Friday, April 28, 2006

Sargan Train and Tara National Park

Tuesday, April 18 – Šargan Train and Tara National Park
Šargan Eight Train
When I woke up, it still was raining. I packed up my belongings, ate breakfast, and thanked Zoriča and her museum crew for their hospitality. Our first destination was the Šargan 8 train. This year I had the departure times of the train and was eager to this newly popular tourist attraction of the historic train route through the mountains. In fact, I heard that there are plans to extend the route into neighboring countries. At the ticket booth, I was told that I might have to stand, as there were so many people wanting to ride. Indeed, there were lots of children (young and teenagers) eager to board the train. I agreed and ended up in the front car. In this car (built in 1903) were a few families traveling together – some from Serbia, and others from Switzerland and the UK.

After an initial pause, the train began making its way along the figure 8 loop. The horizontal distance between the train stations Mokra Gora and Šargan-Vitasi is only 3.5 km, but the height difference is over 300 meters. We stopped at the Šargan and Jatare stations (reconstructed exactly as they had been in 1925 when the line was initially opened) for about 15 minutes each. At the top station, the engine was moved to the opposite end, so now our car was at the back of the train. The train moved along at a slow, but regular pace. In between the 22 tunnels (some longer and others quite brief), one could see beautiful views (although today it was rather hazy) of the countryside, steep cliffs, small waterfalls, and the film-set village constructed on a hill above Mokra Gora. It was rather strange to emerge from a tunnel and find the village on the opposite side, bearing witness to the turns made even in the tunnels! I wished the Serbian/Swiss families an enjoyable journey and joked that we might see each other again. (They also were going to visit some of the monasteries I had planned on visiting.) Within minutes of arriving back at the Mokra Gora train station, it began raining once again.

Tara National Park
Despite the rain, I proceeded towards the Tara National Park. Located in the panhandle of Serbia surrounded by Bosnia on two sides (with the Drina river on the border), the park covers an area of about 22,000 hectares ad a height of up to 1,500 m above sea level. I was looking forward to hiking through its lush forests and enjoying the spectacular views of the deep gorges – including photographing the rare endemic tree species known as the Pančić spruce. Perhaps I would even see some of the rare birds such as the golden eagle or a bear – at a distance. I unpacked my things in my room at the Hotel Omorika and went into the large dining room to eat, hoping that the rain would let up a bit after I had eaten. Unfortunately, it continued to rain. I headed back to my room, holed up in a depressed-looking building that had received few upgrades/remodeling since the 1970’s. This was the hotel Tito had stayed in during the 70’s and where many sports teams had practiced. It was explained to me that for a number of years in the 90’s (during Milosevic’s rule), the hotel had been abandoned.

After a few hours, the rain finally let up a bit. Although it was still lightly raining, I knew that this might be my only chance. I bought a park map from the hotel, but unfortunately it was in Cyrillic. In addition, there were no helpful signs in the area. Following (or trying to) the directions given by a street-side souvenir dealer, I then found some markings on the trees and began to follow those. The cobblestone road quickly gave way to a narrow dirt (actually muddy) path. Every once in a while the dense pine trees gave way to a clearing, revealing a bit of the park’s natural beauty. I also enjoyed the pink Erica flowers covering patches of the forest floor in its color. In the distance, I could see some farms and heard the faint clang of sheep/cow bells. As the rain began to increase once again, I relented and decided to head back to the hotel. I would have to come back another time.

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