Up in the Tatra mountains, Anuradha Goyal walks the tiny town of Zakopane to smell the unusual flavours of summer.
Small hill towns have a certain simplicity that draws you towards them. Zakopane located in the southern tip of Poland in the lower Tatra Mountains reinforced this belief. The landscape became greener, villages smaller and the air clearer as we drove from Krakow to Zakopane. On the way, animal skins were left out to dry in the sun. As the town neared, we could see ski resorts everywhere, and they exist in thousands here.
During winter, people from across the world come to ski in the snow-covered mountains. No wonder Zakopane is called the winter capital of Poland. In summer, the ski pads are used for practising jumps.
As you walk around the town, surrounded by hills, someone will definitely point out to you the hill that looks like a sleeping man. I realised it was the most distinctly identifiable natural feature of the mountain town. One cannot miss the architecture of the buildings too — the narrow tall wooden houses with steep slanting roofs and the ceilings and balconies cutting across to make them look like alphabet A, sometimes with a double strike across. On one of the hills is a small wooden chapel called Jaszczurowce that is open to the public. The same architect who gave Zakopane its unique architecture is said to have designed it.
Polish architect, painter, writer and artist Stanisław Witkiewicz who lived here around the turn of the 20th century had created this unique style with wood like it is commonly done in hilly areas. He used the traditional lock and block technique and hence no nails are used in these buildings. Styles and motifs of the local Goral tribes were extensively used in the design and some of it can be seen in the detailed carvings of the chapel, especially around the altar. A typical Zakopane style villa called “Koliba” now serves as a museum of this style. In one of the lanes I also saw a modified version where the façade of the house looked like a face, with windows designed as eyes.
As you walk Krupówki Street, the main street in the town, you will notice small carts selling what looks like buns or bread loafs in curious shapes. Some look like corncobs and some like moulded bread with patterns carved on it. One cart even had them in shapes like flat noodles. Our guide played a guessing game with us and in the end we were asked to taste and tell. It was salty, cheesy and smoked was all I could say. That was the Zakopane special Oscypiki cheese. It was smoked cheese that comes from sheep. The restaurant we had lunch in served us thin slices of this cheese with marmalade and wine. You may probably take time to like it, but you must taste it if you are there.
It was at Belvedere resort here where the film unit of Fanaa had stayed. Zakopane was shot as Kashmir in that film. On the slope of a nearby hillock was the house that was shown as Kajol’s in the movie.
We also heard the stories of Yasonik or Jasonik, a legendary local folk hero. He is usually referred to as the Robinhood of Tatra Mountains who robbed the rich to give to the poor. Now have we not heard that in many parts of the world and does it not tell us that we are bound together by similar stories?
HOW TO GET THERE
Zakopane is about three hours from Krakow city to which it is well-connected by buses, trains and highways. Krakow in turn is connected to major European cities by air, train and road.