Yínhédòng 銀河洞 (literally “Milky Way Cave”) is an extraordinary cliffside temple next to a gorgeous waterfall in the mountains just outside of Taipei 台北. Originally founded in 1914 and extensively renovated in 1958, the temple recently celebrated its centennial, as proclaimed by the red banner draped out front during my first visit in February 2014. In a story that sounds entirely apocryphal, the cave was reputedly a hideout for Chén Qiūjú 陳秋菊, a Shēnkēng 深坑 resident who famously led a rebellion in the earliest years of the Japanese colonial era.
Yinhedong is readily accessible from either side of the mountain—either hike over from the scenic tea plantations of Māokōng 貓空 (last stop on the eponymous Maokong Gondola) or take highway 9 to Yinhe Road 銀河路 in Xīndiàn 新店 and hike up. 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.
Although the main shrine inside the temple gathers a number of buddhas such as Guānyīn 觀音, goddess of mercy, the primary deity venerated here is Lǚ Dòngbīn 呂洞賓 (commonly written as Lü Dongbin), one of the Eight Immortals 八仙. He can be found behind the waterfall, identified by one of his alternate names, Lǚ Xiānzǔ 呂仙祖.
After arriving at the temple I was surprised to find it completely deserted that first time in February 2014. There wasn’t a soul in sight, nor did I meet anyone on the way up or back down. Prior to this I had stopped by the roadside to explore an abandoned home on Yinhe Road, an experience that left quite an impression on me. And so it was quite special to use the rustic washbasin and reflect on what a fundamental act of humanity it is to simply 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, and I felt deeply connected to all these unseen figures, with their unspoken stories and unrealized dreams.
On that first visit I lingered at the temple, enjoying the view for awhile. Basking in the warm afterglow of another beautiful day I watched the sun slip toward the horizon 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. The hiking trail continues beyond the temple but I was hoping to avoid the trouble of hauling my bicycle all the way up the trail. From satellite maps 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.
Yinhedong is a great place to visit if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten trail but still readily accessible from the city. Despite being one of Taipei’s better known “secrets”, you’ll often have the place to yourself. For more information (particularly of the practical variety, which I often gloss over) I suggest consulting other English language blogs here, here, and here.