Northern Albania has many breathtaking and picturesque lakes and rivers. However, none are as beautiful or offer more for one’s view than Shala River and Lake Koman. I will give you 6 excellent reasons why traversing via ferry through this river and lake is something you should not miss.
The Shala River makes you feel like you are in Thailand.
No, you did not read that wrong, I’m not talking about Asian cuisine, but the river itself has a striking resemblance to those blue rivers of Thailand. You know, vast canyons and rocks on each side, waters of a bluish green like those of the Caribbean.
Shala has a beauty that transcends most rivers. You start at Lake Koman and you slowly progress through the river towards the town of Vau i Dejes. I have not been to Thailand, but let me tell you that a boat ride through Shala river will make you believe that you are there. In fact, a friend of mine that has visited Thailand. He ensured me that river-wise, Shala is far calmer and more serene.
Interesting local legend
When you are surfing through Shala River by ferry or a small boat, the ferrymen will tell you the story of Prince Lek Dukagjini. Lek Dukagjini was the second most potent prince after Skanderbeg (Albania’s national hero). Dukagjini is renowned throughout Albania as the prince that gathered and wrote down the ancient laws of the Albanians.
They are now known as “Kanuni i Lek Dukagjinit” (The canon of Lek Dukagjini).
Dukagjini was a fierce warrior and ruler and his principality consisting the highlands of Mirdita. Throughout the ride, you will see rocks and caves with his name. It is believed that he spent the remainder of his life traversing the highlands through this river to protect his domain. In a way, Shala River is like the vein in which the history of the Albanians resistance flows.
They are building it so that we will come
It’s a fantastic ride through the river, and Shala has the most potential out of all the rivers in Albania. Although, what it makes up in beauty, it lacks in infrastructure.
The ferry-men are very polite and kind, and bigger boats are being implemented each year. However, and this ticked me off the most, there are no hotels, motels, guesthouses or even rooms to rent along the river. Don’t let this minor inconvenience keep you from the ride. The government has started plans to build houses for rent along the river shore.
Sunbathe on the shore, dive off a high cliff
The Shala River has many small pockets of gravelled shores where you can enjoy a couple of hours in the sun. The water is azure blue and very cool, even though temperatures could reach almost 38 degrees Celsius in the summer; the water stays cool and fresh. The flowing water gives you a pleasant feeling as you swim towards the cliffs on the other side. The cliffs are another exquisite part of the journey.
For those of you that are brave enough to climb to the top of one of them and dare to leap off one, then, by all means, do it. As for lunch, I suggest you bring some food with you, as finding a place to eat is difficult. If you knock on the doors of the village houses, you will always find a warm welcome and a smiling face to welcome you in.
Nevertheless, I find that a small picnic on the shore or the local fish that the ferry quickly cooks for you on the journey is way better.
There is more to Shala than the river
Yes, the river is majestic, and the canyons on each side are breathtaking, but there is more to it than the azure water. Shala has many caves to explore, like the Shala cave or the cave of Kaurr (non-believer to Muslims).
A fascinating site on the Shala River is a place called the Island of Blood. Our local guide told me that there are many legends of why it is named the Island of Blood. One of them says that a band of brave Arbanons (old word for Albanian) were surrounded by Turks (Muslim Albanians). There they made a last heoic stand.
Another small island along the river is called the Island of Peace. The story here according to our guide (different guides give different stories) is that blood feuds would be settled peacefully on this island or forcefully on the Island of Blood.
Koman Lake, artificial but better than natural
Koman Lake was built artificially by the communist regime to make electricity via the use of hydro plants. The word artificial does not do this beautiful lake justice, as it feels more natural than most lakes combined. It is tranquil, serene and well, feels natural.
I started my journey from Koman Lake. I woke up at around 5 O’clock in the morning. Made my way from Tirana towards the ancient city of Shkodra. From there travelled the town of Vau i Dejes where there are signs that say “Koman”.
The Two ferries
There are two ferries, one departs at 6 O’clock in the morning, the other 9 in the morning. I missed the 6 O’clock one so I had to wait until 9, but it was worth every minute. As I got on, paid 5 euros for myself and another 15 for my car. The ferry started to move towards Fierza Lake.
It is 40 Km from Koman to the finish, which is in Fierza. A one way trip with the boat takes around 3 hours. The journey was mesmerizing. It all seemed the same at first glance; the canyons, the water, the cliffs and even the noises of the wildlife, but you know that everything is unique.
The 3 hours seemed like 30 minutes. To be honest as it went by too quickly for me to take it all in, so when I got off at Fierza Lake, I hired a local guide that had a small motorized boat and did the whole thing all over again. This time I stopped at various points and famous marks along the way, enquiring all about the Koman Lake and the Shala River that traversed from Koman to Fierza and vice versa.
Not many people used to visit
My guide told me that many years ago, many people considered Koman Lake and Fierza Lake to be not worth travelling as they didn’t see them as naturally formed Lakes. I was amazed, primarily because nothing seemed human-made and secondly, who could gaze upon Koman Lake and say “Yeah you are beautiful, but since you weren’t formed by nature herself, there is no point in exploring you”.
I was amazed, primarily because nothing seemed human-made and secondly, who could gaze upon Koman Lake and say “Yeah you are beautiful, but since you weren’t formed by nature herself, there is no point in exploring you”.
Shala River and Koman Lake aren’t just waters to be traversed to get from point A to point B. No, they have to be admired and felt upon the way. It doesn’t matter where your start is Fierza or Koman, what’s essential, like in life itself, is the journey you make through these waters and the experience gained along the way.