Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Alishan Forest Railway and Alishan Sisters Ponds

Alishan National Scenic area
The Alishan National Scenic area (阿里山國家風景區)  has been settled by Taiwanese aborigines since time immemorial, but Chinese setters began settled in the 19th century. Development really took off only when the Japanese completed the Alishan Forest Railway (1912), a remarkable narrow-gauge train originally built for logging the area's giant cedars. By the 1970s, logging had pretty much ended and tourism had become the area's primary earner. In 2001, the entire area was declared a "Alishan National Scenic area".
To Tashan Trail Route
The Tashan Trail Route where I stood (above pic) beside the railway track where Alishan Gou Hotel and Alishangou Restaurant located on the far right. Alishan Gou Hotel is situated in Ali Mountain ridge with the elevation of 2,274 meter is the only and the most historical hotel in the high mountain of Taiwan. Originally, a wooden two-story building, constructed by the Japanese people during approximately 1918, was later rebuilt into a three-story hotel in 1982. This railway track which near to the Zhaoping Station.
Signpost near the sister pond
Walking down on stone step is not easy
Located within the Alishan Forest Recreation Area, the Alishan Sisters Ponds (阿里山姊妹潭)  are two of the most popular tourist spots of the two high mountain pond above 2100m sea level. The ponds are two different sized high mountain ponds connecting to each other. Walking and hiking on a long stone step or stone path is not easy but a good challenge for me to burn calories.
Alishan Sisters Ponds
They are renowned for the picturesque natural surrounding sceneries and a sad yet beautiful story. The "Legend" story is about a couple of Tsou sisters fell in love with the same man. Not wanting to hurt the sisterhood and not able to have the man for themselves, they jumped into separate ponds to end their lives, which are now known as the Elder Sister Pond and Younger Sister Pond.
The words "Tsou sisters" from the Tsou tribe which I heard from outsources - Legend has it that in ancient times, the Tsou tribe fled to Yushan to seek refuge from a flood and, after the flood had receded, their god of heaven, Hama, made footprints between the mountains along which the people (Tsou tribe) migrated and established their villages. The social units were village, clan, joint family and own family.The two largest villages today are Dabang and Tefuye. They have a 'kuba' a meeting house (men only) which is the holiest place of the Tsou and has various taboos, such as prohibiting the entry of women and they requested that the stove in the middle of their village is kept burning day and night (all year round) to represent it a fire of life. So the men’s house (kuba), serves as the religious and political center. No women are allowed to enter. So be respect to the Tsou tribe people if you visit this place.
Missing Pavilions (centre)
Two cypress pavilions known as the “Missing Pavilions” with wooden bridges connecting the shore were later built on the Elder Sister pond with a 180-meter plank surrounding the ponds. 
Elder Sister Pond (姊潭)
There are 2 pavilions in the centre of the elder sister pond. In the summer the pond is full of water while in the winter the water level can be quite low. The Pond-shore boardwalk, we walked over, through the cypress stands and around the pond is about 186m long.
Younger Sister Pond (妹潭)
The Younger Sister Pond not only provides animals, plants and micro-organism the living water source, but also is a significant component of forest ecosystem.
Although the two Sisters’ Ponds are different in size. The Elder Sister Pond (姊潭) shapes a bit rectangular with a size of approximate 530 sq. m and the Younger Sister Pond (妹潭) is rounder and smaller with a size of 120 sq. m. The pond water is rather clean and peaceful without disturbance, just like a mirror reflecting the surrounded sceneries. The ponds are usually high on water level during summer and rather dry during winter. There is a 180 meters trail along the two pond, and a gazebo made by cypress on the Elder Sister Pond.
Even for a mountain, Alishan's weather is extraordinarily rapidly changing, an average day starts with a cloudless morning, theatrically dense clouds of rolling mist by noon and ends with a lightning storm and torrents of rain before repeating all over the next day. Humidity is always very high, and indeed most surfaces in the park seem to be covered with a layer of luxuriant green moss.
There is a climbing path to the highest summit in Alishan area which is the Datashan (大塔山) reaching 2,663 meters which is just next to this two sister pond (as above). You climb on this trail could take above 4-6 hrs (to and fro) depending on your walking distance (slow or fast). But it is definitely worth it on a good weather day to see the surrounding Alishan Mountains from there.
In the 1910s, when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, cypress became a precious commodity for Japan to meet increasing demand. But now China is eyeing for the Giant Trees for using it to build or redevlop other purposes.. Will the Giant Trees cut down again? I saw lots of Giant Trees wrapped up with 
Giant Trees 神木 overshadow the path
Along the trail, we can see the rest of the trees have fallen, the old tree stumps still firmly grab on to the soil with their big roots. It has a significant ecological function because it helps to prevent soil erosion. Conservation of old stumps is good for ecology, I presume. The old stumps are vivid witness of Alishan forestry history. The Stone steps within the forest where my hubby is seen (above) taking a picture of the tree stump that surrounded by towering Giant trees.
Stone steps within the forest
In this region here, which is blanketed with thick forests of red cypress, cedar and pine trees, even ancient trees of thousands years old. When these ancient trees began to fall to rest on the ground, the locals let the log tree to rest. Some of Alishan most exotic trees, we viewed on the boardwalks and wide, even a few trails that traverse the area.
 Pig-Shaped Old Stump 金猪报喜
Closeup: Pig head stump
This old stump closely resembles the shape of a pig head and it has a clear-cut outline of big nostrils and drooping ears.
Love Forever (永結同心)
A pair of an old Taiwan red cypress stumps have naturally grown intertwined with their roots, developing or to form into a big heart shape - "Love Forever (永結同心). The intriguing shape has been interpreted as a symbol of eternal love. This place is favoured by the wedding photo-shoot. Now, the two stumps in its roots were broken leaving one hanging due to heavy monsoon rain during at that time.
We walked around the trails, we find that nearly every tree of size, age or unusual shape has been dubbed with a fanciful monster like "Elephant Trunk" or "Three Generation Tree, Giant Trees Trail.
The Three Generation Tree (三代木)
"The three Generation Tree"(三代木), a nature wonder with a tree growing in a tree that is growing within another tree: How it is possible? Well, here it goes like this - The aged tree roots lying on the ground were the first generation of 1500 years old tree. The roots were withered for about 250 years and sometime there was a seed dropping on the roots occasionally. By means of absorbing nutrients from the withered tree roots, the seed grows into leaf and grew up as the 2nd generation tree root. After passing the period of 300 years, the 2nd generation tree roots were aged and the stem became hollow. In spite of the disadvantages, the roots still alive and grew up as the 3rd generation tree roots.
Alishan Museum
 Train model@Alishan Museum
Tools display
Inside the Alishan Museum, there are tools display which loggers and railroad workers used tools within Taiwan Alishan and also Taiwan red cypress tree exhibition.
There are in fact 2 of these, both near Shermuh station, and we walked in a pleasant half an hour loop. The cypresses surrounding here are giant (very tall) indeed, and many have been growing for well over a millennium. The small Cihyun Temple, originally built by the Japanese.

Employee Dormitory
This old building where the railroad workers and loggers live, close to Alishan hotel.
Alishan Ranger Station
Weeping Cherry wtihin Alishan Ranger station
We managed to see Weeping Cherry Blossom within Alishan Ranger Station garden.
Alishan House (阿里山賓館)
Alishan House (阿里山賓館) is the most luxurious hotel within Alishan Forest Recreation Area, above 2200 meter sea level. This expensive house where guests may simply take a short stroll to the Alishan Forest Railway for trains to the Alishan Sacred Tree and Zhaoping. Alishan house is now managed by Chao-Li Hotel Management Advisory Company, and was first preplanned and contracted with the Forestry Bureau in December 2004 to be a high-standard leisure hotel.
Tree Spirit Pagoda (Pagoda of the Tree Spirit)
Pagoda of the Tree Spirit (樹靈塔) was built by the Japanese during the Japanese Colonial Era, their intent in building a monument devoted to sacred trees was to appease the tree spirits and Alishan Sacred tree. It is a 20m tall stone structure built in 1936 to commemorate and soothe the spirits of the trees that were cut down. The base of the monument is made of a series of concentric circles, representing the annual growth rings of a tree. Each step is for 500 years of growth, commemoration the 3000 years of the Alishan Sacred Tree. 
We came across the "Tree Spirit Pagoda" that are surrounded by the giant trees. The trail is particularly spooky and eerie when the mist rolls in especially in the evening.
Xiang-lin Elementary School [香林國民小學]
After passing by the Spirit Pagoda, saw a 'forest' school - Xiang-lin Elementary School [香林國民小學] which is close to the Sacred trees - Thousand Year Cypress and Xianglin Sacred tree.
Thousand Year Cypress
This sacred tree is over 2000 year old and is known as Taiwan Red Cypress and its height about 35 meters high.
Long Wood Bridge in Chiayi
Walking along this long wooden bridge which can hold 78 people at Alishan Sacred Tree on top of Alishan Mountain in Chiayi County of Taiwan. Two elderly ladies from my group were seen walking a long wooden bridge behind me (took picture of them) and they told me that even though they were tired for walking a long path in the forest and one of them using a walking stick to help her weak legs to walk in ease. They said it is a good form of exercising and can smell a cool refreshing within the forest. This is what I called it - Healthy Forest trail. Giggles.
Alishan Xianglin Sacred Tree (香林神木)
This Alishan Xianglin Sacred tree (香林神木) also known as Taiwan Red Cypress, is over 2300 year old and its height about 45m. This Sacred tree has lighting conductors at each side to prevent lighting strikes. To past down the legacy of the now fallen Alishan Sacred tree, the Forestry Bureau Chiayi County Government and the Tourism Bureau co-organised the Balloting Campaign for Alishan Sacred tree II through which this giant tree received most votes and was thus given the name "Alishan XianglinTree" on 1st Jan 2007.
As thick fog covering the forest, the trail looks mysterious and spooky. 
Shoushen Temple (受鎮宮)
After 2hrs trail and finally, we walked pass to the Shouzhen Temple (受鎮宮), which is located near to the Elephant Trunk Tree and Three-Generation Tree, is the highest elevation temple in Taiwan. In 1927, the Taiwanese lumber men helped Japanese cutting down red cypress. In that time, aborigine hides in the bush and cut intruders’ heads down once they entered the forest. Lumber-men were afraid of it. They wanted to be blessed and protected by god by means of building a temple. However, approval was needed to build a temple from Japanese Government during Japanese Colonial Era. After Taiwan’s Retrocession, Taiwanese lumbermen didn't work for Japanese any more. Yet, there were still many lumbermen working in Alishan above 2000 meters elevation. After one and another accidents happened, someone proposed to build a temple in Alishan. Finally, Shouzhen Temple was finished in 1948. It’s the biggest temple in Alishan.
Sweet Potatoes shop
Near the temple, there are shops sell foods and souvenirs. As we felt exhausted during a long forest trail and we need to boost our energy so we bought some sweet potatoes for only NT100 (4pcs) from one of the shops and rest for a while. We were tired and exhausted after a long walk (2 hrs) since in the afternoon. At least, we had some burning calories by walking a long stone steps and a long wooden bridge within the forest.
Row of stalls in Chiayi Country
Row of snacks and souvenir stalls can be found within Shoushen temple (3rd pic from above). The forest trail will end at Shoujhen Temple which is a coach and van terminal. My hubby and I felt refreshing after a long walk and of course very tired but happy.
Alishan Park
 Alishan Post Office Chiayi 阿里山郵局
Colourful Letterboxes
As we were walking pass the Alishan Park, we saw "traditional-style" Alishan Post Office Chiayi Branch 28 built in 1st April 1907 during Japanese era, just along the road on the left next to the park, it is located to many hotels eg.: Wankou Hotel or the Dang Guei Homestay. I could not help but noticed the striking red-coloured, traditional oriental-styled Alishan Post Office in Chiayi and it looked like a Chinese period TV drama. These two letterboxes in green and red that means postal that are collected which are in different timeslots and postal deliveries in four slot holes (rectangular shape). Some local Taiwanese as well as tourists or visitors like us would want to make it fast delivery in this slot indicated 'prompt delivery' but I think it is not for overseas (outgoing) and well it could be 'Airmail' instead. Giggles. Well, if you revisit again, do remember to buy Taiwan postcard from 7-11 convenience stall and pen down some memories words and post it to where you live. By then, you will receive it once you are back home safety after the trip in Taiwan. It's worth a try! I will be back again as I forgot to buy because it's a rush for us to other places without thinking. After that, we had a dinner at one of the eating shops located at Alishan Town Center for a hotpot steamboat. Yummy!
Will a legendary forest of giant Taiwan cypress be eligible for being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Well, time will tell.

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