There are few parts of Belgrade which receive as much mockery as the left bank of the Danube, that is Ovča, Borča and Krnjača (affectionately: “cha-cha-cha”). The general dislike, stems partly from to their unlovely names, and partly from their ramshackle urbanism and almost non-existent cultural life. So when I invited friends to join me for a walk in the nature there to spot birds and get to know the wild left bank of the Danube, only two brave souls agreed to venture.
This 15km walk towards Beljarica (aka “Amazonija”), was organised by Liga za Ornitolosku Akciju (League for Ornithological Action), a community of bird enthusiasts, who not only go bird watching (“twitching”) but also campaign for protection of our avian friends.
Beljarica was chosen for two reasons: much like the Great War Island this area is a favoured spot for nesting of Belgrade’s rarest birds, including the White-tailed eagle (Europe’s largest eagle, who is also present on the Serbian coat of arms only with an extra head), but it is also a spot where the government plans to build the new Port of Belgrade, financed by China.
The new port at Beljarica, although sorely needed, would not only spell an end to this area’s biodiversity (there are 136 species of birds hiding in this swampy wonderland), but could also put the city in danger, as its many meanders and pools serve as a natural protection of the city against the Danube’s flood waves in spring.
After crossing the new, Chinese-financed, Mihailo Pupin bridge from Zemun, we initially found ourselves in a thick long grass, but after a few minutes we got to the embankment constructed in 1920s, which offered nice views of the forest facing the Danube. It was only after the first 4km, that we started seeing the area’s wonders. We found ourselves with eagles flying above us, next to seductively murky pools of water, where dozens of swans were playing. This wonderful landscape stretched far, and the twitchers amongst us took out their cameras and started snapping enthusiastically and arguing which birds they got to see.
Apart from about 50 of us on the tour, there were only two very enthusiastic joggers, although the gravel path on the embankment was well maintained and we were within 30 minutes’ walk from the farther reaches of Zemun. Our enthusiasm only grew the farther we went and it exploded once we reached a picturesque farm in the middle of the woods, where dozens of pigs and piglets were happily feasting on corn. Next to the farm were pheasant breeding grounds, maintained by some hunting society, and from there on unfortunately we found ourselves on an unlovely muddy stretch that was taking us back home.
Although negotiating mud was tedious, it was not only avoidable (we could have returned the same way we came) and it also offered rare views of Belgrade sights, from Genex tower to Avala, rising above farmlands making the city look like a mirage in the distance.
Despite the mud situation, both of my friends and I loved our long hike, and we will surely return to Beljarica to experience true wilderness so close to the city. It would be a shame if these landscapes, which look like they could be captured by Constable, Millet or Corot, were lost to the the future generations.