Paneurhythmy – the dance ritual in Rila Lakes

When I was doing the 7 lake hike in Rila National Park I saw a few things that I found… curious.

The first one was a book, discoloured by the sun and languishing under the counter of a souvenir shop or roadside café near the chair lift that provides access to the lakes. Its title was Esoteric Guide To The Sacred Rila Lakes, and I must confess that seeing it gave the already impressive mountains an added air of mystery. You can find the book in Amazon, by the way.

The second were a group of people standing in circles by Babreka lake and performing some kind of meditation or dance. From the next lake, higher in the mountain, a series of big concentric circles could be seen on the grass where they were, making it clear that what they were doing was not a one-time thing.

The third was the people hiking in the area. Not all of them, obviously, most were tourists like me, visiting the lakes, but if you paid attention there was an unusually high number of people who were not dressed as you would expect to tackle a hike up the mountains – most of the wore loose robes, a lot of them white, the kind of clothes one would take to a meditation session.

Finally, on the way back to the chair lift, hundreds of tents could be seen scattered around a mountain hut by lake Ribnoto Ezera, and a lot of people kept coming up from the lift in the direction of the improvised camp even though it was already getting late.

So, what was that all about? Well, it turns out that we missed quite a big event by just two days. The Paneurhythmy is a ritual dance that takes place every year on August the 19th in which followers of the Universal White Brotherhood meet to celebrate their new year.

Fear not, the Universal White Brotherhood is not a racist movement, rather the opposite. Its followers define it as “a harmonious creative Manifestation of the Divine Origination within the whole cosmos” and believe that cosmic energy is at its strongest in Rila lakes on that particular date. They meet and form “the living circle of Paneurhythmy” to “to enter a world of poetry, freedom and creativity”, their belief based on seven principles:

The Law of Supreme Intelligence

The Principle of Correspondence

The Principle of Vibration or Movement

The Principle of Polarity

The Law of Rhythm

The Principle of Cause and Effect

The Law of Unity or Relatedness

You can find a detailed explanation of each principle on their website. The movement was founded in 1897 by a Bulgarian theologian called Peter Deunov, known to followers of the brotherhood as Master Beinsa Duono, who began taking people to Rila lakes to perform the dance in the 30s. Today people of all nationalities converge in the same spot.

Dancers dressed in white and barefoot form concentric circles, with a choir and an orchestra in the centre. The circles are marked with white stones, and the participants dance to music composed by Deunov, with lyrics in a language he invented.

Followers of the Universal White Brotherhood are known as Deunovists, and the movement is registered as a religion, although it was not always the case. At the beginning of communist rule in Bulgaria, the movement was relatively undisturbed thanks to its founder’s friendship with Georgi Dimitrov, the country’s first communist leader, but after his death in 1949 they had to become clandestine to escape the party’s purges. It was not until 1989 that they were legally registered as a religion.

Today the movement also has followers outside Bulgaria – in France, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Mexico and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.



The Hindu – Pilgrims flock to Bulgarian mountains to cleanse spirit

About Pan-Eu-Rhythmy

Vagabond – Dancing with the brotherhood


Eight lakes and a peak

Day 20 – Wednesday 17th August – From Blagoevgrad to Panichishte and back (165km)

So far on this trip we had spent time on the beach, on boats and ferries, kayaking, and sightseeing, and now we wanted to do a bit of hiking in Bulgaria, a country which, with its many national parks, provided the perfect opportunity, but as you can imagine, travelling by motorbike does not allow us to carry much gear, so we were a bit limited in our ambitions. After some research we found a very popular route – the trek of the seven lakes in Rila natural park.

The route starts from a ski lift some kilometres past the village of Panichishte, part of a ski station that works as a bike park in the summer. You can either take the chair lift to Rilski Ezera Hut, where the trek begins, or walk up from the car park, which adds between one and a half and two hours to the five to six hours it takes to visit all seven lakes.

20160817032809It was clear that this was a very popular site when we started seeing cars parked on the side of the road a good while before we reached the car park, for which you had to pay. As we approached the guy charging the cars he said ‘moto free’ and waved us past, and when we got to the end of the car park, the man who was at the chair lift turnstile signalled to us to park the bike just past the lift building, where the staff cars and the snow cats were. Once again, it’s a pleasure to travel by bike.

The chair lift is worth taking not only for the time it saves, allowing you to spend more time on the lakes trek, but also for the views it offers over the valley as it climbs higher and higher. Once we reached the hut we understood why we had read that it was impossible to get lost on this trek – not only was there a long line of people slowly creeping up the mountain, but the path itself was well trodden and impossible to miss.

20160817044218We started the trek counter clockwise, as most people did, walking on a steep path with a drop to the left from where we soon had a view of the two last lakes and another hut, this one bigger and surrounded by hundreds of tents.

20160817053906The path levelled off on a grass plain where we saw the first lake, called Babreka (the kidney), and also a big group of people standing in a circle engaged in some kind of activity that I could not tell – it might have been yoga, it might have been some sort of ritual, but to me it mostly looked as if they were trying to strangle themselves.

20160817052542That, and the fact that they were standing in he middle of huge concentric circles marked on the ground reminded me that I has seen a book for sale in a road café a few kilometres before the chair lift titled ‘The Esoteric Guide to the Sacred Rila Lakes’. After that I started seeing that among the many tourists walking around there were a fair number of people rather peculiarly dressed, as if they had just come back from a year of meditation in some remote monastery or had teleported across time and space from Woodstock.

20160817055352Just past this curious sight the path started climbing steeply until we found the second lake, Okoto (the eye), called like that because it forms a perfect oval. There we should have turned left and continue climbing to a high rock outcrop on the top of which we could see even more people, their silhouettes cut out against the sky, but I saw another path that went right and probably led to a peak we could see not far away. We had reached the second highest lake sooner than expected, the day was glorious and I thought ‘why not?’ and we started the climb.

20160817061003An hour later and 300m higher, we were standing on top of a mountain with 360 degree views over the whole park. My altimeter read 2714 metres, and later I found that we were on a peak called Rilec. From there we had the privilege to see an eighth lake on the other side of the mountain that most people doing the route don’t see.

20160817064616We went down to lake Okoto again and climbed the outcrop, from where we saw the third and highest lake in the trek – lake Salzata (the tear), and had a view of all seven lakes at once. We had lunch there, contemplating the views and chatting to a Bulgarian family that lived in Pamplona and had come back to their country on holidays.

20160817075707After climbing down to the point where the waterfall coming from Okoto met the stream coming from Babreka and turned right to go back to the chair lift via the remaining four lakes – Bliznaka (the twin), Trilistnika (the trefoil), Ribnoto Ezero (the fish lake) and Dolnoto Ezero (the lower lake).

20160817092025As we passed the hut we had seen from the distance on the way up, by the shore of Ribnoto Ezero, we got a better view of the number of tents that had been put up around it. You could count hundreds of them, sprawling around the hut and up the slope on the opposite side of the lake. On the way to the chair lift we came across more people walking up carrying tents, clearly with the intention to camp there as well, but not looking like the kind of person who is there to hike at all. Most of them were ill-equipped for the mountain, both in terms of clothing and footwear, and I wondered if it had something to do with the book I mentioned before and the people performing that circle-yoga-meditation thing. Maybe this area was considered to have some kind of healing powers, or it was a UFO sighting spot…

20160817095955We took the chairlift back to the motorbike, glad to have chosen this option, as it had given us enough time to climb peak Rilec, and started heading back to Blagoevgrad. We took a detour on the way back because we wanted to visit the Rila monastery, which we had heard is the biggest in the country. The problem was that we had not researched where it was exactly, road signs in this part of the world are between few and none and people in small villages don’t speak any English, so after riding up a valley past the town of the same name for a while and not finding it, we decided to turn back and head for the city, as it was getting late and we needed to find an open supermarket to buy some food for the following day.

While Nat was doing the shopping I stayed with the motorbike and as I was waiting a small kid came, ogling at the bike. He did not understand a single word I tried to tell him, and I did not understand what he was asking, but the love for motorbikes is a universal language, particularly among kids, and he was delighted when I sat him on it and let him fiddle with the horn and indicators. When Nat came back with the shopping I showed him which button to press to turn the engine on – you should have seen the look on his face when he pressed it and the engine roared to life. It probably made his day, week and even year. I hope things turn out well in life for him and one day he can ride his own bike.


6th gear

Day 19 – Tuesday 16th August – Skopje to Blagoevgrad (225km)

Today was – maybe for the first time in a while – a rather quiet day regarding visits, excursions and exploration. We rode up the hills on the south of Skopje before leaving the city to see the sights from the Millennium cross, a huge 66-metre high cross built to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity. To our disappointment, the cross could only be reached by cable car, not by road, but there was a good viewpoint from the car park where the road ended and we had a beautiful view of the city that added one more item to the list of places my impressions of Skopje drank from – Barcelona seen from the hills of Collserola.

20160816043255We left the city via the motorway and on the dashboard I saw something I had not seen in quite a while – 6th gear! We covered quite a lot of (boring) distance before running out of motorway, which by the way was not in great condition for what it cost us in tolls. The motorway ended in Kumanovo and from there a regular road, culminating in a really nice stretch of long sweeping corners up a hill, took us to the border with Bulgaria.

Of all the borders we had crossed I was expecting this one to be by far the easiest and fastest – leaving a country usually takes no more than a couple of minutes and then we were re-entering the EU with EU passports and an EU registered vehicle with EU insurance, but for some unknown reason the Macedonians took ages to check each of the few cars on the queue and their occupants paperwork, and it was even worse on the Bulgarian side. I was tempted to do that thing you see in movies, where whenever Americans are abroad they shout ‘I am an American citizen!’ at the first sign of bother, and start shouting ‘I am a EU citizen, let me in!’

Once on the other side we still had quite a way to go before our chosen destination – Blagoevgrad, a small city located between the natural parks of Rila and Pirin. At first this was only a one-stop place before we could find information about the area and decide where to go next, but the hotel turned out to be really nice and cheap, and we saw that the trek we wanted to do the following day was only about an hour away, so we decided to stay a couple of nights.

20160816113552In the afternoon we went to visit the city and get some provisions for the trek, and Nat got another good dose of working-class Eastern European neighbourhoods.