While just a few weeks ago we were admiring intricate statues of the goddess Green Tara on display on the busy streets of Kathmandu, Nepal, now we were about to admire a different Green Tara altogether, though equally awe inspiring 🙂
Searching for the perfect destination to explore over a long weekend, we were excited to receive an invitation from our friends from Vertical Adventure to join them for rafting on Tara River in Montenegro.
On a Friday afternoon, we eagerly packed our things into their spacious adventure minivan, perfectly suited for the road trip we were about to make. The road to Tara took us across Serbia and into the mountainous land of Montenegro. Had it not been for the deep snow still blocking the road, we would have crossed through the heart of the Durmitor Mountains, but this adventure would have to wait for warmer summer days 🙂 As Tara was getting nearer, spirits were growing restless, eager to finally meet this notorious river. And when we did see it, it proved to be amazing…
RAFTING ON TARA RIVER
Tara River flows through one of the deepest canyons in Europe, up to 1300m deep, while making countless sparkling rapids, that have rightfully nicknamed Tara as “the Montenegrin Colorado”. Tara River Canyon is the longest canyon in Europe, and second longest in the world after the Grand Canyon. Stretching on the border between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro, Tara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, due to the special quality of its crystal clear, incredibly turquoise-blue waters and unique ecological system. Even though it is an ecological biosphere reservation, an electric plant is planned to be built on Tara, which will probably forever alter the river and its course, making rafting impracticable. So, go rafting on Tara while you still can!
Having on board the first ever Romanian certified by the IRF (International Rafting Federation) as Trip Leader White Water Class III, as well as a Raft Guide White Water Class II, two of the IRF certified rafting guides of Vertical Adventure, we felt we were in safe hands and trusted we were going to have an excellent experience.
The rafting route chosen, almost 18km long, is the most exciting on Tara River, having the biggest drop in elevation in the shortest length and over 21 rapids. From the moment we entered the water at Brštnovica till we exited it, we were continuously bewildered by its unbelievable turquoise color and its amazing clearness. Riding one wavy rapid after the next, excitement built up as white sparkling waves splash into our faces while we went through the rapids, proving rafting on Tara to be an animated and thrilling experience, complemented by mesmerizing blue waters and deep limestone surroundings. Since one rafting descent is never enough, we went for a second ride on Tara’s wavy rapids. This time, having become familiar with the river, we enjoying even more playing with different technical approaches on the multitude of “bumpy” water waves.
PIVA RIVER CANYON
Just beyond the rafting exit point, Tara converges with the even more unbelievably green-turquoise waters of Piva River to form Drina River. Fascinated by Piva’s waters, more so than with Tara’s, we decided to explore Piva Canyon, a truly amazing place. One of the most picturesque sites in Montenegro, Piva Canyon is 33km long and up to 1200m deep, offering a very scenic ride on a narrow, curving road that winds high above the crystal-clear waters of Piva River, literally cutting its way in the limestone canyon walls, burrowing through more than 50 tunnels (after 52 we lost count :D), and crossing from one side of the canyon to the other on a thin bridge that makes your heart stand still while you’re on it.
Lonely centenary black pine trees, springing boldly from the steep limestone walls, together with picturesque tunnels stringing one after another and the incredibly green-blue-turquoise waters of the river make up for the unparalleled beauty of Piva Canyon.
Higher up the canyon, we reached the concrete arched Mratinje Dam – at 220m high, one of the highest in Europe. Built in 1975, it flooded an area of 12.5km2 creating Piva Lake, the second largest lake in Montenegro, with blue-turquoise waters reminding of the unequaled waters of Piva River.
PIVA PLATEAU & DURMITOR MOUNTAINS
Following a road sign marked “Durmitor” and pointing straight into the rock wall, we made a sharp turn off the road winding on the banks of Piva Lake, and entered a rock tunnel with an unexpected crossroad just before its end. Yet another very scenic ride, literally cut into the rocky mountain side, climbing steeply to the plateau above, through a series of hair pin curves and short tunnels burrowed through the limestone walls. On top, we found ourselves on Piva Plateau, a high limestone plateau, averaging 1200m, as far as the eye could see bombarded by limestone features: cavities and deep pits, and crisscrossed by narrow roads and dotted by occasional stone house settlements, making it into a mountain biker’s heaven.
Silently dominating the horizon were the Durmitor Mountains, a stunning limestone massif belonging to the Dinaric Alps, with numerous peaks rising above 2000m, its highest, Bobotov Kuk, rising to 2523m, a few meters short of our own Moldoveanu Peak. Taking the road leading towards these mountains, we soon found ourselves on the other side of the cross-Durmitor road we encounter on our way to Tara River. Deep snow was equally blocking the road on this side as well, so we opted for a trek on foot. Hiking around white snow patches, we run into the most unexpected creature: a tiny dark amphibian, Bosca’s newt (Triturus boscai), frightened by our menacing presence, froze still waiting for us to depart. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, due to its biodiversity, as well as its geological richness, Durmitor National Park’s landscape is dotted by numerous glacial lakes, locally known as “mountain eyes”, and shaped by many remarkable limestone phenomena, such as the 90 degrees inclined tectonic layers visible on the mountain’s walls.
FOČA – BOSNIAN WAR SCARS AND MUSLIM TRACES
When the weather stopped being on our side, we turned back and, explorers by nature, started checking the map for places welcoming even on bad weather. Thus, we made our way into Bosnia and Herzegovina, to a series of unique experiences, starting with driving along the stunning blue waters of Drina River, and culminating with some unexpected, yet very enjoyable, encounters.
Among the many lands of ex-Yugoslavia, Bosnia is a Muslim island, in a sea of Christian practices. Coming from a Christian country ourselves, the occasional sight of domed mosques, accompanied by high minarets topped with the symbols of Islam, was both uncommon and fascinating at the same time.
Another experience altogether was crossing the town of Foča. While we were thrilled by crossing the Drina River and getting close up views of its still pristine waters, we were soon brought to silence by the sight of heavy scares of the not-so-distant Bosnian War, still visible on the town’s buildings, a vivid, yet bleak, reminder of the imminent tragedy of war.
A sharp turn off the main road towards Sarajevo, we climbed up a narrow road making its way through a densely-forested hill. The wild and unspoiled landscape offered us a series of unexpected surprises, from the amazing sight of Balkan chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica), black mountain goats, running across the road, to seeing small, peaceful Muslim cemeteries, tucked away in remote meadows. The sight of a Muslim graveyard is a unique experience in itself, placed away from sight, with modest graves, the exact size of the person buried, marked only by two simple pillars, one at the head and another at the feet, they remind of the peacefulness and humbleness specific to a true spiritual being.
Further deep into the hillside, the road opens to the destination of our detour: The Sand Pyramids, or Pješčane Piramide, as locals call them. Different to what we were expecting, but altogether a picturesque sight, the Sand Pyramids are actually striated sand pillars that rise from their wide foundations and become narrow at their tops. First mentioned over 200 years ago, in the Austro-Hungarian period, the Sand Pyramids are a rarely seen geomorphological phenomenon created over several hundred years by selective soil erosion under the influence of aggressive winter frost, summer heat, rain and strong winds. Seen from the front the pyramids remind of the American Colorado or the Italian Dolomites, while from behind they remind of our native Râpa Roșie, close to Sebeș 🙂
BRIDGE ON THE DRINA
Continuing our way through Bosnia, we passed through the town of Višegrad, home to the most beautiful bridge spanning across Drina’s blue-turquoise waters. Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, a historic stone bridge, is one of the masterpieces of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan Aga. Completed in 1577, it was commissioned by the Grand Vizier Mehmed Paša Sokolović, born in Ottoman Bosnia, as a tribute to his native region and a symbol of trade and prosperity. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, the bridge stands as a silent witness to centuries of history spanning from its construction by the Ottomans in the mid-16th century until its partial destruction during World War I and World War II and its subsequent restorations. Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge is widely known because of the book The Bridge on the Drina (1945) written by Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić, awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961.
MOKRA GORA – KUSTURICA AND MOUNTAIN RAILWAYS
Reaching the town of Mokra Gora we headed up the mountain to spend the night. The next morning, we found ourselves in a mountainscape densely forested with pine trees, occasionally dotted by old, picturesque, wooden mountains cabins, scattered across fresh-green meadows. Both beneath pine trees and across meadows, the ground was carpeted in rich magenta colored bushes in full bloom.
At the foothills of the mountain we had a curious encounter with a small dwelling, featuring many wooden buildings. Drvengrad (Timber Town) is a traditional Serbian Ethno village, built by well-known Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, on the site where he shoot his film „Život je Čudo“ (Life is a Miracle). Motivated by his personal tragedy, of losing his home in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, Kusturica wished to build his own village. Also known as Küstendorf, a word play from the German “dorf” (village) and Kusturica’s nickname “Kusta”, it is the site of seminars on film making, ceramics, paintings, and of a festival, Küstendorf Film and Music Festival, every January showcasing films and music from all around the world.
Already from the border into Serbia, we noticed the unusually narrow gauged railway. We learnt that the town of Mokra Gora is also the starting point for another unique experience, a scenic train ride on Šargan Eight, a narrow-gauge railway unique in the world, reminding of the mountain railways from Switzerland. Its 8-shaped railway cuts through steep and rocky landscape, passing through 22 tunnels and crossing over a dozen of bridges before reaching its next station at Jatare.
LAST SIGHTS TOWARDS HOME
Continuing our way through Serbia, we reached the so-called “little Hong Kong of Serbia”, Tito’s city Užice, whose skylines is dominated by many “skyscrapers”. However, the most eye-catching architectural features are the imposing ruins of Kruševac Fortress, built in 1381, perched up on lonely cliff above the city, and, in stark contrast to it, the “Rocket”, a brutal socialist building, shaped like a rocket, housing Hotel Zlatibor. Further up the road, in the Zapadna Morava River Gorge, we encountered the Ovčar-Kablar Monasteries, also known as the “Serbian Holy Mountain”. Built staring with the XIVth century by Serbian priest fleeing Mount Athos from subsequent invasions, the monasteries have great historical, cultural and artistic value. To total original number of monasteries is unknown, nowadays only 10 monasteries, one church and one sacred cave remain.
Approaching the Romanian border, we were welcomed by never-ending, yellow fields of field mustard (Brassica rapa) glowing in the sunset. As another travel was coming to its completion, we felt richer both in new experiences and in discovering new places.
Until our next adventure, keep close!
Tags: Bosnia, Drina, Durmitor, Montenegro, Piva, rafting, Serbia, Tara, Vertical Adventure