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My plan was to dazzle Oriana from the beginning – with a hike to one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful places, the Seven Rila Lakes (Read my previous post about the Seven Rila Lakes and the Paneurhythmy rituals that take place there.)

Our friends Alex and Yoana joined us at my place around 8am, and we began the day with breakfast of champions: yoghurt, lutenitsa, bread with cheeses and meats, ayran (a drink made from yogurt, water, and salt), and my mother’s specialty: banitsa with cheese!

Getting our feet and hands exfoliated by small trout - natural SPA!

By 10 o’clock, we had met with Martin and Emi at Separeva Banya, and drove together to the lift at Chalet Pionerska. The 20-minute lift ride to hut Sedemte Ezera (Seven Lakes) was freezing, and at one point we could hardly see the seats in front of and behind us because of the fog.  Still, we were determined to conquer the lakes despite the weather, and set off towards the Dolnoto ezero (Lower lake), Ribnoto ezero (Fish Lake), and Bliznaka (the Twins lake).

Oriana is a high-school teacher of English Literature, and she was very surprised to learn how international my friends’ education is. Alex, Martin, and I graduated from the American high-school in Bulgaria, and currently study in universities in the States and England, and Yoana has just enrolled in Belgium. During our hike, we switched between English, Spanish, and Bulgarian, with occasional remarks in German coming from our polyglot Marto. I explained to my guest that an increasing number of young Bulgarians get their bachelor’s or master’s abroad. As part of the EU, we are allowed to study, work, and travel freely, and as true Europeans, many of us speak three, even four languages and love traveling to different countries.   

The weather turned out to be very favorable. Every time we reached a new lake, the fog moved away and allowed us to enjoy the view. We dipped our hands and feet in the Trilistnika lake (Three-leafed lake) and let a school of small trout exfoliate our skin (you’d pay a fortune for this in a SPA center!). We snacked on my mom’s banitsa and dried fruit near Bubreka (the Kidney lake), drank pure Rila water from a waterfall, and climbed the steep path to the two highest lakes, Okoto (the Eye) and Sulzata (the Tear). From the peak of the mountain, we saw the entire seven lakes and the opening where the followers of the White Brotherhood perform Paneurhythmy every year.  Had there been no fog, we would have seen the entire Sofia Valley and the Balkan Mountain Range.

The fog is moving away from the Kidney Lake, so that we can take pictures of it!

It took us about 3.5 hours going up and 1.5 hours coming down the mountain. On the way back, we stopped for juice and sandwiches in Separeva Banya, where we saw (and smelled the sulfur fumes of) the highest geyser in Bulgaria.

I thought that a day in nature will be a good introduction to Bulgaria, but this is only a little piece of what’s coming up.

 

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I would like to join the ongoing in Bulgaria public debate.

In mid-August, the Ministry of Economy presented the video clips for the new advertising campaign for Bulgarian tourism under the slogan “Magic Lives Here”. The campaign aims to change the perception of Bulgaria from a destination for low-cost European youth travel destination, to a more luxurious tourist destination.  The four video clips focus on our Black Sea summer resorts, mountain ski resorts, SPA and wellness centers, eco-tourism and cultural heritage. They are about be broadcasted on four European TV channels: Euronews, Eurosport, Discovery, and National Geographic, in September (read more in Radio Bulgaria’s website).

The project theoretically has a good perspective, but the video clips became notorious because the majority of Bulgarians don’t like them. Newspapers, TV shows, online media, politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities all took a stand in the public debate. The common opinion seems to be that the videos are full of clichés, that they copy other countries’ promo videos from several years ago, are outdated, are executed poorly, have bad quality, and don’t portray Bulgaria accurately.

The most widely discussed aspect, though, is the campaign’s cost. The making and broadcasting of the videos totals at 7.5 million leva (3.7 million euro), which is a significant sum for a country of this size. The campaign is partially funded by the EU. Experts in the field of advertising agree that the production price, almost half a million leva is way too high. Many common people believe that this money would have served better if it were invested in infrastructure.

One is for sure, an ad campaign can always be improved.

Instead of taking part in the blaming and whining, I’d like to take a more productive stand in this debate. Here is my list of the things the next campaign should not omit (in no particular order and without claiming to be exhaustive):

Tourism and Nature:

  • Hikers going to the Seven Rila Lakes
  • White mountain peaks of Rila and Pirin with skiers and snowboarders
  • The wide golden beaches and deep blue of the Black Sea coastline
  • Crowds of people at sea resorts like Sunny Beach and Lozenetz with their luxurious restaurants, clubs and hotels
  • Rafting  in Struma river in September  surrounded by the autumn colors of the forest
  • Small quiet beach camping sites like Smokinia with surfing, windsurfing, and diving
  • Balneotherapy at the mineral hot springs in Velingrad
  • Horseback riding in the Balkan mountain range near the village Skravena
  • Families visiting the Thracian sanctuary at Perperikon
  • Beach festivals (The Spirit of Burgas), concerts in the open, and clubs in Sofia
  • Rock-climbing near the Belogradchik rocks
  • Students exploring the prehistoric paintings at the Magura cave and the Ledenika cave
  • Views from Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Rouse

Cultural  and historical heritage:

  • Thracian golden masks and jewelry
  • Ancient Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv
  • Typical architecture of 17th-century houses in Veliko Turnovo
  • Houses-museums of Bulgarian revolutionaries in Koprivshtitza
  • Old crafts from the time Bulgaria was in the Ottoman empire in Etura
  • Vast vineyards and wineries in Melnik, the wine capital of the Balkans
  • Scary masks at the Kukeri carnival in Pernik
  • Nestinarki dancing on fire in the village of Bulgari
  • Esoteric Paneurhythmy dance ritual near the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Children hanging martenitsi on blossoming trees
  • Rose-picking and rose-oil production near Kazanluk
  • Singers and bagpipe-players in traditional garments during the folklore festival in Zheravna
  • People dancing the horo during a wedding
  • Merry crowds enjoying the Bulgarian cuisine, lukanka, liutenitza, banitza, in a kruchma (pub) in Bansko
  • Orthodox Christian baptism in the Rozhen monastery and the icons in the Rila monastery

Every year on August 19th, the Seven Rila Lakes witness the sacred dance Paneurhythmy, or the Supreme Cosmic Rhythm.  The ritual combines movement, music, and words in universal harmony. It is performed by the members of the White Brotherhood (official site), established by the spiritual teacher Peter Deunov (a large collection of his teachings on this site).

The White Brotherhood is partially Esoteric Christianity, partially occultism, partially a new religion and partially a new philosophy. The teaching was founded by the Bulgarian Peter Deunov (1864 – 1944), referred to by his followers as Beinsa Douno.

Peter Deunov was born near Varna when it was still in the Ottoman Empire. After Bulgaria regained its independence, he studied theology in an American protestant school near Svishtov, and later left for the States. In 1893, Deunov graduated from the School of Theology at Boston University, and a year later obtained a medical certification from Boston University’s Graduate School of Medicine (Martin Luther King, Jr. also graduated from BU School of Theology but in 1955). In 1895, he returned to Bulgaria, where he began writing theological and philosophical books, gained followers, became a central figure in the Bulgarian clerical community, and established the White Brotherhood. Deunov’s only personal belongings are the white costume and shoes, a violin, and a Bible.

Cardinal Giuseppe Roncalli, later elected as Pope John XXIII, said:“In the present epoch the greatest philosopher living on the earth is Peter Deunov.”

Beinsa Dounos’ teachings emphasize love, wisdom, truth, justice, and virtue as attributes to Jesus Christ, who was a historic, cosmic, and mystic figure. The disciples of the teaching also follow a special diet, replace medicine with drinking hot water, meditate, and perform physical and musical exercises. The New Teaching, as the spiritual master calls it, is a complex system of rules and guidance for every aspect of life: spiritual, cultural, and scientific.

***

On August 19th, 2010, about 2000 followers from Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, England, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal took part in the ritual Paneurhythmy near Lake Babreka, part of the Seven Rila Lakes (read my previous post) in order to celebrate the New Year according to the White Bortherhoood’s calendar. In pairs, the participants form two big concentric circles with the orchestra in the middle and dance under the sunrise.

Paneurhythmy is a series of dance movements performed in the morning between March 22 and September 22, accompanied by various musical instruments. For best result it is performed in a group and out in the nature. Paneurhythmy benefits the breathing, blood circulation, and general physical health, as well as for concentration, positive thinking, and the sense of harmony with other people, with nature, and with the universe. This Supreme Cosmic Rhythm has a miraculous effect on the mental and spiritual health.

***

All the world renders homage to me, and I render homage to the Master Petar Deunov from Bulgaria,” Albert Einstein.




We left Sofia around 7:30 in the morning and in about an hour and a half reached Sapareva Banya and chalet Pionerska by car. We could’ve walked up from there, but since we were goofy-tourists and not real hikers, we took the lift***.

The wonderful 20-minute life ride above the coniferous forest revealed marvelous views towards the whole of Rila mountain, and it saved us a 4-5 hour walk. We reached chalet Sedemte Ezera (the Seven Lakes) at the altitude of 2100 meters. From there, we took the “winter route” on the right of the chalet, which immediately got us climbing up a steep and rocky hill. Our tongues were hanging in no time, but it was worth it!

First we saw Dolnoto Ezero (the Lower Lake) and Ribnoto Ezero (the Fish Lake).  The Seven Rila Lakes have a glacial origin and are part of the Rila National Park. They are connected though streams that later become Dzherman River. We saw Trilistnika (the Trefoil) below us and Bliznaka (the Twin). Bliznaka, at 2240 meters, is the largest of the seven and is composed of two parts connected by a strait, thus the name, the Twin. Another explanation for the name is that the peak Haramiata and its reflection in the lake look like twins.

At 2280m, we reached a large circular plateau covered in the greenest grass. This is the site of the annual Paneurhythmy, a ritual performed by the followers of teaching of the esoteric master Peter Deunov – Beinsa Douno, which you can read about in my next post.  In the vicinity, we found Babreka (the Kidney), which is the most famous lake due to its curious shape. The water was so clear we could see schools of trout in it. Bareback horses and their foals were grazing around the water.

In order to reach the last two lakes, we had to sweat profusely again. After another 200 meters along the steep trail, we reached Okoto (the Eye) (I chose to climb straight up along the waterfalls in search the best photo and found myself on a hill above the Eye). Okoto is definitely my favorite lake because of its magical turquoise color. It is the deepest lake, 38m deep, and part of its shore is ice-bound all year long. I wasn’t surprised to hear a kid cry out: “This is the best day in my life!”

The last lake, Sulzata (the Tear), at 2535m, is the smallest and as clear as a tear-drop. Mount Ezeren next to it reveals the Most Beautiful View in the World: the Seven Rila Lakes, the entire Rila mountain, and even half the country, as far as Stara Planina (the Balkan Mountain Range).  We joined the ritual and added a small flat pebble to the towers of pebbles build up by people who had been there before us.

On the way back, we took the “summer route,” which was a lot less steep and passed next to Trilistnika, Ribnoto Ezero and Dolnoto Ezero. The whole trip took us about 4 hours up and 3 hours down and culminated with kebabche, kiufte and beer in the chalet. Our faces, arms and necks were painfully sunburned, and we almost fell asleep on the lift on the way down, but it was a truly marvelous day!

***Let me just mention that the lift from chalet Pionerska to chalet Rila Lakes has a notorious fame among hard-core mountaineers, who claim that it is turning the region into a walk-in-the-park for lazy Sofia city dwellers who obviously don’t understand the power of nature and are there to pollute and harm the mountain. As if! I think that the lift is a great idea because it allows many people to rejoice at the marvels of Rila; people, who might not have the physical preparation in order to make the entire trip to the peak, and who wouldn’t otherwise be able to ever see the lakes. And trust me, everyone deserves to see the Seven Rila Lakes at least once in their lifetime!

See more beautiful pictures from Rila here.

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