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Beitou's backdoor on Yangmingshan

It's not a very well-known fact that the Chinese name given to the northern Taipei suburb of Beitou is a corruption of an old aboriginal word meaning something like “witch's den,” but it's easy enough to work out why the area's original inhabitants gave it this unusual name.

The hot spring sources bubbling up nearby, wafting thick clouds of steam into the air, must have frightened early dwellers who were unaware of what caused these extraordinary but quite natural phenomenon, although they're a marvelous perk (in winter at least!) for today's local inhabitants!

Aside from its hot springs, Beitou lies at the start of an “alternative” route up to Yangmingshan National Park (Quanyuan Road泉源路), an especially useful option when the more popular Yangde Boulevard is clogged with holiday traffic. Apart from whiffy geothermal waters and a back route up to the volcanic summits looming behind the town, however, Beitou has several less obvious attractions. Not surprisingly, considering Beitou's position at the foot of the mountains, the surrounding countryside is very beautiful and easily accessible.

For starters take bus No.218 from outside Beitou MRT station to its terminus, ten minutes' drive away at Fuxinggang (復興崗). The bus drops the last passengers off beside a wide and rather unsightly concrete water channel which doesn't promise very much, but follow it uphill, towards the steep, wooded hillside ahead, and the interest soon picks up.

Standing out conspicuously against the green woodland of the escarpment, and visible from many kilometers away, the exposed cliffs ahead are of gleaming white rock estimated as being between 24 and 30 million years old, which makes it the oldest rock in the Taipei basin.

The cliffs are a clue to an important industry practiced hereabouts until about thirty years ago. This area is rich in deposits of a particularly fine form of china clay. Although known since the Qing Dynasty, the fine quality of the clay only sparked a major industry here during the Japanese occupation, when Beitou became the biggest of Taiwan's four ceramics-producing towns, turning out everything from fine chinaware to electrical insulators and even Taiwan's first ceramic toilet bowl!

Unfortunately uncontrolled quarrying of the valuable china clay from the hills here led to several serious floods and landslides, and a total ban was placed on mining in 1977.

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Beitou's backdoor on Yangmingshan
Above Budong Waterfall, a trail climbs up the escarpment and leads to a panoramic view of Taipei City. (By Richard Saunders, Special to The China Post)

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