I’m glad that I managed to get back home from an afternoon excursion to Guandu before a big thunderstorm hit the city. Compared to southern Taiwan, Taipei has got off reasonably lightly during the recent spate of monsoon rains, but the one we had today seems to have tested the limits of the city’s drainage system– though perhaps not quite a severely as the intrepid reporters the TV stations send out into the streets might want us to believe!
I enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the Guandu Nature Reserve tinged with a sense of melancholy at the thought that it features the last remaining pure freshwater wetlands around the Tamsui River basin. No matter which direction look in, you can see great hulking concrete buildings circling in the distance like invaders poised to conquer it. Fortunately, after many years of uncertainty, the lands in the reserve are now legally protected.
It was refreshing to inhale the fresh autumn air and savor the peace and quiet in the reserve. Very few people were there today, though apparently it can get very crowded when legions of birdwatchers come to view the migrating flocks of waterfowls and shorebirds that stop here.
A fifteen-minute walk from the nature reserve is Guandu Temple. This is the oldest temple in northern Taiwan dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, and was originally constructed in 1661. The temple also features an eclectic mix of colorful shrines dedicated to other Taoist and Buddhist deities, including a statue of thousand-eye and thousand-armed Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, located in a cave just behind the main complex that is lined with 28 devas. It has a rich and lively atmosphere and provides some excellent views of the nearby wetlands and Tamsui River from its hillside perch.
Guandu Temple is about a twenty-minute walk from the Guandu MRT station. It takes a further twenty minutes from there to reach the center of Taipei on the train. While not exactly the most picturesque of towns, Guandu provides an enjoyable escape from the capital. It’s also a good place to stop off at on your way to the seaside town Danshui at the end of the MRT Red Line.