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Taiwan pioneers lead the way in cultural tourism


By James Lo, CNA Editor

Long hiking trails that take days, even weeks, or even months, serve as cultural and tourist attractions in many countries thanks to beautiful sites and local history.

Think of the 780 km long Camino de Santiago, the ultimate European pilgrimage route that stretches through France, Portugal and Spain, where hikers follow in the footsteps of pilgrims who paid homage to Santiago , or the 1,200 km Shikoku Junrei in Japan, which invites travelers to visit 88 temples across the island of Shikoku.

Unbeknownst to many Taiwanese nationals, let alone foreign tourists, Taiwan has its own distinctive hiking trails like the Tamsui-Kavalan Trails that showcase the country’s culture and history, as well as the National Greenway of mountains to the sea which highlights beautiful landscapes.

Since late 2016, Taiwan has added another hiking trail located along Provincial Highway 3 between Taoyuan and Taichung, with the aim of presenting a route less traveled today.

“The Raknus Selu Trail is a historic route that features three of Taiwan’s communities,” said Taiwan Thousand Mile Trail (TMI Trail) Association president Chou Sheng-hsin (周聖心). “Places along the trail are steeped in history of early Han Chinese settlers of Hoklo and Hakka descent as well as the Atayal and Saisiyat indigenous peoples of the area.”

The trail stretches through Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Taichung counties starting and ending at Longtan, Taoyuan and Dongshi, Taichung. Its length is 220 km and 380 km if we take into account secondary roads.

Designed by TMI Trail and supported by the Hakka Affairs Council, the Raknus Selu Trail is the newest addition to Taiwan’s list of extensive hiking trails. The name is a hybrid blend taken from the languages ​​of the communities that once crossed and traded along the route.

Raknus means camphor tree to the Atayal and Saisiyat peoples and Selu is the word for trail in Hakka, so the name literally means camphor trail, as the tree and its myriad applications have given rise to thriving industries and many jobs in the past.

“The Raknus Selu Trail, especially the Old Dunan Trail in Guanxi Township, was an important route for our ancestors,” said Hsinchu Hakka County resident Lo Shih-shu (羅仕樞). “In the past, dignitaries used the roads to move around while merchants and laborers transported camphor, tea leaves and sugar for trade.

The history of the trail is even the subject of a documentary, “Secrets of the Raknus Selu Trail (樟之細路的秘密),” hosted by British photographer Chris Stowers and Taiwanese TV host Danny Wen Shi-kai (溫士凱) on the AXN TV channel.

A Hakka connection

Today the trail is mostly populated by Hakka communities who tend to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Visitors can have the chance to taste Hakka delicacies such as herbal tea and rice pastries. Tourists can even visit private farms to pick fruits and vegetables that they can eat or take home.

While the many branches of Chinese culture share similar rituals and arts, there are observable differences between those who speak different Chinese “dialects”.

Examples include the unique love the Hakka have for the official Three Great Emperors (三官大帝) and the Chinese Earth God they call Bak Gong (伯公) rather than the more typical Tu Di Gong (土地公) used in other Han Chinese. dialects.

The Hakka relationship with the deity responsible for soil fertility and cultivation of crops runs so deep that an optional detour on the trail takes travelers to temples and shrines dedicated to the earth god.

“We Hakka people are a hospitable group,” said Miaoli resident Chen Shan (陳山), “and we like to show people our culture when we have outside visitors.”

Community Outreach

To better connect visitors to Hakka communities along the trail, the Hakka Business Council and TMI Trail have worked together to establish visitor centers along the trail.

“We have established six visitor centers in six townships between Taoyuan and Taichung,” Chou said. “These give tourists ideas of places to visit on the route, as well as information on possible accommodation if hikers decide to embark on long hikes that last more than a day.”

Hikers can also acquire trail passports at the six centers to make their trip more interesting by trying to collect the approximately 50 trail stamps available at tourist or religious destinations along the way, Chou said.

Stations such as the Shimen Inn in Dahu Township in Miaoli provide visitors with accommodations, tourist information, and complimentary trail passes and stamps.

“We went to many places like Shimen Inn and participated in religious ritual of Hakka culture,” said Henry Sun (孫元亨), half of Taiwan’s popular travel podcast duo. SH Travel.

“Around here you can do a lot of things too. If you’re a hiker, you can climb mountains, and if you’re a history buff, you can enjoy many local sights, like the Taiwan Petroleum Exhibition Hall.”

“I can’t wait to come back to explore the whole route,” added British blogger Ami de Trails and Tales of Taiwan.

Ami and Sun were two members of a group of Taiwan-based tourism professionals invited to an unveiling ceremony for the fifth center on the trail on November 8, where the group participated in a Hakka religious festival and visited Dahu.

On the same day, the last of the stations also opened in Guanxi.

“Not all centers are the same,” said Emma Chiu (邱美鳳), president of the Guanxi Township Cultural Association. She specifies that the center managed by her association does not have cachet like the others, but that it serves as a cultural destination.

“The association was founded 20 years ago by locals who aimed to preserve and promote the area’s rich Hakka history, such as the historic trails in our township that we partially dug ourselves,” Chiu said. .

The opening of all trail centers paves the way for the upcoming 4th Asia Trails Conference, an international walking event designed by Asian trail organizations that has invited trekkers from around the world to participate.

The fourth edition of the event will be held in Taiwan, which recently opened its borders after nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and features the Raknus Selu Trail as a signature experience.

“We expect a lot of international hiking enthusiasts,” Chou said, “especially those from South Korea, as part of the trail from Shitan to Miaoli recently became a sister trail with the Olle trail on Jeju Island. .”

End Article/AW