This 30 kilometre, narrow-gauge railway is the least popular of the three, being unknown to even many Taiwanese. While the Alishan railway traverses the famous mountain, and the Pingxi Line has passes through a beautiful gorge, the Jiji railway offers a panorama of the horticultural industry of central Taiwan, and the lives of those of whom it has sustained for generations. While this railway needn't feature highly on a short Taiwan itinerary, it makes a great escape from the populated West Coast, yet is less than an hour from Changhua or Taichung. It also ties in well with a visit to Sun Moon Lake.
|Jiji Station, from the platform.|
History: Electricity Generation
During the early twentieth century the new Japanese administration of Taiwan was investing heavily in the country's hither-to almost non-existent infrastructure, and the electrification of the island was a major part. Sun Moon Lake, being a huge body of water, at high altitude, continually fed by rivers from the central mountains, was the logical source. In the 1920s the Taiwan Power Company was formed, and the Jiji railway was built to facilitate the construction project. This massive undertaking took two decades to complete, at a cost of over 65 million Yen, for which government bonds and foreign loans were needed. Han and Aboriginal populations were forcefully relocated, and large amounts of greenery were removed in an attempt to reduce incidences of malaria for the 2.5 million labourers, who had to dig a fifty-kilometre channel to Sun Moon lake. It was an incredible feat of engineering for the time, and is still a significant source of electricity today.
Daguan Power Plant (大觀發電廠)
|Water is channelled down a fifty-kilometre canal before plummeting 320m to the generators. It was enough to power Taiwan in the 1930s.|
The first and largest power station generated a total of 110 Megawatts, an enormous capacity for its day, and it powered most of Taiwan, including Taipei and Kaohsiung. Despite camouflage, extensive anti-aircraft artillery defence, and even the construction of a nearby 'fake' power station, its generators were destroyed by allied bombers during World War II, and were eventually rebuilt after the war. Several smaller power stations were added to supply Taiwan's burgeoning electricity needs during Taiwan's rapid pre-war industrialisation.
Minghu Pumped Storage Plant
East Asia's largest underground power plant, and Taiwan's first pumped-storage facility, this power station uses excess power from Taiwan's nuclear power stations to pump water from Sun Moon Lake uphill (essentially running the generators in reverse) and then releases it, generating electricity, when the demand is at its peak during the daytime. It was badly damaged in the 1999 earthquake. The dam is visible from Checheng Station.
Source: this excellent article on Sun Moon Lake
Main Article: Ershui Station Guide
|view from the three-kilometre Ershui Bikepath|
The first stop on the line is most famous for cycling, hiking and wild monkeys. There is a tourist information centre to the right as you exit the large station.
Six kilometres towards Jiji is the Ershui Formosan Macaque Nature Reserve, a rugged reserve popular among the country's only native monkey species.
Main Article: Jiji Travel Guide
Jiji is the best option to stay along the Jiji line if you're not making it a day trip. The station is a genuine rebuild of the original Japanese cypress station that was destroyed during the 9-21 earthquake of 1999, complete with roof tiles recycled from other collapsed Japanese buildings.
Jiji is home to a famous Endemic Species Research Institute, a large museum committed to preserving Taiwan's many endemic flora and fauna. They have some striking models of Taiwan's natural environment, much like those at the National Taiwan Museum (but more elaborate), and the bilingual exhibits have a powerful environmental message. The lower floor is dedicated to children's displays.
Wuchang Temple (武昌宮)
|It would spoil it to show the whole temple, but this gives an idea of the power of the earthquake and how the weight of the upper floors crushed the lower ones.|
The Wuchang Temple is an unusual tourist attraction, to put it mildly. During the 9-21 earthquake its lower floors collapsed, leaving the top half of the temple mostly in tact. Rather than spending years demolishing heritage buildings like my home city of Christchurch is, the Jiji community decided to cordon off the temple as it was, and build a new (also impressive) temple complex beside it. It's a great photo opportunity, and geeks (especially of the engineer variety) will appreciate seeing how the earthquake caused it to lurch forward, crushing its lower floors while leaving the upper structure in tact. Care should be taken not to get too close, as damaged structures are prone to further collapse.
Another rustic little Japanese township, Checheng was originally a holding bay for train carriages hauling in supplies for the construction of the hydroelectric power plants, and it then grew into a logistics centre for the area's prosperous logging industry. After the moratorium on logging in 1985 it almost became a ghost town, before reinvented itself as a tourist attraction, specialising in wood carving, leftover from its logging past.
Che Cheng Wood Museum(車埕木業展示館)
The wood carving museum offers a chance to have a go at making your own stool or other creations, and the old street is more authentic than most in Taiwan, with several original wooden Japanese houses.
(scroll down for English)
Mon - Fri: 9:30 - 17:00
Sat, Sun & Holidays: 9:30 - 17:30
The museum is outside Checheng Train Station (address: 南投縣水里鄉車埕村民權巷110之2號)
Checheng is a key stop on the Chinese tour bus route coming from Sun Moon Lake, and can get very crowded.
Shuili is as unappealing as any small town could possibly be, and the only reason to go there is as a gateway to Sun Moon Lake (see Transport, below). I was unable to find a hotel with clean sheets.
Shuili Snake Kiln Ceramics Park (水里蛇窯陶藝文化園區)
Snake kilns are long, winding, wood-fired kilns invented during the Ming Dynasty. Ash falls onto the pottery as it fires, creating an effect which can't be immitated by modern, electric or gas-fired kilns. The original kiln, which dated back to 1927, was completely destroyed during the 9-21 Earthquake, but the kiln, like the artisan village itself, was quickly rebuilt. The centre offers a rare glimpse into Taiwan's pottery industry, which grew under the Japanese administration, as Shuili has good clay and there was plenty of leftover wood to burn from the mills at Checheng.
While pottery making is popular for children, and pottery enthusiasts could spend many hours learning about the history of ceramics in Taiwan, many visitors feel underwhelmed by the park, and consider it overpriced at NT150 and not worth the hour-long bus ride to get there (Bus 6289, from Shuili Train Station).
No21, Lane512, Sec.1 shuishin Rd. Dingkan Village, Shuili Township, Nantou 55346
8:00 - 17:30
Being the closest railway station to Sun Moon Lake, Shuili has several hotels around the station, but most are typical crumbling, dirty old buildings, and I tried several hotels just looking for clean sheets, and eventually gave up and continued on to Jiji, which is shaping up to be the place of choice for travellers, especially groups of cyclists.
It was a stroke of luck that (with the help of a kind local) I found the Lu An Backpacker Hostel. I don't usually recommend hostels in Taiwan, as they are usually pretty dire and offer little if any saving over hotels, especially when travelling with two or more people. However the Lu An Hostel (Tripadvisor
) is what hostels should be: friendly, simple and spotlessly clean. There are only dorm rooms available, but each bunk bed has a full curtain for privacy, and built-in lockable storage.
The railway runs from Ershui Station until the Checheng terminal. Since it's a single track trains run each direction only every two hours, so it's essential to plan ahead. Ershui is about 30-40 minutes and around NT50 from Changua Station, or 50-60 minutes from Taichung Station (around NT80).
Bus to Sun Moon Lake
There are buses from Shuili Station, the closest railway station to Sun Moon Lake, run regularly. The trip usually costs around NT60-70, and takes 2-3 hours.
This whole area is great to explore with your own wheels, if you have or can get them. Consider hiring scooters in Changhua or Taichung, riding to Sun Moon Lake, Puli, this railway line and even perhaps Wuling Farm.