By Sundar Lal Sundaram
Durmiter National Park, 390 square kilometres, and the surrounding area offers the “off-the-beaten-path” traveller exceptional mountain landscapes and rich biodiversity. Zabljak, situated at 1,456 meters, is the capital city of Montenegro in the southern Balkans. Zabljak is sparsely populated with just around 4,500 inhabitants, and a popular European tourist destination.
Montenegro holds the rare title for being the capital of the first officially proclaimed ecological state in the world.
The mountainous landscape looks irresistible, literally blanketed with snow for nearly four months in a year. On higher mountain peaks it’s always snow-clad even during the summer, making Zabljak a popular skiing destination throughout the year. Zabljak is culturally rich, offering the traveller wonderful experiences. Kacamak, a potato and cheese dish, and Cicvara, porridge made with milk, cheese and our, are two delicious native dishes served in Zabljak.
But it’s during the off-season that one can really admire the beauty of this quaint little town. Empty streets, exotic natural beauty and laidback inhabitants can literally transport you to a distant world way back in time. This is also the perfect time to explore the rich Montenegrin wildlife. Montenegro has Europe’s highest biodiversity richness. 3,250 species of plants are found in Montenegro, and 392 plant species grow only in this region of the Balkans.
Durmitor National Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains Europe’s highest mountains. It is said, the mountain derived its name from the Celtic expression, DRU-MI-TOR, meaning, “water from the mountain.” According to local folklore, the mountain is also the chosen resting place for the gods. Durmitor comprises more than forty mountain peaks with an altitude over 2,000 meters. The highest one being Bobotov Kuk standing tall at 2,523 meters. But, the most beautiful, most photographed and most visited peak is Savin Kuk (2,313 meters). The mountain peak is an irreplaceable part of the famous panoramic view above Black Lake along with the Bear peak, 2,287 meters.
Savin Kuk is one of most visited peaks, thanks to the unique chair lift facility that climbs high up to its eastern slopes and stops barely a hundred meters below the summit. The peak is named after Saint Sava, a Serbian Prince who left the worldly life to become a monk. He is considered to be a spiritual leader and guiding light among the local inhabitants. It is also believed that, the saint used to make frequent visits to the Durmitor, especially the Savin Kuk as he found it conducive to peace of mind and silent meditations.
According to legends, during one of his visits, the saint created a water spring by drawing a cross on the ground with his cane to quench the thirst of his disciple who accompanied him. Even today, the water from this spring is considered to have healing properties and believers flock towards the peak on the occasion of Ilindan, celebrated every year on August 2nd. They carry the water in bottles and save it till the next Ilindan, to replenish the supply.
MY FAVOURITE PLACE
The peak of Mount Prutas (2393 meters) is one of the most beautiful Durmitor peaks offering magni cent panoramic views from all sides. It is named after the word “Prutovi”, meaning twigs or branches. The peak is famous for its white limestone cliffs shaped like twigs. These cli s extend from the foot to the summit. Limestone and its karst topography dominate the park’s landscape.
If you are planning to visit Prutas, don’t forget the Skrcka lakes. It’s a must-see destination sure to leave you spellbound. Surrounded with highest hills, Prutas and Skrcka lakes make for a beautiful landscape.
The impressive Durmitor National Park landscape is dotted with eighteen lakes, also known as the ‘mountain eyes’. Mountain paths offer trekkers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy amazing scenery of white limestone cliffs, mountain peaks, and crystal clear lakes.
BLACK LAKE – PEARL OF DURMITOR
The biggest and the most popular among all the lakes is the Black Lake, located in the middle of the coniferous forest, half an hour walk from Zabljak. Despite the name, the waters take on a variety of colours throughout the day (from dark grey to green). The lake sometimes splits into two when the water levels are at their lowest. A unique and rare phenomenon, the Black Lake consists of an underground bifurcation, making the water from the lake flow into two different rivers – Tara and Piva. Maximum depth of the lake is 49.1 meters. During the summer, it’s perfect for swimming, while in the winter the frozen lake becomes a favourite spot for ice walking and sliding.
According to legends, there is a story behind the creation of Black Lake. It is believed that Saint Sava paid a visit to one of the monasteries. The monks welcomed him but doubted his sainthood. So they played a prank and put a dead rooster in his bag. The next day, when Saint Sava was about to leave, the monks accused him of stealing the rooster. He lost his temper and cursed the monks and the monastery turned into a lake - the Black Lake.
TARA RIVER CANYON
The Canyon of Tara River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is only 20 kilometers from Zabljak. River Tara is also known as the Tear of Europe, thanks to its extremely clean water. It has the second deepest canyon in the world, only next to the Grand Canyon in the United States.
Canyon Nevidio - The name of the canyon literally translates as “The Unseen” owing to the mysterious and inaccessible nature of its terrain. The canyon has remained hidden from human eyes for a long time and is the last canyon to be explored in Europe. It lies in the rocky Montenegrin Mountains where the slopes of Durmitor and Vojnik come together. Over geological time the Tara River has cut a very deep canyon in the soft limestone. The depth along the canyon varies from 60-350 metres. In some places the width is barely half a meter and one needs to traverse under or even through the walls.
If Hans Christian Andersen had ever visited Montenegro, Ice Cave would certainly be recognized as the inspiration for the palace of the Snow Queen. At an altitude of 2,164 meters there is a cave where winter never ends, and the icy stalactites and stalagmites throughout the year are admired by all those who enter this icy realm. The insides of the cave are 40 meters long and 20 meters wide.
Durmitar National Park offer the traveller an amazing array of natural beauty to enjoy. The ethnically diverse region offers many cultural events and traditions to discover. Zabljak is the city to visit and explore the surrounding natural beauty. Zabljak and surrounding mountains are an area of enchanting beauty guaranteed to leave you spellbound!
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