The Devil’s Throat is fairly young by cave standards – only about 100,000 years of age. That’s why you won’t see any stalactites, unless you wait and come back in another 100,000 years. On that next visit, our guide promises, entrance will be complimentary.
The Trigradska river snakes past nearly vertical mountain ridges crowned with pines, the sky a mere ribbon between the rocks. It’s a hot and sunny August day. and the gust of cold air coming out from the entrance to the cave feels even more shocking than it would in winter. It sends chills down my spine.
I wonder whether that’s what Orpheus felt when he ventured into the Underworld. Legend has it that he descended into the Kingdom of Hades right here through the Devil’s Throat. The cave that is nestled into the bosom of the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria is among the deepest in the entire country, and the most mysterious.
My youngest sister and the rest of the group, mostly families with schoolkids, all look enthused, while we are waiting for the guide to take us inside. After a few minutes’ downward stroll we reach the heart of the cave. A rock formation with a grim and sinister human face has given it the name the Devil’s Throat. The chilly, damp interior, tinted yellow by the dim lamps, truly brings the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice to life. It’s hard to imagine a place more suitable for the deities of the underworld – cold, bare and lifeless as it is, with the muffled rubble of the river resonating through the rocks. That proverbial Styx enters the cave via a waterfall several meters high and resurfaces above ground outside of the cave.
What has perplexed locals for decades, however, is the part of the river that runs underground and never sees the light. Back in the 1960’s, our guide informs us, an entire carload of firewood was washed away in a flood, but never reappeared on the other side. Two intrepid divers, curious to glimpse into the underworld, never came back from an ill-fated attempt to map the river route. Their bodies were pulled out days later, and it was found out that they had both run out of oxygen. Perhaps one should not venture so idly into the kingdom of Hades…
Entering is easy indeed. Leaving, however, is another story. It’s an arduous climb up 300 steps up a cold and wet stone stairwell with a slight backward tilt. The view from it is dizzying, if you dare to look aside. If that’s the path that Orpheus took, something makes me think that Eurydice must have tripped and fallen over backwards.
My youngest sister rushes up the stairs with all the vigour of a school kid, while I clamber up, the skin on my hands protesting against the touch of the cold and wet iron railings. While she leaps up out of competitiveness, I am trying to get it over and done with as quickly as possible before my fear of heights kicks in and makes my knees wobble. Up above us, the gap through which the waterfall dashes down also lets inside a stream of light. And so, just like Orpheus and Eurydice before us, we clamber up towards the light.
The chirrup of birds and the warm touch of the sun bring us back to the world of the living. A few locals invite us to sample their honey produce – all in exotic mountain flavours like herbal, mint, and pine – and that touch of sweetness feels like the most invigorating tonic one could need after venturing into another world.