Moss covered trees, logs, and stones, much like green frosting on an irregular sponge. With each step, I inhaled the woody forest air. Hiking on the trail in Yangminshan National Park, I was in a trance. The walk reminded me of a monk, who sat in meditation in Longshan Temple, amidst the flow of tourists and worshippers. Surely, many have had similar bouts of tranquillity.
The shrine juxtaposed with the nearby glass buildings, and it was one of the oldest Taiwanese temples dedicated to Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy. The temple hosted numerous deities of Taoist pantheon. In, 1738, Chinese settlers from Fujian province built Longshan temple. Post World War 2, the faithful rebuilt the structure that had served as a warehouse for Japanese troops. Currently, the shrine is a place for praying and sightseeing.
Whether tourists for soaking the local culture or believers for gaining merit points, everyone had their share in Longshan Temple.
The summit of Mount Qixing or Seven Star Mountain, the tallest peak in Taipei still was about a Kilometre away. I rested on a bench, aware that my opponents were at the previous pit stop. I was up against a young boy and his father, who were unaware of the ongoing competition. I was still gloating on my lead when a couple of white-haired-wrinkled couples trudged past me. They were just one of many senior citizens on the trail. If it were India, a half would have been on wheelchairs. The secret of their agility was either their diet or their attitude.
With a sympathetic smile, he inhaled and said, “Not far, another ten minutes or so.”
I felt deflated; my response in a similar situation had been the same, a lie of encouragement.
The height of the mountain was a towering 1120 metres, an eighth of Mt Everest, and it was my first hike up a tallest mountain. It was getting cooler and cooler as I ascended the steps. The thicket of trees disappeared, and a carpet of grassland appeared. On my next halt, my competing father-son duo overtook me. I was immature to compete with a child. It is another thing that I was elated to find myself at the summit before them. I was not alone, around fifty or so people were already at the top. For many, the walk had been a conversation with self, either introspection or evaluation.
I sat near the summit while grass blades tapped on my shin and a blanket of mist engulfed the neighbouring peaks. I could still see fumaroles with their vents of volcanic gases on the southern slopes. Fumaroles were at the altar of Seven Star Mountain and their wisps of incense were offerings from the earth. Was Yangminshan the place where heaven met earth?