Plitvice Lakes of Croatia: UNESCO heritage site, waterfall destination, haven of nature, I could go on and on, and yet, words would fail me. Plitvice cannot be described or photographed, it has to be experienced. It has to be lived in, toured at peace, with no rush, it has to be breathed, enjoyed, loved. It is a place where time stands still.
Plitvice was probably the biggest attraction of this trip for me, and with good reason. It turned out to be everything I thought it should be and more. I had extensively searched blogs on the lakes and seen loads of pictures, but being at Plitvice was just something else. A wonderful one and a half days, a great time.
The day we left for Plitvice was a big one for us, not only because we were going to the lakes, but also because we started our road trip on this day. Our gleaming red Volkswagen Golf, our trusted friend for this road trip, and the super smooth well-marked roads of Croatia, took us from Zagreb to Plitvice via Rastoke or mini-Plitvice. We just drove through this pretty town built on waterfalls, where the water seemed to be part of people’s basements and homes seemed to float on water.
It is very charming and quaint, with the sound of water all around, and a small bridge that leads into the tiny town. Rows of white houses with brown roofs and balconies with flowers, jutting out over the water, tempt one to stay a while longer, but for us, Plitvice beckoned and I was desperate to get there in the sunshine.
The drive down to Plitvice, over curving hilly roads, through lush green mountains, simply whetted our appetite for more. Small wooden villas with sloping roofs and green backyards doubled up as sobes and dotted the entire road. Even the entry to the Plitvice national park looked more like a forest.
There are lots of “hiking trails” through Plitvice, and I was very confused about which one to follow. The best bet is to see the upper lakes in the afternoon and the lower lakes early morning. After confirming this with the park rangers, we set off, bristling with excitement (and the cold), to “hike the lakes”. Till I actually went, I was worried about the term “hiking.” I am not a hiker, I am terribly clumsy and unsteady on my feet, I have intense height fright, I hate my feet (actually any part of me) getting wet and dirty, and am petrified of all 6-legged organisms. Hence the fear of “hiking”, though I must say that the fear was ungrounded. It’s an easy walk with a little muck or water here and there, but it can get worse if it rains, I’m sure.
It’s a different matter that even on this relatively “easy” walk, the trails have no railings. And there is a lot of climbing to do, and walking along the edges of small cliffs, again without railings. And though I surely lived to tell the tale, I slipped and fell at the edge of a fairly high hill with a gorgeous vertical view down to the lake.
I know no one is gasping about my tumble that could have landed up with me having a nice forbidden swim. I know that everyone is gawking at the view. But this is not what we saw right away. This gorgeous scene unfolded after 2 hours of walking, 2 brilliant hours. But every footstep, every turn through the lakes’ paths had something “Ooooohhhhh” worthy to offer.
So we started our journey through the upper lakes by walking down from our hotel to the edge of a lake. The steep climb down through the lush green forest itself set the mood. And then, we came upon this signboard.
Awwwww! Lovely isn’t it?
First on the agenda, naturally, was the food and loo break. There aren’t many loos in the park so I had actually written down the locations. Its awful when you desperately have to go, the nearest loo is a 3km walk away, there is no faster mode of transport than your own 2 feet…..and all around you is the sound of flowing water, like everywhere.
As we chose to follow trail E that climbs the upper lakes from the lowest level till the highest point of the lakes, the boat across the first small lake was the way to go. As we stood waiting for the boat, we saw kiddo’s great pals, the ducks. Squawking besides us and then ungainly jumping into the emerald-green waters, then swimming merrily, they reflected our own desires. But, bear in mind, no swimming is allowed here!
Not just ducks, there were lots of fish swimming in the clear green-blue waters, so clear that we could see down till the bottom. That’s how all the lakes and water bodies were. Crystal-clear.
When we got near the pier, we saw the first (tiny) set of waterfalls. The wooden pathways climbed above them and beyond onto the trail. The kid and I were thrilled with just that (so little to make us happy). And from that point on, the magic only ended when we got back to the hotel. Every turn we took, every path of woods we walked through, every waterfall and every lake got us so happy and thrilled. We were like 2 small rabbits seeing a field of fresh grass for the first time.
As we climbed up the wooden planks with water gushing past us, the kid went berserk, wanting to gather all the “foam”. The water was crystal clear and totally clean, with no dirt or muck in it.Then, we came upon an emerald-green lake almost like lake bled, so clear that we could see the bed and all the aquatic plants and leaves in it.
After we skirted around this lake, we climbed up through a green green forest with very tall trees. There were places where the path wasn’t clearly marked or where there were forks that weren’t marked, and plenty of places where we saw no one and were actually worried if we were on the right path.
As we walked out of the forest, we suddenly heard a loud roaring gushing sound and as we turned, we saw these huge, broad falls just a little ahead of us. And then we felt them, the full force of the spray from those powerful falls, blowing straight onto our faces. The kid squealed with delight. We held our faces up against the spray, getting all wet and giggly. Everyone on that path was thoroughly enjoying themselves, like little kids in the first rain, despite the cold and the water all over us and our cameras. It was much later that I realised I should cover my camera, after getting nice and wet for a while.
Little wonder that this part was the most crowded path we encountered that day. It was tough for the kid and me to drag ourselves away; the need to avoid getting completely drenched was the only motivation. Just ahead, we came upon parts of the path that were submerged in water, across which planks had been laid. There were parts where the planks walked straight over small or medium-sized waterfalls and the water gushed under our feet, occasionally even bubbling through the planks to wet our feet.
At places, we walked at the periphery of the lake, at places across it. Some places were thickly forested and some with practically no green cover. At places, the water was still, unmoving, mirroring the sky above and at others, singing merrily, rushing along, and yet at some others, crashing down. But everywhere, nature was plentiful in her will to share her most beautiful.
A large part of the charm of Plitvice is how close you can get to the water. It never really leaves your side. You can be walking around a huge lake, sailing over it, walking on boardwalks through the lake, or even climbing boardwalks over one. The water and its sounds are all around you, soothing and calming you, or exciting and intoxicating you.
In fact, the water is so close by that you can easily be part of it. I had this irrational fear that the kid was gonna go bonkers and fall into the lake or a waterfall or something. Turns out that the fear was not irrational. It is very very very easy to fall in. At most places u can fall in without any attempt at all. Just one foot here or there, or squeezing past some person, or even while leaning over to take or be part of the perfect snap, and you are in. One bend or sneeze without looking, or even one moth or dog in the path of my easily frightened kid could have led to her being part of the scenery. And that’s definitely a warning for people with young kids or even clumsy oafs like me.
Of course, on the flipside, you can actually touch the flowing, cold waters, though strictly speaking, that’s not allowed. Nor is swimming or diving though you can find YouTube videos of people doing that too!
All of a sudden, we came upon a fork and unsure of the road to take, we took the one less trodden. And we found ourselves at a large lake, staring at the clear clear water, so still and quiet. No one else seemed to be around. Here, in this solitude, we were afraid to even talk, almost as though we were intruding into the wonderful world of nature. The smell of the forest and the water, the cool wind blowing over the lake, the gentle rustling of the leaves, and suddenly I was alone, at peace. Happy to be sitting there, doing nothing, but feeling so alive, so vibrant, yet so comforted. Aaaaahhhh! What a glorious feeling. Like a bird, soaring above the sky, all alone, enjoying the cool air through my hair, totally at peace with myself and all around me.
This warm fuzzy feeling still buzzing through me, we walked higher and higher till we came to a ledge overlooking the falls that we had stood beside. The spray and mist rose right up to this height, cooling my face and freezing my fingers. This was the day of the trip that I would never ever forget!
Climbing higher, and higher, we found a viewpoint over a lake fringed all along by waterfalls. Emerald green water blending with the deeper turquoise blue in the center with the froth rising from the falls and dark green trees all around. Beauty which cannot be described well enough.
We finally reached the highest level of the park where we walked on wooden planks surrounded by long weeds through this highest lake. As we walked around it, towards the end of our day’s trek, even though we had had a waterfall overload, we had not had our satiety with nature. Had I been alone, I could have spent another two days at Plitvice. For this was a place where one could lose one self. Or maybe, find one’s self.
It is not possible to choose which part of the upper lakes of Plitvice that I loved the most. I loved it all. The myriads of colors; the brilliant blue sky with a few fleeting white clouds; the greens of the leaves, the grass, the trees, the reeds; the browns of the woods. And in the actual lakes, many more colors. The vivid blue of the bigger lakes, the turquoise blue of the smaller lakes, the emerald green at the edge of some lakes, the brilliant white of the waterfalls and the greyish white of the mist of the falls. And then, the sun, shining down in all it’s glory, or barely escaping through the thick green canopy, or sparkling through the mist giving it an ethereal glow.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which route or trail you take. You might feel like you are walking forever with no clearly marked trail, but you will surely reach. Somewhere. And you will certainly get back. Sometime.
Till then, enjoy the view.
P.S. Most of the pictures are unedited, straight out of the camera. A few have been retouched, mainly to recover shadows and highlights. Thanks again Yogesh for recovering my pictures!