Yínhédòng 銀河洞 (loosely: Milky Way Cave) is an extraordinary place: a temple built into the cliffside next to a gorgeous waterfall in the mountains just outside of Taipei 台北. It is readily accessible from either side of the mountain—either hike over from Maokong or take highway 9 to Yinhe Road 銀河路 in Xīndiàn 新店. I cycled east along highway 9 and headed up Yinhe Road the day I went, enjoying the late February warmth and sunshine.
The trailhead on Yinhe Road is clearly marked—you can’t miss it. There is a map, too, but you won’t need it; there’s only one way up. It isn’t much of a hike, at least not if you’re fit, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful, as you can see from the photos. I really enjoyed watching the caterpillars inching along in every direction. The pulse and rhythm of life was all around me as I climbed up to the temple up ahead, as yet unseen.
I was surprised to find the temple completely deserted when I arrived. There wasn’t a soul in sight, nor did I meet anyone on the way up or back down. I was alone, just as I had been all day. It was just me and the temple and all of the natural wonders extending out in every direction.
I have had a number of truly moving experiences at temples in Taiwan, often while doing something completely mundane like eating (in Tianxiang) or, in this case, washing my hands in the rustic wash basin pictured below.
The reasons for this are neither mystical nor mysterious. On the way up to the temple I had stopped by the roadside to explore an abandoned home on Yinhe Road. I had not taken a moment to really breathe since I had begun that exploration. When I stopped to wash my hands at the temple I finally let myself relax. It occurred to me what a fundamental act of humanity it is to wash your hands. I thought about all the thousands of other people who had washed their hands at the very spot I was standing, looking out on this amazing vista, just as I was, and I felt deeply connected to all these unseen figures, with their unspoken stories and unrealized dreams. It was beautiful beyond words—and I found myself overwhelmed by emotion, swept away by catharsis, standing there alone on the precipice, a little cleaner in body and mind than I had been before.
I lingered at the temple, enjoying the view for awhile. I watched the sun slip toward the horizon, basking in the warm afterglow of another beautiful day in Taiwan, before making my way down to the trailhead.
Rather than simply ride back the way I came I decided to figure out whether it was possible to cut through to Maokong from Yinhe. Of course, you can walk over, but I wanted to take my bicycle without having to haul it up the hiking trail. From the satellite map on my smartphone it looked like Yinhe Road came close to connecting with the road network on the other side of the divide so I went to take a look.
It was quite a mission to get up to the top of Yinhe Road! The hill is just as sleep as the hiking trail—only paved. At any rate, I was successful in finding a place to cross: a footpath cutting through the tea farms along the high mountain ridge. A few minutes later I was back on two wheels in Maokong, homeward bound under the setting sun.