Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: A walk on the edge of history: Batongguan Historic Trail

One of Taiwan’s finest day hikes features vertiginous precipices and impressive waterfalls in an easy and safe half-day ramble

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing Reporter

Nantou County’s Batongguan Historic Trail offers exceptionally scenic hiking for minimal effort.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Sweeping statement time: the westernmost section of the Batongguan Historic Trail (八通關古道) in Nantou County is hands down one of Taiwan’s finest day hikes (and there are hot springs to enjoy afterwards to boot). Very few other trails in Taiwan command such incredible views for so little effort. Quite simply, it’s one hike everyone should try to do once, although compared with other classic day hikes, such as the overrated Caoling Historic Trail (草嶺古道) in New Taipei City, remarkably few do.

Recent upgrades to this part of the historic trail have made it safe and easy for hikers of all abilities to follow, but it has a long and interesting history. The trail dates back to the Qing dynasty. Even after Qing rulers annexed Taiwan in 1683, the island was for a long time considered of little importance, even being famously described as “a ball of mud” by the Kangxi emperor (reigned 1661-1722).

VIOLENT HISTORY

After Han settlement started increasing in the early 1700s, immigrants occupied the fertile western plains, forcing the island’s indigenous inhabitants into the mountains. Despite efforts to keep the island’s Han and Aboriginal peoples apart, conflicts occurred. Things came to a head with the killing in 1871 of over 50 Japanese sailors by Paiwan Aborigines, in what became known as the Mudan Incident (牡丹社事件).

The Qing government (as it turned out only-too-rightly fearful of incursions by Japan, under the pretense of punishing the offenders) set about placating the Japanese by opening up the island’s inaccessible interior and suppressing the Aboriginal inhabitants. The original Batongguan Trail was the longest of the three cross-island routes established to provide access to the north, center and south of the island’s interior. These new communication routes managed to keep the Aborigines in check to an extent, but two decades later, Japan still found an excuse to colonize the island.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

>> Yuanlin Bus Company (員林客運) runs a bus service every few hours from Shuili (水里) and Jiji (集集) towns in Nantou County. Both can be reached by taking a train to Ershui (二水) and changing to the Jiji Branch Railway Line. There’s also a daily bus service to and from Sun Moon Lake (日月潭).


The original trail stretched 152km and was apparently completed by 2,000 soldiers in the amazing space of just one year. The trail that we follow today, correctly known as the Batongguan Traversing Trail (八通關越嶺古道) is a later construction, built by the Japanese between 1919 and 1921 for the same reason — to subjugate the Aboriginal inhabitants. Leaving the hotspring town of Dongpu (東埔), the two routes are largely the same, but further east they diverge quite widely.

HIKING THE TRAIL

Start out at Dongpu Hot Springs (東埔溫泉), an area of hotels and modest resorts perched on the side of a deep valley below the looming peaks of the Yushan Mountain Range (玉山山脈). It’s a comfortable place to spend the night, and although the walk can be completed in half a day, it’s worth spending the night before in Dongpu and setting off early the following morning, when the weather is more likely to be clear.

The three-hour walk from Dongpu village to Yinu Waterfall (乙女瀑布) begins with a short road walk up the main street through the hot spring resort. Pass through a tunnel, ignore the old trailhead on the left, which has now been closed, and walk another five minutes to the start of the path, a steep concrete lane marked by an info board.

The lane climbs stiffly at first, giving a panoramic view over Dongpu, the river valley below and (rising behind) the summits of Yushan Front (玉山前峰; 3,239 meters) and West (玉山西峰3,518 meters) peaks. After an area of snack stands (which set up daily beside the trail) the route climbs around the side of the crumbling, slippery face of Father & Son Cliff (父不知子斷崖).

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