Wandering Guandu

I’m very slowly joining up dots between hiking trails around Beitou (北投) and further afield. To be honest, I’m still not completely sure of the boundaries of the Qinshan Hiking Trail (親山步道), a network of trails that appears to extend from Shipai (石牌) at it’s most easterly point, to Xinbeitou’s Zhongzhengshan (中正山) peak in the north and out toward the Danshui River in the west.

Several walls along Xueyuan Rd are decorated with friezes and murals. This set of beasties is at the start of the road.

From what I can see, all of these trails are part of the what the local government calls the Datun Mountain Range but I still haven’t quite figured out how or why all these separate mountain trails, culminating in peaks that all have their own names, fall under the Qinshan umbrella. I often get the feeling there is a proclivity for slapping on layer upon layer of nomenclature on any local heap of rocks, a kind of infinitesimally-branched taxonomy of  mountains, unfathomable to all but the most gnarled old misty mountain hopper.

A Xiangqi (象棋), or Chinese chess board etched on a stone table at the park.

Having notched off several main strands of the web over the last few months, including Zhongzheng with the Inveterate Bede a while back, I decided to have a sniff about at the Guandu end. A few months before, I’d walked the first section of the Guizikeng trail and had noticed on signboard map  that it seemed to link up to Guandu. I thought I’d see if I could find out how.

Though I failed in this endeavour – partly because I set off rather late, partly because I went slowly and made several stops along the way (I would add partly because of the inclement weather, too, but no self-respecting Englishman would admit to such a thing) – I had a thoroughly enjoyable time poking around the swathe of green that begins at Xueyuan Park (學園公園), and continues through the campus of Taipei National University of the Arts (國立臺北藝術大學).

Scattered in and around the campus, there are some interesting things to see. The various pieces of furniture design along the first section of pavement after the park, for example, and the pieces in sculpture park further up the hill. (See pics above. I’m really losing the will to live when it comes to adding captions in WordPress, so excuse the lack of explanation of photos in this post.)

A couple of minutes more and you are the Evergreen Tennis Club. The Guandu Hiking Trail head starts about 100 metres down the road from there. The mountain here is called Zhongyishan (忠義山) and, indeed, going this way around, you end up coming out not far from Zhongyi MRT station on Zhongyang North Road (中央北路).

 

As I’ve been put through the paces by the Bede with some actually rather scary climbs recently (more on that at a later date), this trail was frankly a piece of piss. It’s a bit slippery in places and there are some ropes to guide you up but it couldn’t have taken me more than 30 minutes max (I suspect it was probably considerably less) to get to the top and I was hardly going at a breakneck pace. This drivel here here is giving it nearly three hours for the whole, which, frankly, unless you’re over 80, rheumatic to the point of rigor mortis, and a couple of Rizla sheets to the wind is cobblers.

The top comes as quite a surprise, as you come out onto a fairly large plateau which, but for the long grass, would probably be decent for a Sunday afternoon kickabout. Not sure how that would go down with superstitious locals, mind, as it’s burial ground – probably the most spacious, in terms of number of interred, that I’ve ever come across in Taiwan. There are, in fact, just two tombs (these are really worthy of that overused word) and to say they are grand is an understatement.

I don’t know who Mr and Mrs Ho were, or whether they were husband and wife or brother and sister, but they must have been wealthy. You’d have to have a hunt around to find a more imposing civilian grave than Mr Ho’s. The whole is enormous and ornate and the intricate scenes that decorate the walls of the tomb’s floor are particularly cool. In between the two graves, in a little pavilion, sits the Tudi Gong (土地公) or the Fude Zhengshen (福德正神) as he is more formally known. The earth god is, naturally, associated with burial sites.

Just before the path back down, there’s a a sheltered area with some large metal benches and a massage table. It looks like a nice little spot for local oldsters to come and hang out. As one of the larger of the many sporadic showers of the day had just started, I enjoyed 20 minutes respite, reclining on the benches and waiting out the rain.

The path descends through cool bamboo forest all the way to the Xingtian Temple (行天宮站), a serene and worthy counterpart to its much better-known main branch in downtown Taipei. It think it merits a post of its own, so I’ll stick it in the queue of to-do posts, which is currently snaking its way around the corner and half a mile down the block.

On the way up, I had looked in on the university’s Paulaner Brauhau at the Arts and Activity Complex. Having been off the sauce for a couple of weeks, I’d promised to treat myself to a German beer. After visiting the Xingtian Temple, I wasn’t sure if I could cut back across the NTUA campus and ended up walking a couple of kilometres back along Zhongyang N., past Zhongyi MRT, right back to where I had started a couple of hours before.

As I ascended the hill for the second time dusk was falling. In the bar, a young lady was doing a passable rendition of Cole Porter’s Night and Day. At NT$270, the beer was bloody expensive and slapping a 10 percent service charge on top seemed pretty cheeky. Still, it was a nice end to the day.

I’m definitely going to do some more digging around Guandu when time permits. I’ve not yet been to the nature park and it’s been a few years since I stopped by the Guandu Temple, which definitely merits a visit. At some point I’ll do the trail again and keep heading north across the plateau, rather than do the loop back down. I’m hoping there’s some way of meeting up with the Guizikeng trail, though I suspect you might have to leave the mountains trails and walk along roads at some stage.

Directions:

When you get out of the Guandu MRT (I think either exit will do and the information counter will point you in the right direction), head for Lane 577, which gets you onto Zhongyang N. Rd. Do a left once you’re on the main road and then a right after the petrol station and you’re on Xueyuan Rd.

 

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