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Bislim Gorge

Close to the town of Kumanovo, from the confluence of Kumanovka in Pchinja, follows the beautiful Bislimic Gorge, one of the most interesting in our country. Little is known about her and her treasures, although it is a natural rarity only a few kilometers from Kumanovo. Under the name Bislim Gorge, it covers the part between the hill Krasta on the west and Golic hill on the east, ie the deeply incised valley of the river Pchinja. The gorge is about 7 km long, but too short to see. This space among the people is simply referred to as “Bislim” and immediately refers to a rocky and mysterious space where hardly anyone passes by.

According to many testimonies, the name of this ravine probably derives from the medieval village that spread in the middle of the ravine, which was displaced in the late 16th or 17th centuries. during Turkish rule.

Access to it is possible from several sides. The simplest way is to reach Kumanovo – Sv. Nikole is near the Orasacki Bridge and then follows the flow of the river. The second possibility is on the south side – through the village. Pcinja, then go downstream to the river. However, the central most interesting part of the gorge is completely inaccessible to any vehicle and can only be crossed by foot. In order to see the gorge in all its beauty, it is best to climb the hill Crasta, or the peak or locality of Tikijarica which is above the river. There is a strong meandering meadow of Pcinja which is in the rocky abyss almost 300 meters deep. From here you can also see the highest peak in the area – Kukuljatica with its 722 m. Krasta and Goliќ are intersected by shallow and deep gullies, through which water flows only after heavy rains. In some places, these hills resemble real rocky deserts similar to those in the Herzegovina region. At Krasta above the quarry there are several rotors – the only one of its kind in Kumanovo. Their creation took thousands of years in which atmospheric precipitation dissolved the limestone and formed hollows.

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Initially, the Pcinja valley is wide open. The riverbed is slightly sloping along sandy river islands. On the opposite side is the short river Gradishacka Luka that flows from Gradishka Ridge. A few hundred meters downstream of the Kumanovo River estuary in Pchinja, the valley narrows abruptly and enters thick 140-million-year-old limestone masses. Suddenly the wide roads along the river become barely passable, and those that continue will not assume what lies ahead. The natural gluttony of the area gives it a wild appearance, and the Pcinja River accelerates its course by hitting the old rock masses. In some places the rocks drop so steeply into the river that they seem to be cut with a knife. They even happen to hang over the river. Moving along the riverbed and crossing the river in convenient places, several hundred meters away we come to the first surprise of nature. Namely, on the right side of the river, you can see the opening of the first cave which, because of the overgrown rock sections, looks terrific. The people call this cave Mark’s House. Legend has it that an idiot Marko chased by the Turks found a cave whose entrance was by the river and the exit just high above the hill. So he fled to the Turks, and since then the cave has been named Mark’s House. Modern research shows that this cave or ruin is among the largest in this part of the Republic of N. Macedonia. Its entrance is at the foot of the hilltop (elevation 421 m), but it is paved with stones to protect livestock from accidental falls. Thus, access to this underground world from the upper side is almost impossible. But fortunately the bottom of the precipice is connected by a wide horizontal channel that begins in a cliff 10 meters above the Pcinja River. The interior of these underground canals is very steep, and slippery – especially after rainfalls, so we need to move very carefully. And in the interior a whole maze of channels, so if we don’t have good orientation we can easily get lost in the dark. Several canals end up with openings in the rock itself, so it looks like we’ve come up on a high terrace with an unusual view. Although not abundant with ornate underground jewelery, what is created is invaluable. Unfortunately, rare visitors tend to seal their presence at all costs by writing down the initials of the cave walls and degrading the interior. But it should be known that these underground channels are created by the gradual sinking of atmospheric water through the cracks over a period of several hundred thousand years – a period that is immeasurable for a human life. Therefore, it represents a true rarity for the Kumanovo area.

After leaving Markova House we follow the course of Pchinja to Orlovac area. Here the valley is almost canyon in character with vertical sides up to 200 meters high. Until about ten years ago the high rocky cliffs were really populated by several families of eagles, but today they are reduced to only 3-4 individuals that remain in the highest and inaccessible parts. The higher rocky capes can be seen in the so-called “rock windows”, a very rare occurrence of overturning parts of old caves. At the locality Orlovac, towards the river Pchinja from the hill Krasta descends a larger karstic ravine. At its bottom, a weak watercourse occurs only after heavy rainfall. In general, the Bislim area is a typical karstic area that resembles the rocky areas of Croatia or Herzegovina. Because the terrain is built of carbonate limestone, which does not retain surface water, the entire area is anhydrous. Water from the atmosphere sinks through the limestone and flows through underground channels into the Pcinja River. On the right side of the canyon there are 3 interesting caves, named after the locality: Eagle Caves or Eagle Cave. Inside the largest cave there is a cave chimney – a chimney-like opening across the attic. The chimney is 15 meters high and comes out on top of the loft. Due to the high altitude difference, there is strong atmospheric circulation inside the cave so we feel like a large fan is installed in the old rock masses. Hundreds of meters below the previous cave are the two smaller caves ten meters long. One can hardly find anyone through them. They were once short underground watercourses – springs, whose water flows through today’s canyon into Pchinja.

Following the course of Pchinja through the almost impassable terrain, one does not expect that in the midst of this rocky wilderness the space will open sharply, become “domesticated” and get a paradise appearance. Here the river abruptly changes its course – meanders, and the wide alluvial plain due to groundwater is green for most of the year. Gradually we reach the locality that the people call Tikijarica. Here on the right is the highest canyon part of the gorge with over 250 meters of steep sections, and on the left is the Gradiste area. Although the area today seems desolate and lifeless, there were once famous ancient antique roads, and there were several settlements that existed for over 1000 years. The ruins of the defensive walls in the Gradiste area, the inscriptions on the rocks, and the traces of human activity in several nearby caves testify to this. At the very top of the Gradiste area, there are few surprises to be expected. In the low rock beneath the top is a carved rectangular opening through which enters a short cave on the walls of which old inscriptions can be seen – probably from ancient times. Today cattle breeders use this cave as a shelter in times of disasters. At 10 meters from the entrance to the cave, hidden behind the rocks, is a well-shaped hole. Branches are thrown through the opening to prevent livestock from falling. This hole is actually the entrance to the Big Gradiska ruin, over 20 meters deep. In depth, the precipice expands and ends with a larger underground hall from which water sometimes leaks. At the bottom there are heaps of stone blocks and skeletons of smaller animals. There is a legend that says that the villagers from the former village of Bislim threw a Turk who wanted to drive a Macedonian girl. Just opposite the Gradishka Cave is the smaller Gradishka ruin. It is interesting that there are two entrances – canals that intersect at a depth of 10 meters. The channels are so narrow that one can barely get through them. It is interesting to note that in the months of July and August a large number of snakes can be observed in this part of Gradiste on the rocky surface, and special attention should be paid to the very poisonous snakes that are difficult to spot.

At the foot of Gradiste, next to the Pcinja river bed is one of the most characteristic caves in the area, which the people call the “Cave of Cold”. Where did the name come from? The entrance to the cave consists of a large number of openings through which strong air circulation takes place. It conditions a few meters from the entrance, the temperature dropping sharply. Therefore, a few decades ago, when the river was cleaner and visited, the entrance to the cave served as a refrigerator for food items. Inside the Cave of Cold, two canals of about 20 meters are separated. The upper channel resembles a maze and can be accessed from the lower channel ceiling or out onto the “terrace” above the main entrance. At some places in the cave there are interesting underground jewelry and a large colony of bats of several hundred individuals. Unfortunately, bats have been extinct lately because of the belief that they have magical powers. On the opposite side of the river is a huge rocky section 250 meters high. This part of the people is called the Bear Gorge. Depth measurements of the Pcinja River beside the rocky sections show a value of up to 3 meters, so that the crossing of the river is very difficult especially during higher waters. And the river must be crossed to see the beautiful Lishkov cave, perhaps the richest with a cavernous jewelry object in the Bislim Gorge and in the Kumanovo area in general.

The accessibility of Lishkov cave is relatively difficult and leads to rocky “stairs” that were partly shaped by the old population long ago. At the very entrance of the cave opens a large cave hall whose bottom is covered with blocks perched on the ceiling.

From the hall continue two channels that terminate with smaller circular extensions. Across the canals, beautiful cave-like jewelry, pale-yellow basins, and thin ceilings – stalactites – descend from the attic, which nature has painstakingly created. In the beginning of the left channel can be seen several stone vessels of great age used by the ancient population. From the right canal, there is an intermediate canal that descends to the bottom and ends with a circular hall. This channel is also rich in stalactites, and several stalagmites also occur. At the bottom of the canal in the winter season a small pond is formed, which sinks through the crevice, and its water flows directly into the Pcinja River. The interior of Lishkov Cave is quite warm and humid, and has a variety of wildlife, especially underground insects. There is a belief that treasure is buried in and around the cave. That is why it is often possible to see “adventurers” who are looking for wealth, but their dreams are not realized. And just imagine, nature builds every stalactite by dropping millions of drops and for a tube 5 cm long, it takes over a thousand years. Let us not at least drill this cave so that it will have something to admire in future generations. After leaving Liskov cave the river has to be crossed again to see some more interesting places in Kitke. The climb to the locality itself is very difficult. However, the labor pays off as we come to another cave called the Dueni cave. It is one of the smaller and poorer in jewelry, but it is interesting in the shape and morphology of the main channel. The cave is 30 meters long and is completely accessible. It is therefore used as a shelter for livestock breeders and livestock, especially when weather disasters occur. A few tens of meters below the cave, nature created a striking rock window. Under the influence of precipitation, wind and mechanical decomposition, the softer parts of the rock mass decomposed more rapidly, so a window-like opening formed for a period of 10,000 years. From here you can see the beautiful view of Gradiste and Tikijarnica, and in the abyss, at a depth of 60 meters is the flow of Pchinja.

Descending through the water along the river, the gradually narrow riverbed extends into an alluvial plain in which geological investigations have determined the existence of gold particle concretions. It is perhaps because of this that the “gold diggers” can often be found in the Bislim Gorge that only destroy the appearance of the beautiful landscape, and no trace of gold. Even if you find a small piece of gold or a gold item, the damage done will be far greater than the benefit. Transversely, across the riverbed there is an earth-stone rampart nearly 1 meter high, a remnant of an old rampart that probably served to accumulate water and then to irrigate through water fields. Gradually, at the very end of the ravine, the first houses of the village of Pcinja begin. Here the gorge ends in the village itself.

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