Guardians of the Old Gods [Krushuna Falls]

 When we find ourselves standing in the midst of the sublime natural beauty of a great waterfall, we always stops dead in our tracks for what could be hours, in an attempt to take the grandeur of the scenery into our tragically limited human minds. Afterwards, reflex and desire kick in and we proceed to hanging our belongings (optional: and garments) on the nearest sign and running straight for that refreshing stream of water.

 "A mysterious waterfall by the path" is what the sign read. And, indeed, though they are the largest waterfall cascade in the country, Krushuna Falls are one of the better-kept secrets of Bulgaria. Tucked away in the travertines surrounding Lovech, they drop from a height of 20 metres, spilling like locks of silver hair along the way, thus creating even more waterfalls. The two available eco paths would take you no more than a couple of hours to cross each. However, I promise that you will want to set a couple of days aside for this, as you will be stopping every few minutes to marvel at the natural flora and fauna. You might find yourselves enchanted by the sight of numerous azure-blue pools, cascades adorned by colourful rainbow reflections, and the Maara Cave, the floor of which is always covered with a light mist. And for good reason: legends say that this a favourite drinking area for the old gods and it is guarded by a powerful zmey with seven sets of legs and wings.


 Bulgarian zmeys are reminiscent of their cousins the dragons, with a few differences. They are basilisk-like elemental spirits, capable of controlling the weather - they may choose to bring blissful rain in the midst of a drought, or they could create horrible storms to damage the crops. Each village had its own zmey to guard it, and they were revered by the locals for their powers. (Learn more about zmeys and other creatures of Bulgarian folklore from the TEDx talk of "The Golden Apple" here, available with English subtitles soon.)

 The guardian of Krushuna Falls was not always a zmey. He was as human as any of us once, a brave Thracian warrior searching for honour and glory. So mighty he was, that he dared challenge the gods to a battle, in order to prove that he was stronger than them. Though he fought long and hard, he was still a mere mortal and could not defeat the powerful deities. He lost the battle, but he won their admiration. Thus, they granted him immortality in the shape of a winged zmey and made him the guardian of their spring. The guardian ventures out of his cave at night. When he takes flight, an eerie mist covers the village streets and all of the animals suddenly go quiet.
 If you would love to visit Krushuna, but cannot make up your mind about where to stay, I highly recommend you give The Old House a try. It stands a mere few metres to the entrance of the pathways on one side, and you can even take a sneaky shortcut through the back gate. You have two accommodation options there: either book one or two of the rooms in the new house (the restroom is shared), or reserve the old house, for a more authentic atmosphere. The kitchen is shared by everyone, and is fully equipped with coffee (thank heavens!), sugar, salt, vodka *ahem*, and a fully functioning stove, fridge and microwave. If you're feeling a tad lazy, you can order yourself an enormous and oh-so-delicious pizza from restaurant Perfekto, whose menu is conveniently placed on the table.
 My favourite part about the old house doesn't come until nightfall, however. When all other creatures outside are asleep, the garden awakens with the blinking light of hundreds of fireflies dancing, whirling and twirling in the warm summer eves. This is why I always recommend visiting Krushuna towards the end of May or the beginning of June. It is truly a magical sight to behold.
 Finally, I urge you to stop by the "Mysterious waterfall by the path", which you will find along the second route, and shower beneath the icy stream. That way, you will absorb some of the strength of the water elementals. And, indeed, I have seldom felt more invigorated and ready to take on the world, than when I visited this magnificent place.

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