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The Vaser Valley – Passage Back in Time

For the tourist who made it all the way into the historical land of Maramureș, another surprise is discreetly awaiting: the travel back in time in the very heart of nature. This time around, the props are not man but nature made. It is not the old wooden houses in picturesque villages or the people’s garbs like those that the Dacians wore two millennia ago. Instead it is perhaps what may still be the wildest and most beautiful landscape in Romania – and this is not for the lack of competition.

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Just 60 kilometre long across the Vaser River, the valley climbs slowly into the heart of the Maramureș Mountains, at altitudes close to 1000 m high. Cliffs, canyons, dark forests, mountain pastures, mineral water springs, trees dozen story high greet the visitor at every step.

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But it is not only its breath-taking beauty that makes the Vaser Valley so unique. It hosts what is the last functioning forestry railway in Europe which even today fulfills its role of carrying lumber down the valley. The railway itself is a magnificent piece of history. Built between 1924 and 1933 by the German speaking population of Viseu – the ţipţeri – and employing several steam powered locomotives – called Mocaniţe – the railway is the only way of access into the valley. The locomotives themselves look like belonging to an open air museum: its oldest one, Mariuţa, was built in Germany in 1910. Even the newest, Cozia-1, built in Romania in 1986 has a century old look.

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Sitting in the back of one of these steam puffing time machines, it’s no wonder that one feels instantly transported back in time. There is nothing else breaking the silence of nature except the hissing and puffing of the train, the sporadic shrieking of the locomotive’s whistle, the rippling of the winding Vaser river and the occasional sound of a chainsaw. The hallmarks of modern life also end here: there is no cellular network available, no stores to restock: just yourself and, every half dozen kilometers or so, a station for the lumbermen.

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Vaser Valley-72-2

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But the visitor wishing to truly experience this ritual of passage must plan to stay overnight in his own tent or, if lucky, in one of the guest houses at some of the stations. The sunset and the sunrise on the Vaser river banks are moments which one is not likely to experience anywhere else.  

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The few people one meets during this journey are faces one may never forget: of simple, hard working lumbermen who work from sunrise to sunset. In their early 20’s or late 50’s, these men live a hard life, in rough conditions. But whenever one sits down with them, one discovers the same good nature and love for life that shines across all villages of Maramureș. 

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 But this splendid landscape may soon, like much of the old heritage in Maramureș, be irremediably damaged. Greed, ignorance and the desire for rapid personal enrichment has made that illegal deforestation has gained speed of disastrous proportions. Despite being placed in a protected area within the Maramureș Mountains Nature park in 2005, inefficient, incompetent and in some times corrupt authorities made it possible for continuous and even accelerated decimation of forests in the area.

 The Vaser Valley remains a splendid and enchanting place to visit. Only time will tell if this surreal site will survive for the next generations to savour.

Visit also the Vaser Valley section of this website for more photos of this unique place.

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