, Yinhe Cave Temple is a tiny Buddhist structure carved mid-way up a 50m cliff that enjoys a spot in local lore for being a weapons depot for resistance fighters against the Japanese occupation at the beginning of the last century. In fact, many of the hiking trails that still exist in the area were once used by Shenkeng-based guerillas fighting the Japanese and some of the nearby peaks were used to send signals about Japanese troop movements.
I had been told that after heavy rains, Yinhe Temple becomes concealed by falling water, but scarce rain this season has left most of the temple exposed. That was a bit of a let-down because the temple itself is a rather bland concrete slab. But the reduced waterfall, nonetheless, is quite spectacular, dumping over its precipice in a jungle setting ringed by blazing pink and white azaleas that are now in bloom. A flat, concrete viewing area next to the base of the falls is a perfect picnic setting in dry conditions.
Having trekked from Chih-nan Temple, down and up one valley to Maokong and over one ridge to the waterfall, I had begun to feel that such an outing held its share of adventure. But my bubble was burst when a chipper family with hip-high toddlers in tow came into view on the last stretch of road that leads out to National Route 9 running from Ilan to Sindian. The colors of the forest, the hush of swaying bamboo groves, the sight of old men tilling fields had all led me to believe I had traveled great distances and left most of what was familiar behind. But no, it's just a family hiking trail only one quick corner out of sight from the city. I turned that corner by walking a final kilometer along Route 9 into Sindian and catching the 650 bus back to Gongguan feeling refreshed all the same.