Exploring the Beautiful Back Roads of Taitung--County Road 197
County Road 197 stretches nearly 60 kilometers between Beinan Township, just outside of Taitung City, and Chishang Township in the northern part of Taitung County. Provincial Highway 9 is the fastest route between these two points, leaving County Road 197 with little traffic. Due to the lack of vehicles, challenging undulations and panoramic vistas, this is a favorite road for cycling enthusiasts.
From Beinan Township, this road winds upward above an air force base with expansive views of the ocean. Another alternative start for this journey is through picturesque Liji Village, an indigenous Amis community. From here, pass the Xiaohuang Mountain area and Liji Badlands. Xiaohuang Mountain is a set of mudstone cliffs with extensive grooves caused by rainwater erosion that hug the banks of the Beinan River. The Liji Badlands are a two-kilometer by one-kilometer area formed by the uplifting of soft marine sediment above the surface of the sea with subsequent erosion, creating sharp and knifelike ridges. At the Liji Badlands, wooden observation platforms and paths have been built.
Continuing northward into Yanping Township, both sides of the road are lined by forest as the entrance to Luanshan Village, an indigenous Bunun community, comes into view. This community is divided into several neighborhoods. At the entrance to each neighborhood is a wood carved statue featuring a Bunun person in traditional clothing or aspect of their traditional culture. This community possesses a large natural pond with nature trail, referred to as Luanshan Lake, next to which is an outdoor gathering area where important ceremonies such as the Ear Shooting Festival are held.
Guanshan Township itself is famous for its 12-kilometer cycling path that is suitable for families, and a large water park, perfect for cooling off in the summer. It is also well known for the quality of its rice and rice paddy scenery. During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945), the Hakka people living in the hilly regions of western Taiwan were encouraged to move to eastern Taiwan and develop its agriculture. Thus, areas such as Guanshan Township are not only good choices for enjoying a rural experience, but also for learning about Hakka culture.
At the 37 kilometer marker just past Luanshan Village, begins a 14-kilometer section of gravel road, which is neither easy to bike nor easy to drive. It is recommended that from Luanshan Village you connect to Provincial Highway 9 to Guanshan Township and from there reconnect to County Road 197. Once reaching Guanshan, there are several enjoyable options. For example, it is a short drive or ride to Haiduan Township and Kanding Village, a Bunun community. The community's features include wood carving studio, traditional botanical plant garden, millet workshop and hunting culture. Just to the north of Guanshan is the Southern Cross-island Highway (Provincial Highway 20) with natural river hot springs, mountain scenery and forests.
Heading back onto County Road 197 from Guanshan Township, the next point of interest is Dianguang Village, a mostly Amis community. This is a sleepy, but friendly, village nestled against a backdrop of verdant hills. During the Qing dynasty, Amis communities in eastern Taiwan were threatened by the approach of Chinese troops. In response, the Amis discovered a type of natural rock that when wet emits a combustible vapor. When placed inside a large bamboo tube, it produces the sound effect of a cannon. The firing of such bamboo cannons is harmless, but to the Chinese troops it sounded like a very real threat and deterred them from attacking. A plateau above the community offers gorgeous views and a great place for shooting this type of cannon.
This road ends in Chishang Township. Similar to the history of Guanshan Township, the population includes a large proportion of Hakka people, whose ancestors arrived during the Japanese occupation era to grow sugarcane and eventually its most famous crop, paddy rice. Its most striking feature is its unobstructed views of paddy landscape extending to a row of towering mountains. The best time to view the gorgeous scenes of golden rice spikes swaying in the breeze is just before a harvest. There are two harvests per year, one in the end of June and one in the very beginning of November.
County Road 197 is referred to as one of the most picturesque in Taitung County. This is saying a lot as Taitung County is well known for its abundant natural and rural scenery. No matter whether driving or cycling, this is a road for those who want to slowly savor the beauty of Taitung.