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Jiji, up from the rubble of the Sept. 21 earthquake Back
By Nancy T. Lu/ Taiwan News, Supplement Writer
 One of Checheng's main attractions is this wooden structure designed for pulling up the timber to put in the pool and send later to the mill.

One of Checheng's main attractions is this wooden structure designed for pulling up the timber to put in the pool and send later to the mill. / Photo by Hou Tsung-hui

The Jiji Branch Railway Line covers a 29.7-kilometer stretch, traversing two counties in central Taiwan; starting in Ershuei, Changhua County, it has stops in Longcyuan, Jiji, Shueili, and Checheng, all in Nantou County. Those are the more interesting points to get off for sightseeing. The landscape, with clouds playing hide and seek behind the distant mountains along the way, is a painter's dream.

Ershuei can be reached by taking the Western Trunk Line from Taipei. The travel time is about four hours. A round-trip ticket costs NT$680. Buying a direct train ticket to Ershuei for transfer to the Jiji Branch Railway Line is not the only option. In fact, a faster way is to ride a train to Yuanlin, Changhua County, then change trains to get to Ershuei.

A one-day pass on the Jiji Branch Railway Line costs only NT$80. Remember, however, to check the train schedule to maximize its use. The train frequency is quite limited. There's one train every two hours or so, on the average. Therefore, a leisurely one-day trip to Jiji can include only about three stops.

Longcyuan in Nantou County attracts visitors because of the 4.8-kilometer Green Tunnel lined with camphor trees. The branches of the trees on the two sides of the road reach out to meet and create a leafy bower. The fragrance of camphor sometimes fills the air. Weekends and holidays find it to be quite popular among biking enthusiasts.

Ten minutes on foot from the station is the Ten Shing Ceramic Art Village, which was built in 1955, destroyed by the earthquake in 1999, and eventually reopened for kiln tours. Ceramic classes and ceramic art displays are likewise organized. The traditional "snake kiln" on the premises is used only once every six months for firing ceramics.

After the 1999 earthquake, the Ten Shing Kiln has been cooperating very closely with the Industrial Technology Research Institute to develop bamboo-charcoal energized pottery.

Ten minutes also from Longcyuan Station, but by bike, is Muzai Kiln. The 1999 earthquake destroyed it, too, leaving only the smokestack.

Not very far from the train station -- but a bit too far for walking -- is the Jiji Weir. This barrier across the Jhuoshuei River was built to irrigate the farmlands in central and southern Taiwan.

Bicycles can be easily rented near the Jiji Station. Better yet, rent a motorbike for as low as NT$100 for an hour or two of sightseeing. Head west to the Green Tunnel, and pedal your way to the east.

The original Jiji Station, built of Chinese cypress about 70 years ago, is no longer there; the devastating temblor on September 21, 1999, leveled it. The historical structure was reconstructed though. The Railroad Museum near the train station has given way to commercial stalls, selling local delicacies worth tasting and souvenirs. Photographs still displayed here and there tell some of the history of Jiji.

The Green Tunnel in Longcyuan, Nantou County, is lined with camphor trees.

The Green Tunnel in Longcyuan, Nantou County, is lined with camphor trees./ Photo by Hou Tsung-hui

Pedal for about 10 minutes from Jiji Station to visit the 110-year-old Confucian Mingsin Academy, which has eaves decorated with scenes from stories in praise of Confucian values. Better yet, take a motorbike to go around faster. On the way to Mingsin Academy, have a look at the Military History Park. The compound is not very big; it is big enough, however, for displays of a fighter jet, an airplane, battle tanks, a rocket launcher, and an amphibian tank, among others.

The Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute, with exhibits focusing on wildlife and plant species in Taiwan, is just next door to Mingsin Academy.

Residents are likely to suggest a visit to the Wunchang Temple, which crumbled dramatically but was not completely destroyed during the powerful earthquake (intensity 7.3) in 1999. Still to be rebuilt, it stands as a testimony to the terrifying impact of the movement of the earth's crust.

Head in the opposite direction from the Jiji Station to look at the camphor tree, believed to be more than 700 years old. Its height is 25 meters and its diameter is 5.6 meters.

Checheng, the last stop of the Jiji Branch Railway Line, has the most beautiful small train station. Like several other stations on this line, it offers no ticketing service. Passengers must try to buy tickets from the roving conductor. The Japanese-style wooden structure replaced the destroyed smaller original station of concrete after the September 21 quake.

Checheng used to be a distribution point for timber from Nantou. Residents, in fact, like to tell the story of Sun Hai, who set up the Chen Chang Logging operation back in 1960. The industry became defunct when a logging ban designed to protect Taiwan's already denuded forest lands came into force in 1985. The rundown buildings, including dormitory facilities of Chinese cypress, make visitors feel the history of a once- bustling logging town. A storage pool soaking fir and pine logs, a maneuverable cart to carry an individual down the railroad tracks, and the wooden structure designed for pulling up the timber to put in the pool and to send to the mill are some of the features of interest to outsiders.