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Alishan - land of natural, cultural surprises



2005-12-04 / Taiwan News, Supplements Writer / By Cheryl Robbins

Visitors can interact with Tsou people, try special teas and food
The Alishan National Scenic Area is a world-famous destination. Jhushan (Mt. Jhu), where tourists gather to watch the first rays of the sun, is reached by a small-gauge railway built by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan to haul timber out of the high mountains.



Carved and painted stone
Carved and painted stone wild boars
are part of Laiji Village's landscape.
RIGHT: This old engine is on
display next to the Fencihu
train station./Cheryl
Robbins, Taiwan News

The Alishan National Scenic Area is a world-famous destination. Jhushan (Mt. Jhu), where tourists gather to watch the first rays of the sun, is reached by a small-gauge railway built by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan to haul timber out of the high mountains.

Fencihu is the halfway point along the forest railway, from Chiayi to Alishan, and was once a major logging town. Some of those involved in the forestry industry stayed behind after the logging stopped, and their descendants continue to pass on the area's history to visitors.

Most recently, a railway cultural hall was created here, from a reconstructed Japanese occupation-era patrol station. This exhibition center is located along a footpath that circles Fencihu, starting at the old street next to the train station.

Fencihu's old street features souvenirs of its forestry railway heyday including metal lunchboxes and "train cakes". The shops along this street also sell local products such as Alishan wasabi, high-mountain tea, and cedar chips and sachets. There is even a shop that sells cups of "cedar coffee".

However, it is the indigenous Tsou tribe that is the pillar of Alishan's cultural tourism.

There are eight Tsou or mostly Tsou villages in the Alishan National Scenic Area including Laiji, Dabang, Tefuye, Shanmei, Sinmei, Lijia, Chashan and Leye. Due to space limitations, it is not possible to introduce all, but it may be of interest to describe attractions in the northernmost village of Laiji and the southernmost village of Chashan.

Laiji Village has taken the wild boar as its theme. The wild boar was a very important source of food for indigenous peoples and its tusks were used to decorate warriors. In addition, it was during a hunt for wild boar long ago that Laiji was discovered. To complement that theme, a large number of carved and painted stone wild boars have been strategically placed around the village. Traditional wood and straw pavilions and a tall lookout tower also make up the village's landscape.

Laiji possesses two major hiking routes, which can be completed by people in average physical condition, who take along a local guide. One of the routes leads to Titanic Rock, named for its shape-the bow of a ship as it rises out of the water just before sinking. The only difficult part of this hike is a steep rock face. However, ropes have been put in place to make the climb a bit easier. The remainder of the path features sturdy wooden plank steps. Along this trail are restrooms, a jelly fig grove and a pavilion with views of the Tianshuei Waterfall. It takes about 40 minutes to complete this trail.

The second trail is the Hundred Caves and Sacred Trees trail, which as its name suggests leads hikers to a grove of tall old trees and to several caves. The trail takes about two hours to walk.

Chashan Village is predominantly Tsou but also counts among its population Han Chinese and indigenous Bunun. It is actively promoting its unique attractions-a plethora of traditional wood and straw pavilions. There are more than 80 in this village, with about 2/3 of households boasting one. They were traditionally used for food storage, as meeting places, and for sharing crops and game among members of the Tsou tribe. Today, that tradition is carried on, usually by leaving a bunch of bananas or other fruit for visitors to enjoy.

Part of the fun of walking around the village or hiking some of its surrounding trails is that you are bound to come across a suspension bridge. These bridges may sway when walked on, but they are quite sturdy.

Along the village's streets are large wooden carvings, such as one of a woman and a man placed across from one another. These are the main characters in a tribal legend of unrequited love. Another carving depicts a hunter with his weapons hung up, representing the loss of his hunting grounds. Thus, visitors to Chashan can take away some of the local folklore with them.

For more information...

Alishan National Scenic Area Administration

Tel: (05) 259-3900;

Alishan Forest Recreation Tourist Information Center

Tel: (05) 267-9917

Chiayi Train Station

Tel: (05) 222-8904

Beimen Train Station

Tel: (05) 276-8094

Chiayi County Bus Administration

Tel: (05) 224-3140

Getting There

By car: The Alishan National Scenic Area Administration is located in Chukou Village on Provincial Highway 18. This highway can be reached from the Jhongpu exit of Freeway 3 (Second North-South Freeway).

Continue on Provincial Highway 18 to reach Jhushan. Off of Provincial Highway 18, County Road 129 connects to Shanmei, Sinmei and Chashan; County Road 169 connects to Fencihu, Taihe, Fengshan, Tefuye, Dabang and Lijia.

By train:The Alishan Railway starts at the Beimen Station in Chiayi City. A connecting train runs between the Chiayi and Beimen stations.

By bus: The Chiayi County Bus Administration serves routes from Chiayi City to the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, Dabang, Fencihu and Rueili.