Fri, Mar 02, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: The Danlan Old Trail: Taiwan’s oldest road

Four surviving sections of this ancient route across northern Taiwan make for an interesting look back to a very different era

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing Reporter

The trail to the Golden Letters Tablet is a one-hour walk (signposted) from Houtong Train Station in New Taipei City’s Ruifang District (瑞芳), but hikers with their own transport can reach it via the far shorter route from the east, leaving Provincial Road 102 about 7km south of the gold mining village of Jiufen (九份).

Look for an info board beside the road on the right. It’s a short climb up the wooded hillside to a low saddle on the ridge, paved with an ugly expanse of concrete, and an ornamental rest shelter.

In front of the shelter is a well-weathered stone tablet, which looks rather like a tombstone. It is in fact one of Taiwan’s earliest surviving examples of ecological awareness, dating from the same time as the Golden Letters Tablet nearby, and elaborately engraved with calligraphy (now badly eroded) requesting that travelers resting on this spot don’t remove (for firewood) the shade-giving trees that once covered the area.

Follow the steps down the far side of the ridge, and in about five minutes a low outcrop of dark sandstone rises above the path on the left. Carved into its face is an elaborate inscription in the form of a rectangular plaque about two meters high by one wide. This impressive monument is an inscription (originally highlighted in gold, hence the name) etched into the natural rock face on the command of Liu during his 1867 journey.

The verses, in classical Chinese basically implores visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the scene (“…high and low, watercourses crash like thunder…”), yet be prepared to defend the region from aggression (“…prepare for the future by polishing weapons and recruiting soldiers”).

It’s tough for today’s visitors, with the benefit of modern roads, motorized transport and upgraded paths, to get more than the vaguest feelingfor just how remote this spot would have been when Liu and his retinue passed through a century and a half ago, yet perhaps it’s still possible, within this deep, thick, unspoiled forest, to imagine weary travelers pausing at this impressive monument, resting a moment to read its elegant lines and then passing on their way.

Richard Saunders is a classical pianist and writer who has lived in Taiwan since 1993. He’s the founder of a local hiking group, Taipei Hikers, and is the author of six books about Taiwan, including Taiwan 101 and Taipei Escapes. Visit his Web site at www.taiwanoffthebeatentrack.com.

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