The little green train in the mountains was on a sign in Nis.
One photo had captured two of my favourite things: trains and mountains.
It was the Šargan Eight, a narrow-gauge railway running around a corner of Western Serbia where if you get lost, you risk walking into Bosnia.
Once upon a time a lot of people travelled though this area on the train connecting Sarajevo in Bosnia to Belgrade in Serbia. Back then it was all one country. The line closed in 1974, but part of the track was restored and the Šargan Eight, named for the figure of eight it makes through the mountains, was opened in 1999. The train travels from the village of Mokra Gora to a station at Šargan Vitasi and back.
Šargan Eight was developed as a tourist train, but that doesn’t mean much in Serbia. The public transport connections from Užice, the closest city, are poor and there isn’t much information in English. If you’re expecting a souvenir brochure to peruse on the journey, you’ll be disappointed. When we arrive by taxi there are just five cars in the car park so I’m surprised when the train pulls in and about 50 people get off.
Aside from the people milling around the station, there is nothing to suggest Mokra Gora is a popular tourist destination. The valley is decorated with houses that have thirsty vegetable gardens, hay stacks ready for animals in winter and barrels of fermenting fruit destined to be made into rakia. As the train heads for the hills, we pass a truck carrying four men sitting on a loud of dirt. On the way back a tractor waits on the road at the rail crossing. This is rural Serbia and it’s beautiful.
The trip is not quite 14km and when the lady at the ticket office told me it would take two and a half hours I thought it was a case of Serbian trains living up to their reputation as a slow and pathetic means of transportation. But we were at Šargan Vitasi in about 40 minutes. It was the descent that took time. I had dangled out a window (it’s Serbia – there’s no one telling you to pull your head in) trying to take photos on the way up, but the train stopped several times on the way down for more photo opportunities.
The scenery changes a lot during the journey. One minute the mountain is rising straight up next to the train and the cliff seems close enough the touch. We’d enter a tunnel and then on the other side I’d be looking down to see the ground fall away under me. The figure of eight the train makes meant I never knew which direction we were travelling in. Perhaps that’s why the train goes as slow as it does – to stop the passengers getting dizzy.
The train didn’t go fast and the mountains aren’t that big. There are certainly railways with more spectacular mountain views. But I loved this little snippet of Serbia. For most of the trip I stood in between the carriages (once again, it’s Serbia. Anything goes.) and loved feeling the wind on my face as we clacked around the track. Trains bring out the child in me and I found myself breaking into a ridiculous grin every time we went though a tunnel. I found a lot of Serbia to be pretty inaccessible without a car and the Šargan Eight took me through a part of the country I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
If you go
Mokra Gora is about 45km from Užice and can be reached by bus. The tourist information centre in Užice can give you the times. I caught a taxi from Užice to Mokra Gora with three other guests from my hostel. The ride was 2100 dinar (€18).
The Šargan Eight costs 600 dinar (€5).
We arrived at Mokra Gora about 11am and bought our tickets straight away, for the 1.25pm Šargan Eight. There is always the risk the journey will book out, so if you can’t be flexible, consider booking your ticket in advance. (Again, the tourist information centre in Užice can help.)
Note: When our train got back to Mokra Gora at 3.50pm, we found out there was no bus back to Užice until 6.30pm. Instead of waiting, we called a taxi to come from Užice and take us back there.