By Siddharth Birla
Just 45 minutes from Taipei lies the storybook village of Shifen. If you visit during the Chinese New Year, be prepared for a visual bonanza. Hundreds of lanterns, each inscribed with a wish for the New Year, are released into the heavens, decorating the night sky like beautiful zari work.
Of course there is a story behind the tradition. Once upon a time, Han Chinese immigrants of Pingxi Valley hid in these mountains to escape bandits. Later, the village watchmen would send out “fire balloons,” a signal to those hiding that the place was safe again. The bandits are long gone, but the tradition has continued, both as a mark of peace and a purely sensory delight—in some ways, it’s Taiwan’s version of our Diwali.
The ritual is simple. Buy a lantern from one of the shops lining Shifen Old Street and jot down your wishes on all four sides. Made of oiled rice paper, the lanterns have a large candle at the bottom. I buy a blue one, which apparently denotes success. We take our lanterns out on the street and the shopkeeper lights the candle. As the lamp heats up, I gradually release it in the air. It takes a smooth flight and slowly vanishes from view. It lingers as long as the flame flickers, then gently sways back to earth.
Shifen itself has a movie-like setting. Amble around the busy, ancient marketplace standing against lush green mountains. Hundreds of lanterns lining the sides with quirky messages and drawings add a colourful palette to the street, through which runs a fully functional railway track. Couples, friends and families line up on the track to capture the moment as they release their lanterns. A train pulls through every 15 minutes, scattering away the shoppers and shopkeepers in a jiffy. Fascinating scenes!
Team Travel Secrets was hosted on this trip by Taiwan Tourism.
Taiwan doesn’t disappoint with its beauty. Read about The Giant Smoking Fumaroles of Taiwan, and prepare to be awestruck!
Featured video courtesy : Janet Newenham