One of Taiwan's wealthiest and most influential shrines, Dajia Jenn Lann Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) is a center of the islandwide Mazu cult, and the starting and ending point for what's said to be the largest regular religious event in the world outside India. Like other major temples it's a riot of sculpture and color, but appreciating these details isn't easy if you come on a weekend or during a festival.
The temple was founded in 1732 but it wasn't until after World War II that it reached its current prominence. The best known of the Mazu effigies is solid gold and worth in the region of US$5m. You'll be approached by hawkers who'll ask you to buy joss paper or incense. Don't feel obligated to buy either. The joss-paper furnace in front of the temple has been sealed for some years, ever since a male devotee of Mazu hurled himself into the flames in a fatal attempt to get closer to the goddess. Worshipers are now encouraged to deposit the spirit money they've offered to the deities in special receptacles from where it's collected and later burned elsewhere in a supposedly eco-friendly manner.
No parking is allowed in the small courtyard in front of the temple. There are two exceptions: The pious are allowed to bring new cars here to receive Mazu's blessings, and on busy days you'll see small trucks hauling away bundles of joss paper that have been sacrificed to Mazu or one of the temple's other resident deities. Inside, you'll see spirit money stacked almost to the ceiling and tables creaking under the weight of offerings.
The procession that marks Mazu's birthday heads southward from here in late spring. The precise starting date is decided by the goddess herself and revealed via divination. During the eight days up to a million people attend; some cover the entire 300km on foot, sleeping in temple dormitories en route. At Fengtian Temple (奉天宮) in the Chiayi County town of Xingang (嘉義縣新港鄉) the pilgrims turn around and begin the long march home. If you attend any part of the procession, expect to see jostling as Mazu supporters try to get in front of the palanquin carrying the main icon, so they can prostrate themselves on the road and have the goddess carried over them. It's believed to be a way of getting Mazu's blessing. In the days leading up to and following the parade, there are puppet and opera performances, dragon and lion dances, children's games and martial-arts demonstrations, all part of the Taichung International Mazu Festival.
From north or south Taiwan, take a train to Dajia. Leaving the town's TRA station, cross the road and walk along Jianggong Road for 400m and you'll see the temple on your left. Various buses from downtown Taichung serve Dajia; journey times exceed one hour.