Nantou’s Misty Lotus Forest 忘憂森林

Into the misty mountains
Into the misty mountains we go…

Collected here are a series of dreamlike photos from a road trip into the misty mountains of Lùgǔ 鹿谷 in Nántóu 南投, central Taiwan. I undertook this trip with a friend in July 2014. Our goal was the Lotus Forest 忘憂森林 (pinyin: Wàngyōu Sēnlín), also known as the Misty Forest 迷霧森林, a high mountain bog formed in the aftermath of the catastrophic 921 earthquake when a landslide altered drainage patterns, forming a small lake and drowning part of the existing forest. At an elevation somewhere close to 2,000 meters, the Lotus Forest is often shrouded in thick fog, imbuing it with an eerie mystique that attracts Taiwanese people from all over the island.

The misty mountains of Lugu

The entrance to the Lotus Forest is located about 15 kilometers from the popular Xitou Monster Village 溪頭怪物村 on the way to Sun Link Sea 杉林溪 (pinyin: Shānlínxī), a recreational forest at the end of the road. Getting there is a bit of a mission as there are many switchbacks leading up highway 投95 and a fair amount of traffic for such a remote place.

Growing tea in the mountains of Nantou county
High mountain tea on steep slopes.
Tea farms in the high mountains of Lugu
Even the tea farms by the side of the highway look unreal.

High mountain tea plantations hug the slopes surrounding the steep access road to the misty bog. We took the shuttle bus to the top to spare us a precipitous 40 minute climb. Besides, what’s not to love about the signs from My Neighbour Totoro?

Bus stop at the base of the road to the Lotus Forest
The charming bus stop at the base of the access road.

After a bumpy, jarring ride up the mountainside we found ourselves in the fog-shrouded heights. More tea is grown here, as you can see, and the landscape is much less steep in parts. With the fog it was impossible to determine whether there are mountains beyond—or if this is a high mountain plateau of some kind.

Misty mountain tea farms in Lugu
Like something out of a dream.
A misty mountainside covered in tea
Vanishing into the mist.
Growing tea in the mountain mist
Neat rows of high mountain tea in Lugu.

After a short walk along muddy trails we arrived at our destination, the Lotus Forest. My friend was disappointed that I had seen a bog before but I still found it very interesting. Bogs may be common where I’m from but I seldom have an opportunity to leave the city and see one up close—especially not in the fog. It was a mesmerizing experience, especially given where we were. This is not the sort of scenery most people would expect to find in Taiwan!

Misty lake, lotus forest
Lotus Forest.
Reflections in the lotus forest lake
Mesmerizing reflections in the lake.
Misty bog in the mountains of Nantou
It looks ancient but it has been around for less than two decades.
Vintage girl at the mystic lake
The trees here have been cut down for some reason.
A misty lake in the high mountains of Nantou county
Entrancing.
Seeing double
Seeing double.

After making a short tour of the lake area we hiked out through the forest back to the tea farming area near the top of the access road and took the shuttle back to the highway.

A dream within a dream
A dream within a dream.
Mountain tea in the fog
Absolutely surreal.
An old shack next to a mountainside tea plantation in Nantou
An old shack at the top of the access road.

It had been raining on and off since we made it into the mountains and daylight was fading in the interminable haze. We decided to strike out for the end of the road to see what else there was to see before heading back to earth.

Tea plantations on the mountains of Nantou
Tea plantations in the mountains of Nantou.
A rocky outcrop on the remote mountain roads of Lugu
A rugged rocky outcrop looming over the highway.
Looking over the edge
The edge of the road is simply gone.
Tunnel to the beyond
A tunnel granting access to Sun Link Sea recreational forest.
Nobody else out here
Nobody else out here.

The mountain roads beyond the Lotus Forest were completely empty. There was nary a soul out there—just us on a tiny scooter, trundling along roads in various states of disrepair. In one bend an entire lane was missing. It had been swept away by gravity to places unseen. Similar problems plagued the road outside the last tunnel on the way to Sun Link Sea forest. We passed through to the other side to take a quick look but opted to turn back in the interest of health and safety. Riding a scooter down steep mountain switchbacks in the dark was not an appealing prospect. And so we began our descent…

White out conditions on the roads of Lugu
White out conditions on the roads of Lugu.
What we’re dealing with out here
What we’re dealing with out here.
Cloud forest in Lugu
A forest in the clouds.
A tea cart in the mountains of Lugu
A tea cart by the roadside.

Conditions did not improve as we retraced our path down the mountainside. The fog closed in as we made our descent, reducing visibility to just a few meters in places. It was as thick as cotton candy at times and we took several breaks on the way back down. Traffic was light, at least, and other drivers were generally taking it easy around sharp curves.

A misty roadside landscape in Lugu
Peering off the edge of the highway into the formless void.
Bamboo forest in the fog
Bamboo forest in the fog.
Descending through the bamboo forest of Lugu
Descending into the bamboo forests of Lugu.
The lush mountain valleys of Lugu
The lush mountain valleys of Lugu.

Eventually we made it down from the misty mountains and through the bamboo forest to the “monster village”, a gaudy tourist trap at the end of highway 151. I won’t share any photos of our time there for fear of spoiling the mood.

One last look at the sun in the mountains of Lugu
One last look at the sun in the mountains of Lugu.

Unsurprisingly, the Lotus Forest is popular with Taiwanese bloggers. Read more about it in Chinese here, here, and here (or simply Google the Chinese characters 忘憂森林). And if you’re feeling really adventurous you can also cycle there, as Michael Turton demonstrates in this resourceful post.