The trek to the Seven Rila Lakes is virtually right there on every traveller’s Bulgaria itinerary. And the lakes, located high up in the Rila Mountains at an altitude of 6000-8000 feet (2100-2500 metres) are glacial lakes and they are located almost one above the other. Forming tiny cascades and rivulets, the entire lush landscape beckons tourists to the mountains, sometimes leading to a bit of overcrowding.
The lakes themselves are intriguing with their names. The highest is “The Tear” which is believed to be so clear that you can see the deep waters. The deepest and the second-highest lake is the oval-shaped cirque lake and is called “The Eye”. The Kidney is where picnickers take a break after trekking and it is believed to have the steepest shores. The Twin is the fourth lake and is largest of them all and it also gives the impression of reflecting in a mirror. The third lake is an irregularly shaped lake called The Trefoil. The shallowest lake is the Fish Lake and the first and lowest lake is simply The Lower Lake.
Slavy showed me the photos and told me about his experience and I was excited. But let me confess. I am no trekker. My knees are not in great condition and I have had a few bad experiences in the past when I was attempting a few hikes. The pain was excruciating and doctors had since then told me to avoid applying pressure on my knees. So I stopped trekking and decided to go gentle on my knees by just walking and hiking along paths that were not steep and had smooth and even surfaces. But when I heard of the trek of the Seven Rila Lakes, I was both excited and terrified.
I had just three days in Sofia and I had planned to visit Rila Monastery on the last day. I presumed that I could do the trek of the Seven Rila Lakes on the same day as the monastery was also located in the Rila Mountain. But it turned out to be one of the most foolish assumptions and a massive mistake. While the Seven Rila lakes and the monastery were nestled in the Rila National Park on the Rila Mountain, they were separated by a distance of at least 90 km. And it did not end here.
While Rila Monastery was built at 2800 feet above sea level, the lakes were around 6000-8000 feet high. A chair car takes you from the village of Panichishte to Rila Lakes Hut and And I realized that the journey from Rila Monastery to Panichishte was another couple of hours. So, if you are reading this, you will realize what a huge mistake it was to head out on this trip without planning and researching? As a slow traveller, this is something that I would never do, especially with my bad knee and yet I had that voice in my head goading me to give it a shot.
Sharath was excited as he was much fitter than me and so Slavy suggested that we could try hiking and cover as many lakes as possible. We hoped that we could perhaps go up to the Kidney Lake and have a small picnic and head back.
It was almost noon when we left Rila Monastery and it took almost a couple of hours to reach the gondola station at Panichiste. We had a packed lunch of fruits and some croissants and then we took off on the chair car, with our legs dangling in mid-air . And what an experience it was as we scaled over the forests and soared up in the skies. It was almost late afternoon when we reached the Rila Lake Hut, which some of the hikers stay. This was officially the starting point of the hike to the Seven Rila Lakes
Technically the hike to the Seven Rila Lakes can be divided into three parts – the hike to the first three lakes which is relatively easy if you are fit, a short break at the fifth, and then the final hike to last two lakes which is apparently rather steep. And then, of course, there is the return journey to catch the last chair car. The entire trek would take about five to six hours for an experienced trekker but for me, this was going to be a Herculean task. With my fitness issues and less time (barely a couple of hours until the last gondola) we realized that we had just about enough time for the first three lakes although we had initially planned at least heading to the fifth lake.
The trek was however breathtaking. I took my own time as the boys were climbing faster. It seemed so lush and verdant that I forgot my pain. A lot of trekkers were returning and they told me that the views were fabulous. It was a clear sunny day with lovely blue skies and gentle wind and all I wished was that I could camp here for a while. The Lower Lake came into view and I lost myself in the scenic view. We quickly hiked up towards The Eye and then the third and that is when the knee started hurting.
I decided to camp here for a while as Slavy and Sharath wondered if they could head to The Kidney lake. But the light was already failing. A lot of trekkers were returning to catch the last chair car. So we decided to rest here for a while and then head down. The knee pain got worse as I tried heading down and I needed to be supported by both Slavy and Sharath. I wished my knees were better but then I felt contended that I had at least attempted a short hike and had a glimpse of three lakes. Sharath plans to go back and complete the trek sometime while I am just hoping that my knee will get better.