Wed, Aug 09, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Danlan Old Trail a key connection for tourism

By Monica Kuo 郭瓊瑩

Anthropologists, archeologists and historians still debate whether people who spoke Austronesian languages spread to the South Pacific from Taiwan.

It might not be possible to reach a final conclusion on this question with our present knowledge, but when considering Taiwan from a maritime and a global perspective, this is an important issue.

Taiwan, a large island in the terminology of island ecology, is different from many of the smaller islands of the South Pacific.

Due to its geography, latitude and phenology; its mountains and oceans; the steep cliffs of the east coast; the treacherous trench of the west coast; and the deep forests and tall mountains, it was always a challenge to live here.

A Ministry of Culture project to restore historical sites and a Tourism Bureau campaign in response to the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development has led to the rediscovery, study and recreation of the east-west Danlan Old Trail (淡蘭古道), which connected what was then Tamsui County with Kavalan County — now Yilan County. The work showed that the trail is perhaps the oldest link to Taiwan’s contacts with large-scale and diverse trade in products — both for export and for local use — with the West.

With the establishment of the Tamsui Customs Wharf, missionaries, doctors, naturalists and anthropologists — including missionary George Leslie Mackay, who arrived by ship in the 18th century — became witnesses of the trail’s humanist history.

Today, the trail can be followed along four sections — the north first, north second, central and south paths.

These sections helped the tea trade (the south path), agricultural and aquatic products (the central path) and a dedicated line for mining resources, the official path for the administrative management of coastal defense, official document transmission, and military defense (the north second path).

Taking the old trail to hike over the mountains takes at least seven days.

Also, on the paths are statues of Tudigong — the land god — because of hunting patterns of the early Kavalan people; Wu Sha (吳沙), who brought Han people to Yilan; Yang Tingli (楊廷理), who battled and defeated pirates; a plaque dedicated to the efforts of the Banqiao Lin Family (板橋林家), as well as Mackay, who sponsored clearance of the trail.

This is a precious historical path and a rare long-distance system that is highly accessible, taking people to mountains, rivers and oceans.

We can think beyond the negative effects of the drop in the number of Chinese tourists. For the nearly 900,000 passengers who visit Keelung on cruise ships each year, we could organize one-day or half-day trips to visit the trail.

Northern Taiwan hosts an average of 4 million tourists from Taiwan and overseas each year. Those who love mountains can spend three to five days experiencing the beauty of low-altitude forests.

Along the path there are small fishing ports, settlements, altars and old prefecture sites, as well as coal and gold mines.

Visitors can not only boost the alternative tourism economy, but more importantly, as northern Taiwan’s oldest east-west link, the Danlan Old Trail is definitely a valuable marker.

What was once a long journey home now seems but a short distance to the modern mind.

However, this is not just about the path: The important thing is what it speaks to us of Taiwan’s history.

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