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The gentle giants of Beidelaman

Standing for a group shot in front of the simply named Ancient Tree no. 1, there's ample room for ten of us to pose, lined up in a row and leaning on the tree's prodigiously broad, curving trunk.

The biggest of the four Beidelaman Ancient Trees (北得拉曼神木) on the slopes of Mount Niaozui (鳥嘴山) in Hsinchu (新竹) County, it's a true giant, so it's astonishing to find this leviathan has no place in Taiwan's top ten largest (or rather hugest) ancient trees.

Reaching the ancient trees of Mount Niaozui requires something of a mini expedition (as does getting to the biggest of all Taiwan's trees, the astonishing Mount Dashue Tree in Miaoli County), but seeing several other trees on Taiwan's top ten list is surprisingly easy.

Taiwan's second biggest tree (according to the official list), the Lulin Ancient Tree (鹿林神木) is just a couple of minutes' walk off the New Central Cross-island Highway, about ten kilometers east of the entrance to Alishan (阿里山) Forest Recreation Area, while the island's fifth and tenth greatest can both be seen as part of an easy stroll around the ancient tree grove at Daguan (Lalashan) Mountain (大觀山) in Taoyuan County.

Making the extra effort to get out to one of the more remote tree groves is well worth it, however. An important aspect of the fascination in visiting giant trees (most of Taiwan's better-known ancient trees are 2,500 or more years in age, which means they'd have pushed through the earth at about the time that Confucius wrote the Analects), is in exploring the vast forests in which they are secreted, and to really experience the sheer size and sense of remoteness of these wilderness areas, you'll have to forego the easier, more convenient places such as Daguan Mountain and get out to some of Taiwan's less-hyped giant tree groves, among which Beidelaman is a great example.

The Beidelaman Ancient Trees lie at an altitude of 1,400 meters in mountainous Jianshi (尖石) Township, eastern Hsinchu County, and it's quite a rough drive to the trailhead, the last three (unsurfaced) kilometers of the mountain road being especially challenging. Finally reaching the map board which marks the trailhead, there's space to park several cars, and from here on the way is up, up and up, along a clear trail.

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The gentle giants of Beidelaman
The second ancient tree stands in a small clearing in the forest, where its impressive size can be appreciated. (By Richard Saunders, Special to The China Post)

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