About 12:30AM, the bus left for the spa town in central Serbia, about
320 km from Belgrade. The bus was completely filled, with the four of
us (Olja, Pat, Mima, and myself) receiving the last tickets.
Thankfully the bus began to thin out as we headed towards our
destination, giving us a bit more room. By the time we reached Prolom
Banja around sunrise, it was just us and one other man. Things were
still quiet at this time of the morning. Around breakfast time, more
people began emerging – from the occupants of the spa hotel to the
vendors of produce and household goods. Nearly everyone going up the
many stairs was carrying empty plastic bottles, ready to fill with
the special mineral water tap next to the hotel. Most of the people
were elderly, likely taking advantage of the indoor therapeutical
swimming pool for treatment of many conditions such as gastritis,
gall stones, kidney, prostate glad and urinary tract inflammations,
eczema. Not a very lively group, but we would be spending most of our
time away from the hotel area anyway.
After breakfast (omelette with smoked ham and local cheese), we
headed to Djavolja Varoš, which means “Devil’s Town”. While
hiking through a wooded area across creaky foot bridges created by
logs, we encountered streams and still pools with a distinctive rust
color. The Djački potok stream was devoid of life, due to the high
concentration of iron and sulfur. According to some literature I
read, acidity levels range from 1.5 to 3.5 pH. The water is regarded
by locals as having healing qualities (such as on the skin), and is
collected and sold. Our driver (a resident from Prolom Banja)
explained that the best water was found higher up, so he hauled his
bags of plastic bottles up to our destination. While walking up, we
passed the remains of an ancient temple, of which the foundation
remained. Some religious artifacts and pictures of saints were placed
inside, surrounded by a large collection of coins left by visitors.
Emerging from the wooded area, the famous reddish stone columns began
to appear above us. The unique natural phenomenon has similarities to
the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. Climbing up more stairs, we
reached the observation deck surrounded by the 202 stone columns,
ranging in height from 2-20 meters (6.5-65 feet) and .5-3 meters
(1.6-9.84 feet) in width. I had expected the columns to be much
larger (like those in Colorado), but suspected that part of it was
due to our relative position. Most columns were clustered together
and lined up in rows. At the top of each finger-like column was a
dark rock, serving as a protective cap, preventing the same level of
erosion as occurred to the surrounding area.
A few trees twisted by winds dotted the reddish rocky landscape. As
it was a sunny day with only a light breeze, I did not hear the
ghostly wind sounds described by previous visitors. After enjoying
the panoramic view of the rock formations and tree-covered mountains
in another direction, we headed down a different direction towards
the water source where our driver was busily filling bottles. After
soaking our feet in the orange water and enjoying the warm sun, we
headed back down the rocky terrain.
There are two mineral water wells in Djavolja Varoš. The
“Devil’s Town” well is a cold and extremely acidic spring (pH
1.5) and high mineralization (15 g/lit of water). The “Red Well”
has a pH of 3.5 but slightly lower levels of minerals.
Several legends have been created to explain the origin of
“Devil’s Town”. In one, the figure-like columns represent
wedding guests petrified by God in order to prevent them from
encouraging their devil-urged encouraging of incestual marriage by a
brother and sister. Another legend indicates that these are devils
turned into stones by people who had been forced to carry them on
their backs, suffered misfortunes, and tried to get rid of the devils
while in the area.
Pat’s friend was expecting us to come some time this afternoon to
her house near Djavolja Varoš, but we couldn’t reveal the exact
time, as there was no cell phone reception up in the nature preserve.
Flowers of various colors and sizes lined the path towards her
village house. After being warmly greeted, we were served some walnut
rakija, sweetened home-canned fruit, and mineral water. Between the
discussions occurring in Serbian and the reduced sleep I had on the
bus, I was getting quite sleepy. If we had more time (and energy),
I’d have loved to have photographed some of the old buildings in her
tiny village, consisting of weathered wooden slats and some with a
straw-filled adobe-like surface. Once again we were on the narrow,
winding roads back to Prolom Banja, comprised of pot-hole covered
asphalt or dirt/gravel.
Fatigued by the long night bus ride, we all took a short nap. We then
headed to Lazarica Church, a nice forest walk about 2.4 km away from
the hotel. We spotted a sign saying Lazarica path, so we followed it.
While this walk (presumably the path that Prince Lazar took) was
picturesque, we were glad that we traveled through the narrow
footpaths and rickety bridge while it was still light out. Although
it seemed longer than 2.4 km, we finally reached the log church –
the only one of its type in the Toplica region. According to legend,
Prince Lazar’s soldiers (1389 AD) went around the church six times
while praying for victory in Kosovo. While doing this, the trees
intertwined and twisted in the direction of their movement. The
original plum trees have died, but new ones grew and assumed the same
look – always only six trees.
The next morning we were once again greeted by the driver who planned
to take us to Lukovska Banja, a spa about 36 km west of Kuršumlija.
First he wanted to show us the rooms he had for rent at his house.
With about 3 beds per room and one bathroom between 16 guests, the
accommodations were very simple – but at a cheap price. Fine for the
adventurous traveler, but too basic for those wanting more modern
accommodations. After Turkish coffee, we climbed back into his car
and were on the road to the high-altitude spa. After a short distance
outside the town, the pot-hole filled asphalt road changed to gravel
and then dirt. He stopped once to check the air filter, but there was
nothing that could be done right then. He insisted that it was better
if the windows were kept open – something we questioned, especially
as the dust began clouding the inside of the car. Sitting in the back
seat, I even noticed the dust spewing in from behind me. We could
feel ourselves getting dirtier by the moment. At one point Mima asked
to stop, so she could get a few breaths of fresh air. We stopped past
an old wooden bridge that had planks of weathered boards on top,
about wheel-axel length apart. In the creek, we found some cute tiny
frogs and pollywogs.
Continuing on our way, we encountered road construction, in the
beginning stages of straightening out some of the narrow windy roads
and building a few bridges. These large construction vehicles really
kicked up a lot of dust. We passed farmers driving tiny tractors
which looked like they were simply a motor with a steering wheel. In
the attached wagon, one could find people (smoking, of course), loads
of wood, or hay. I even spotted a few oxen hauling large logs.
Finally we arrived at Lukovska Banja. Situated about 681m above sea
level, it is the highest spa in Serbia. A geyser spouted out sulfur-
smelling thermal water. Pat and I spotted some crocuses across the
creek, so we headed over there. We were surprised to see them so late
in the year. Their shape was different than the ones I saw in
Zlatibor. Walking along another path (I didn’t want to take off my
shoes again to cross the creek), I went past a pretty but small
waterfall in the highly wooded area. Crossing a bridge, I met up with
the rest. They were soaking their feet in a large pool of thermal
water, about 65°C in temperature. Many local people (mostly elderly)
joined us. One lady wearing a swimsuit sat in it – certainly tempting.
After a snack at the local hotel, we got back in the dusty car and
headed back to Prolom Banja.