YOU will not find banyan trees like the ones outside Tai Po's main Tin Hau temple anywhere in Asia. The branches drip with ripe, juicy oranges, and the fruit multiplies every weekend. But of course the fruit does not actually grow on the trees. The oranges are pierced, threaded with string, and hurled up into the old limbs by visitors who are looking for a change of luck. At Lunar New Year, you would be fortunate to get enough room to swing your arm, for the crowds are so thick then at Lam Tsuen. I am told some of the branches snapped at a recent lunar celebration because the weight of fruit was so great. I had taken the 64K bus from Tai Po Market KCR station to check out the temple and its banyan trees, a journey of around 10 minutes. When I arrived, the fruit-sellers were doing a roaring trade. Paper scrolls are also attached to the string: you write your wish and then toss the orange and scroll up into the branches. They say your wish is more likely to come true if the first throw is successful, but many are not, so mind your head! I guess the luckiest people around here are the stallholders. At $10 an orange, their wishes have already come true. Who said money does not grow on trees? Each village around here has a spiritual banyan tree, but the two trees at Lam Tsuen gained a reputation many years ago as bringing luck, and now locals are drawn from throughout the SAR. The oldest tree, a fine specimen, is believed to be 500 years old and is said to bring wealth and health. The other, they say, will help you find a good partner and have children. The former was the busiest on this day, understandably so, given the way the economy is right now. They are out in the sticks a bit in Lam Tsuen. The temple even had a room set aside recently for the local police unit. The fading sign is still on the outer wall. My main purpose in coming to Tai Po was not, of course, to help oranges grow on banyan trees. I met a British lawyer recently who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 35 years, and he used to be a policeman based in Fanling in his early days here. He fanned my imagination with tales of life in the then very rural New Territories, and of how he would travel to Kowloon on the old trains, being served tea and sandwiches by waiters on this short journey. The train would pass through the former Tai Po Market station, which is now a railway museum, and I decided to take a step back in time. A local dance group was to give a performance at the museum in the afternoon, so I went to Lam Tsuen first to kill time. Tai Po was the linchpin for the development of the New Territories at the beginning of this century, and I would have a fruitful day looking for relics of its historic past, for besides the railway station there are other, less known reminders of those early days. The area used to be known as Dai Bu, from an expression that means 'walk fast to escape evil', for the hills around here used to be cloaked by thick forest where tigers roamed. A market was first opened here around 300 years ago, but Tai Po was put on the map when the British section of the Kowloon to Canton railway opened in 1910. There are still plenty of markets here. It is only a few minutes walk to the railway museum from the present Tai Po Market station. If you go via Heung Sze Wui Street, you can pass through the town's large, covered temporary market. The railway museum is at the top of On Fu Road, and on the right side of the road is narrow Fu Shin Street, home to another busy market, and the old, smoky Man Mo temple, dedicated to the gods of war and literature. The railway station was built in 1913 in traditional Chinese style, and was used up until 1983. The booking office is furnished just as it was in the old days and waiting rooms now show exhibits. Outside on the track are carriages from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, which visitors are allowed to walk through. There was no air-conditioning in those days, even in first class. Metal fans line the high ceilings, and even the first-class compartment looks a little threadbare. In third class, passengers sat on wooden seats with hinged backs, a little like the ones on the Star Ferry. As I wandered through the carriages, members of the dance troupe, faces painted grey, slowly and, trance-like, mimed the travel adventures of passengers from days gone by, creating a surreal and creepy atmosphere. Ironically, as you sit here, carriages of the present KCR hurtle past on the new tracks only a few metres away. Apart from air-conditioning, they are not much of an improvement, I mused, purely functional, packing people in like cattle for the short trip to the border. Back at Tai Po Market, I tried to find the old District Office, which was built in 1910. From here, the development of the New Territories went on the drawing board, and I had been told the building had escaped the latter-day development in the area. There is a church not far from the railway station, off Kwong Fuk Road, and behind it, set back from the road, stands an old, two-storey building on a hillside, surrounded by trees. It houses the Museums section of the Regional Services Department, but the two members of staff on duty did not seem to know anything about the old District Office. I continued searching for nearly an hour, only to stumble across the building a stone's throw from the Museums section, at the top of the same hill, which is known as Ping Shan, up Wan Tau Kok Lane. At the bottom of a steep, tree-lined drive, a sign reads 'Environmental Protection Department'. I followed the pathway and there at the top of the hill stood an elegant two-storey colonial-style building, decorative arches stretching almost the full length of each side. A small plaque confirmed this was the old District Office, and had been until 1961 when it was used as a magistrates' court. Now it seemed abandoned, but pots of paint and other materials outside suggested it was about to be given a facelift. I peered through the windows, and it still has those high ceilings, which must have ensured clerical staff kept cool in the days before air-conditioning. The building and the surrounding area is gazetted, the plaque volunteered. The building must have offered fine views from this commanding position once, but now it is surrounded by vegetation. Just a little further down the hill, I also came across what I would later learn was one of the first police stations to have been built in the New Territories. It dates back to 1899 and looks unused, in spite of having a Police Crime Prevention Office sign outside. Just to prove it is on top of the job, the department has made sure the doors are heavily padlocked, and I could not get inside, though I could see through the gate that the building is very old. I wandered over the river, through the Kwong Fuk housing estate, and up Island House Lane to the imposing former residence of the District Officer, in a beautiful position on a hillside which overlooks the sea. Island House was built in 1905, but it is now occupied by the World Wide Fund for Nature and a sign warned against trespassing. But there is a fine riverside park a couple of minutes walk away, so the short journey had not been a waste of time. Tai Po is a bustling place now, of course, a high-rise satellite city, but it is surrounded by fine countryside, including the oldest nature reserve in Hong Kong, Tai Po Kau Special Area. It is only a short taxi ride from Tai Po to the park, which covers nearly 500 hectares, and offers five forest walks, the longest being 10 kilometres. But I was short of time and would have to return to explore Tai Po Kau and its creek, which used to supply water to the whole of Tai Po Market before the colonial administrators arrived.