A pleasant stroll through Chochołowska Valley

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July 24th 2012
Published: September 3rd 2012
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After the strenuous walk the day before, we decided to take it easy and chose a light trail through Dolina Chochołowska (Chochołowska Valley) for that day.

Before we started our walk, first we drove to Chochołów itself. The village has a population of a bit over than 1000 people and for such a small village it certainly is very unique in its kind. It comprises mostly of the traditional highlanders’ wooden houses, dating back to the XIX century, lined up closely one to another along the main street. These kind of houses inspired Stanislaw Witkiewicz to create the Zakopane style of architecture. One thing that seems to be a bit out of place here is the stone gothic church set in the middle of the village, but besides that all the other buildings are aligned in prefect harmony.

It was a beautiful sunny day that Tuesday as we strolled through the main street of Chochołów, admiring the beautiful wooden houses. It seemed as if the village was stuck in time… If only there were no cars passing us by, it almost would’ve felt as if we went back in time and landed in the XIX century. Except a few tourists here and there and a group of young, aspiring artists spread around the main street with their drawings in hand, there were very few people around – a few older ladies (some of them wearing skirts with embroidered folk patterns) enjoying an afternoon sun, walking around and chatting with their neighbours, and old man with a basket fitted on his bike riding off to run his errands, a woman watering the plants in her garden… everything was so peaceful and charming… really it almost felt as if time didn’t exist in this place…

The village is also famous for its role in the Uprising of 1846 (against the Austrians). On the 21st of February 1846, highlanders from Chochołów and nearby villages attacked the Austrian post and declared the outbreak of an uprising. The next day they faced and unexpected assault though, were captured and later on punished severely. Although the uprising was very short-lived, it became a symbol of highlanders’ courage and patriotism. There is a small museum in one of the houses just in front of the church where you can find out all about the Uprising.

There is a workshop of a local sculptor in one of the old houses as well. In one of the rooms, you can find the sculptor himself surrounded by his pieces of art, while the other two rooms, full of old furniture and all sorts of objects from the past, are open for curious passers by.

We stopped by a local store before leaving the charming Chochołów village and bought some mutant doughnoughts for later (they were the size of a mango!) – obviously I just couldn’t resist and ate mine straight away! Yum! We had about 16km walk ahead of us, so I think I deserved it anyway 😊

Dolina Chochołowska (Chochołowska Valley) lies in West Tatras and is the biggest and the longest valley in Polish Tatras. It used to be the biggest centre for herding sheep in Tatras with as many as 60 shepherds huts located here in 1930s. Also during that time the valley started becoming more and more popular for tourism, especially for skiing.

The walk through Dolina Chochołowska starts at Siwa Polana (Grey Clearing). You have actually four ways to make it across the valley – you can walk, go by bike (rental places at Siwa Polana), take one of the horse-drawn carriages or take the tourist train ‘Rakon’ (goes only to Polana Huciska – Huciska Clearing).

Since it was a beautiful day, we decided to walk… While you are making your way across Siwa Polana you can see a few houses around where you can buy some typical cheese (oscypek). It looks like people live in some of these houses actually, which surprised me a bit as you wouldn’t normally see any kind of housing (except shelters for tourists) on the area of the Tatras National Park (TPN). But then I’ve read that even though Dolina Chochołowska lies on the area of TPN, it doesn’t really belong to it. Highlanders had been fighting over the rights to it for many, many years (the legal battle goes back as far as to the 19th century) and finally in 1983 their wishes were fulfilled and since then Dolina Chochołowska is once again in their possession. TPN only supervises their activities here. That’s why you can still see sheep and cows being herded here nowadays.

It’s impossible to miss a cross at the beginning of the clearing – it is in a place where helicopter with John Paul II landed in 1983 and it was put there to commemorate this event (the pope met Lech Wałęsa in the shelter at Chochołowska Clearing during that visit – also on the wall of the shelter you can find a plaque commemorating this meeting).

An asphalt road takes you all the way to Polana Huciska (Huciska Clearing) through beautiful pine forests, along Chochołowski Stream. It is pretty crowded here, as you are constantly being passed by the train, horse carriage or numerous bikers… Having said that, it still is a pleasant walk. In case you changed your mind about walking and would rather go by bike after all, nothing is lost yet as once you reach Polana Huciska you can rent a bike here as well. Take it into account that this is the end of the asphalt road though, so you will be biking through the bitten track from now on.

After a small break on Polana Huciska we continued on all the way to Polana Chochołowska (Chochołowska Clearing). It is the biggest clearing in the Polish Tatras and one of the biggest ones in Tatras in general. As mentioned before highlanders have the rights to herd sheep and cattle on this area. Still since the area lies on Tatras National Park territory herding is controlled and very limited, requires special permits and there are quite a few rules that go along that as well. Herding was agreed upon mostly to sustain the diversity of the flora and fauna on this area (in other parts of Tatras where herding is no longer permitted, significant changes can be spotted there – clearings are slowly disappearing due to the expansion of the forests and biodiversity decreases as well).

You can still spot a few huts on the clearing, which have totally been taken over by… cows! While some of the huts are shut and well-preserved historical monuments and you can only admire them from the outside, a few of them are windowless and doorless, and you can easily stick your head inside. 😉 Let me just say that I was quite surprised when I peaked inside one of these houses, and in the darkness spotted a huge cow gazing upon me (probably as surprised at my sight as I was seeing her!).

Apparently the best time to visit Polana Chochołowska is early spring when the whole clearing is full of blooming crocuses. It must be a beautiful sight! Still in any season the clearing is a nice sight to look upon – the wide stretches of grass changing the colour from spring through autumn, but totally covered with snow in winter, few remaining old wooden huts here and there, dense forests surrounding the clearing and finally sheep and cows lazily moving around trying to find a perfect spot to eat and rest… Even with all the people around, peace and tranquillity are filling the air. On the right side of the clearing, right next to the forest, you can find a small wooden chapel (the Chapel of St. John the Baptist), where Holy Masses are held at 1 o’clock each Sunday during summer months. (I was quite surprised to find out that the chapel was built especially for the popular TV series ‘Janosik’. It’s a series about a highlander outlaw, filmed and aired in the 70s – a Polish version of Robin Hood). Quite a few pleasant surprises on this day! 😊

Finally at the far end of the clearing you can find the biggest of all Tatra mountain shelters. There are around 120 beds available for hikers here. Apart from the plaque commemorating the meeting of the pope with our Solidarity fighter mentioned before, there is another big plaque at the entrance to the shelter put up to commemorate a rescue action lead by TOPR (Tatra Voluntary Rescue Team) which took place at the end of the II World War in 1945.

It was time to sit down and relax a bit, especially that the soles of my feet were burning at this point, so was looking forward to take off my shoes even for a while and see what the damage was – well, my worries were confirmed soon enough – more blisters, this time huge ones! Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to walk in sandals (and new ones for that matter) after all… 😉 I did think it through a little bit before setting off in the morning though and thankfully took my trainers with me just in case. Still even with new plasters and a bit more comfortable shoes on I was wondering how I would walk the 8km back… But then after resting for a while in the sun and having a nice, big slice of apple pie and a cold beer, all the worries and pains seemed to have disappeared and it was time to say good bye to Polana Chochołowska and head back home.

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