Centuries of lashing waves have created Yehliu Cape, a geological wonder on Taiwan's north coast. Tanushree Podder

The Queen's Head stood a towered above the adjoining mushrooms. Poised against the swirling blue waters of the sea in the background it looked as haughty and beautiful as Cleopatra's bust in an open to sky museum. Estimated to be more than 4,000 years old, the Queen's Head is the USP of the region. Scattered all around us were mushrooms, candles and ginger rocks. I was standing stupefied at the Yehliu Cape on Taiwan's north coast amid geological wonders.

“Eons ago the Datun Mountain emerged above sea level due to geological phenomenon. Centuries of the lashing waves and other elements caused the erosion that broke the mountain into interesting shapes and pieces,” my guide, Ivy Chang, educated me. “It has taken millions of years for these amazing formations to happen.”

“The name Yehliu comes from the Spanish words Puntos Diablos which means ‘Devil's Cape'. Over a period of time, the words melded to become Yehliu,” I was told. The Spanish sailors must have been a morbid lot, why else would they name the place Devil's Cape, I wondered glancing around the picturesque setting bound by lofty mountains and gurgling sea. 

“Maybe they lost a ship or two,” laughed my guide.

Mushroom rocks

Enthusiastic travellers queued up before the Queen's Head, waiting for their turn to pose for a picture with her, while I sauntered through interesting structures with poetic names — Cinderella's Slipper, Elephant Rock, Dolphin Rock, Bee Hive Rocks, Marine bird Rock, Bean curd Road, Gorilla Rock, Gingerbread Rocks and Candlestick rocks. These formations lay hidden among the hundreds of mushroom rocks that dotted the coast, standing tall like the sentinels of the zone.

The mushroom rocks were once solid pillars but the neck became slender as strong waves lashed them constantly. Over a period of time, some necks thinned so much that the heads were imbalanced and severed. There were mushroom rocks in various stages of erosion from the neck-less to the ungainly broad necked ones and the graceful slender necked ones. The Queen's Head Rock, of course, is the most photogenic and adored one. She is the icon of the geopark. Key chains, letterheads, artefacts and curios carved to resemble her sell faster than hot cakes.

“Come and have a look at the sea urchin,” shouted Ivy above the sound of the waves. Rushing to the spot, I found a well-preserved fossil of a sea urchin and that set me off in search of some more. Embedded in the rocks were the remains of tortoise shells and crabs. Weathered and eroded by the natural elements like rain, sea waves and strong winds, the rocks held a hundred mysteries for me. Faraway, poised on a rock stood the bronze statue of a man. “That is the statue of Lin Tian Zheng, a young man who jumped into the sea to rescue a student from drowning,” Ivy replied to my query. “In the process he lost his life.”

Boards warning people not to smoke, touch the rocks or climb them stood everywhere. Constant touching of the rocks by thousands of tourists who come every day add to the erosion.

As I walked towards the tourist centre, loud explosions of laughter hit my ears arousing my curiosity. On the steps at the entrance posed a large group of Chinese tourists waiting for a picture. The harassed photographer struggled to fit the group into a single frame, while they cracked jokes and fooled around.

Right across the road stood the Ocean World, an aquarium that houses no less than two hundred species of marine life and Piscean beings. The Sea lion and dolphin shows where the animals pirouette and perform are a major draw here.

A fruit market occupied the space next to the Ocean World. An amazing array of fresh and juicy fare caught my eyes. “The fruits of Formosa are succulent and fresh,” commented Ivy, goading me to try out the star fruit.

“I don't like sour fruits,” I replied.

“But it is not sour, it is sweet,” she insisted, handing me a piece of the fruit. Tentatively, I bit into it and juice dribbled down my shirt front. It was sweet, indeed. Enticed by the delectable fruit I devoured a couple of them without further ado. Asian pear, guava, jujube, tangerine, wax apple, dragon fruit and the ubiquitous banana lined the counter tops along with watermelon, which reminded me that the driver of our bus was called Shi Kwah, which means watermelon in Chinese. Since his name proved to be quite a mouthful for the tourists, he smilingly responded to the English translation of his name.

Fresh from the sea

Right across the parking area, on the other side of the road, a string of seafood restaurants stood tantalising customers with promises of fresh crabs, prawns, lobsters, clams, squid, octopus, available on a platter. With the fishing port close by, Yehliu is a seafood lover's paradise. Fresh catch floods in everyday to cater to the tourists who come in droves to taste the beauty as well as the cuisine. My steps were arrested by the waiters who stood outside the restaurants appealing the passersby to step in for a gastronomic orgy.

The mottled water in the tank where the captive marine beings were languishing, right at the entrance had a restraining effect on my sensibilities but the lure of the succulent crab meat decided the next course. A little tentatively I ordered the set meal that came with three choices of seafood. There was the steamed prawn, ginger clam, a crab soup, along with squids and a platter of greens, rice and tea. The squid came with vegetables, a little on the chewy side but the crab soup turned out to be an excellent choice as were the prawns. It was the smell of the dry fish and the clams that hastened my meal although the tongue wasn't complaining.

The call of the rocks was too strong to avoid. I wanted to see them one more time before I returned to Taipei. I am glad I did so because this time I noticed many more interesting formations than I had done before; besides I couldn't go away without bidding goodbye to the Queen's Head, could I?