Hiking in the valley of Beli Iskar River
Mount Rila is breathtaking! In the winter it displays the snow caps of its peaks. In the spring it looks perfectly rejuvenated in its lush garments, in the summer it gleams with the scorching bright sun and in the autumn fascinates the eye with diverse colorful sights.
One of the luring sites for tourism and recreation at about 80 km from Sofia is the beautiful glacial valley of Beli Iskar River. Sprawling at the entrance of Rila National Park between its Musala and Central sections it suggests the wonderful diversity of the mountain.
In 2003, the Beli Iskar eco trail was built along the river. The route is 8 km long and is suitable for walkers from all age groups. There are special platforms for persons with disabilities so that they are able to enjoy Rila’s beauty and listen to the song of its waters. Nineteen small bridges cross the swift Beli Iskar. A few information boards point to the peculiarities of the respective locality and of various elements of nature. One of them reads that the name Rila derives from the Thracian word roula meaning plenty of water. It comes to no surprise – the mountain is the point where the longest rivers in the Balkans spring from.
At the beginning of the route hikers are told that they are about to enter “the kingdom of wild plants and animals” where they can see thebigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), the heartsease (Viola tricolor), the yarrow (Achillea millefolium), the thyme (Thymus), the bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), the red avens(Geum coccineum), the Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica), various mushrooms and other plants characteristic of Rila.
Represented animal species include the wolf (Canis lupus), the brown bear (Ursus arctos) – protected species included in Bulgaria’s Red List, the deer (Capreolus capreolus). There are also a few protected bird species such as thespotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes), the mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus), the coal tit(Periparus ater), the common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) etc. In the area of the trail one comes across trees typical of the whole of Rila like the Balkan pine (Pinus peuce), the common yew (Taxus), the common aspen (Populus tremula) and the hazel (Corylus).
At the trail’s highest point /1528 m/, under the rock massifs of Samokovishte and Vidnishte a panoramic platform has been built called Yew, after the numerous trees that encircle it. The displacement is about 300 m. The view opening to the valley of Beli Iskar River is dramatic. It features the proud, rocky and inaccessible slopes of the mountain – the locality of Orlovi Skali (Eagles’ Rocks) and the peak of Sokolets (2021).
The inaccessible overgrown pinnacles are the home of the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) – protected species on Bulgaria’s Red List under the auspices of Biological Diversity Act. A huge board reads that the chamoisis a Balkan endemic species. The eagle has a fairly impressive size – 90 cm length of the body and a wingspan of up to 225 cm.
The aroma of herbs mixed with resin is unmistakable. The waters of Beli Iskar jump from stone to stone, break into foam and the splashes bring a pleasant cool on a hot summer day. The river flows into wide and narrow sections. Its noise grows from a silent babble into a powerful roar. The trail meanders among meadows dotted with flowers, through shady trees and climbs stone steps to cross a carpet of pine needles. There are many places for rest and they have names like Geranium, the House, the Lake… The small bridges have names too – Sunrise, the Long Bridge, the Pine, the Blue Pool.
Starting from the valley of Beli Iskar the Central Rila Reserve sprawls on an area of 12 thousand hectares. It is the biggest in Bulgaria. By building eco trails in Rila the Park’s Directorate aims to preserve not only the unique nature but also the traditions and the livelihood of the local population.
English Daniela Konstantinova
Photos: Svetlana Dimitrova
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