Sat, Feb 22, 2014 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: New Nantou attractions boost tourism

FROM THE RUINS:A school that was destroyed by the 921 Earthquake has been turned into a crafts facility, and bridges and coffee farms draw people to the area

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

People carry a god across the Sky Bridge, also known as the Heavenly Ladder, at Baguashan in Nantou County on Feb. 6.

Photo: CNA

Nantou County gained worldwide attention after the magnitude 7.6 earthquake that struck on Sept. 21, 1999, but its tourist attractions are now giving people a good reason to visit the region.

The early-morning temblor, known as the 921 Earthquake, lasted 102 seconds, killing almost 2,500 people and injuring more than 10,000. More than 100,000 houses collapsed or were damaged by the earthquake. The county has since been rebuilt and this year is playing host to the Taiwan Lantern Festival.

The county is home to several well-known tourist attractions, including the bamboo forest in Sitou (溪頭), Lugu Township (鹿谷), Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) and the hiking trails of Cingjing Farm (清境農場).

New tourist attractions have also emerged in recent years. The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute in Caotun (草屯) is built on the grounds of what was once the National Caotun Commercial and Industrial Vocational Senior High School, which was completely destroyed by the 921 Earthquake.

Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the institute offers a venue for artists to display their work and allow visitors the opportunity to try crafts themselves.

Lee Yung-moo (李永謀) is one of the institute’s artists-in-residence and specializes in making artificial flowers using fallen tree leaves. He can also make small insects like ants using the dead bark from white birch trees.

“You first separate the mesophyll from a leaf using a special enzyme, which will give the leaf transparency and elastic venation. Afterward you can form the veins into any shape you like,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, visitors to the Sky Bridge (天空之橋) or Heavenly Ladder (天梯) in Nantou City may not be too impressed by the small country road leading to the attraction, but they leave the place remembering the spectacular landscape of Baguashan (八卦山) and the plains in Changhwa, which can be viewed from the bridge.

The suspension bridge is 204m long and has 265 steps that connect two peaks on either side of a valley between Nantou and Changhwa. The bridge is visible from a distance at night, when its lights are switched on.

Last year, the government outsourced the operation of the Sky Bridge as well as the park in which the bridge is located to Wintell LED Lighting Corp.

Wintell chief executive Jason Lin said that his company has turned the park into a large camellia garden, containing 80 kinds of camellias.

“We hope that visitors can appreciate the beauty of the camellias each month,” he said.

According to Lin, between 5,000 and 8,000 visitors visit the Sky Bridge and the park each day on weekends and holidays.

The number of tourists topped 14,000 per day during the Lunar New Year holiday this year, he said.

Coffee enthusiasts can explore the coffee beans grown in Guosing Township (國姓). One of the coffee farm owners uses the dregs of decocted herbal medicine as fertilizer for the coffee plants.

“My family owns a herbal medicine store and we dispose of the dregs after we decoct the medicine for our customers,” farm owner Chang Shun-chia (張順嬌) said. “At first I just poured it on the soil in the farm without paying much attention to it. Then I noticed that the trees near where I dumped the dregs tended to be taller and larger than usual.”

Chang’s coffee beans have received several awards. When asked how her coffee beans were different from those grown by others, she said that her coffee was perfect for people with weak stomachs or hearts, or those who have trouble sleeping after drinking coffee.

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