‘In the wake of a turntable’
The saying ‘it’s a small world’ absolutely apposite the tiny turntable in the middle of a street were one leads a merry life but not many have seen it. That’s to say; foreigners, for the city dwellers of Taipei this is the place to be on a weekend day. Wulai; a once remote village in the mountains and now a touristic hotspot for nature lovers and aboriginal culture. Before the Chinese en masse inhabited this isle there were already people living. Chinese turned the place into a commercial circus.
Hot springs, waterfall and a nature park called Yunxian playground reached by cable-car also called ropeway or gondola and even aerial tramway. The latter is beyond my way of naming things. The Valley Station of that system is not far from the former railway head. Wulai itself can easily be reached by subway to the outskirts of Taipei and bus or bus direct leaving from the main station. Cars from visitors have to be parked before the gate; this is pedestrian’s heaven. From the gate till the gondola is quit a distance, however, a railway is there and it’s your decision to ride or walk only the train trip is not free. Breathtaking views will be part of both ways.
This railway wasn’t build for sightseeing purpose in the first place but seems to be the last survivor of a once extended network of the so called hand-pushed light railways or more common push-car. A simple flat car with on top a seat and a skinny Chinese pushing it, uphill even powered by two men. Downwards the small cars were rolling by gravity with the pusher on top fully alert for braking.
‘Daishu’ is the Japanese name for it. The Chinese name I’ll left out due to difficulties entering characters. In 1870 the first line with this principle was opened, under Japanese rule [1894-1945] others came to daylight, at the height of existence in 1933 fifty lines were in operation with a total length of 1292 kilometre.
The gauge 2 ft 6 (762 mm), though it could have been 2 ft (610 mm) as well, gauges the Japanese used to build these lines also in their homeland. During the time photographing was still analogue the rather heavy camera bag always carried a measuring tape, very handy and proofed its usefulness at the Houtung mining railway with a dissenting gauge.
In 1990 during my first visit it all looked more or less original only the pushcarts were rebuild to motorized vehicles and trailers and running as a set of three. The turntable and tracks as seen on the picture were abandoned and replaced by a loop in a tunnel at the beginning of the street near the ropeway station and shortened the line. On this spot I returned two years ago unfortunate on a weekday and no train service. It’s only operating at the weekend and during holidays. Nineteen years in between and hoping to find the system untouched, rest and rust can be beautiful, non what so ever. A completely overhauled structure, a real railway without any doubt though for touristic purpose only.
On the next page there’ll be a slide show starting in the nineties and ending in 2009. Hopefully time is on my side for another pilgrimage, it’s a railway but on the other hand is not or not any more. Looking at the pictures I am longing for the old days. Reminisces and less to comfort with for a writer today.
The old postcard pictures are from the site: http://taipics.com