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Dulishan and its amazing spiral railway

Passengers traveling on the mountain train can get some idea of this novel feat of engineering, but it’s easier to appreciate the topography and the complicated design of the spiral railway at a slower pace, by following the Dulishan Trail (獨立山步道). Dulishan Trail (like the spiral railway) begins at Jhannaoliao Station, 23 kilometers from Chiayi, which gained its unusual name from the many camphor trees that grew here.

Those magnificent, sturdy trees are less obvious in the area these days than the tall, spindly trunks of betel nut trees, which line much of the hillside nearby, and these notoriously shallow-rooted trees may have had a hand in causing the catastrophic landslide that wiped away the ground underneath a fifty meter-long stretch of the tracks during the big typhoons that struck in September, forcing the closure of the mountain railway for heaven knows how long.

Skirting the edge of the landslide, the trail follows the tracks for a little further until the railway line disappears into a tunnel, where the trail splits. Taking the wooden boardwalk on the right, there’s a short, pleasant walk through a patch of lush jungle before the path begins the stiff climb to the summit of Dulishan.

Making a beeline straight up the mountainside, the trail crosses the railway tracks, and after the final encounter, a short, stiff final push leads to the 816 meter-high summit, and a fine, if restricted view through the trees over the mountains. The trail now loops back to Jhannaoliao Station, dropping down the far side to re-join the railway tracks for a spell before crossing them to continue the descent.

Most hikers, however, first make a short, uphill diversion along a path of stone steps to the very popular Feng Tian Temple. It’s a steep climb up there, and the temple itself is rather small and not especially distinguished, but the fine view commanded by the terrace in front attracts huge numbers of locals and tourists, who come here to brew tea and chat while admiring the panorama.

From the temple, it’s about 45 minutes (all downhill) along the return trail back to Jhannaoliao Station; an attractive descent through thick forest, across a long suspension bridge, and beside a steep, cascading stream. Dulishan Trail is easy enough for the whole family to enjoy, but the fine scenery, and the opportunity to examine one of Taiwan’s most unique engineering feats, however, makes for a remarkable and thoroughly interesting day out.

GETTING THERE:

When the Alishan Forest Train finally resumes operation, train is the easiest way to get to the start of the Dulishan Trail; the station is, however accessible by road and is signposted from route 120. Beware, though, the road to the station is very narrow in places.

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Dulishan and its amazing spiral railway
The first part of the walk follows the tracks of the Alishan Mountain Railway. (By Richard Saunders, Special to The China Post)

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