Go west! – The little history of Hungarian hiking

Probably, everybody longs for getting away from crowded cities to go out to the greenery, where you can take your heels on the never-ending countryside. For numberless tourist paths, into the nature, for lying in the grass, for fresh air, where you can nibble your picnic provisions – and of course you take back the litter to the city refuse bins. A hundred years ago, the situation was the same: people have always longed for being in the lap of nature – especially since urbanisation accelerated.

The Hungarian Carpathian Association, the first one

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Hiking in Hungary started in the region of the High Tatras in the 17th century. We have already remembered the explorers of the Tatras - Dávid Frölich, the family Buchholtz and János György Rainer – in our virtual exhibition that introduced the cultural history of the High Tatras. The Hungarian Carpathian Association (MKE), the first touristic association of Hungary, was formed in 1873. Back then, this free-time activity was in its infancy, which is proved by the fact that it was the sixth in the world – after the clubs of Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

Mór Déchy was one of MKE’s members. He conquered not only the Tatras, but also the peaks of the Alps, and the highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains Mount Elbrus among others – as the first Hungarian. Mount Elbrus stands on the Russian-Georgian borderline with a height of 5642 metres, and is the tallest mountain of Europe according to certain opinions. Loránd Eötvös’s name might be more familiar; he was a physicist and a minister besides being an active mountain climber.

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MKE built several rest-houses in the Tatras, blazed trails and fitted rocks with iron chains. In addition, they established MKE tourist divisions specialised in different parts of Hungary. For example in 1888, they explored Pilis near Budapest and the Budapest Division of MKE was launched too. MKE published the first magazine for hikers ‘Turisták lapja’ since 1889.

The Budapest Division did not run for a long time under this name; three years later, they became Hungarian Tourist Association (MTE) – with Loránd Eötvös’s presidency. MTE was organised into local divisions as well. They had several rest-houses built on Dobogókő and Galyatető, and its Tatra Division had the rest-house Téry built at the height of 2015 metres. It still exists and is the highest-situated rest-house in the Tatras that is open all the year round.

Outlook to the famous Kéktúra (National Blue Trail)

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The Hungarian Tourist Alliance (Magyar Turista Szövetség) was established in 1913. Their outstanding role was that they – Dr. Gábor Strömpl primarily – started pushing the importance of uniform trail blazing in the country. The idea of a long trail that would go along the natural sights of the country from the eastern to the western border came up this time. Finally, they agreed in marking that with blue colour. They did not finish all the blazing by 1937, but it was high time to try out the trail. A year later, Saint Stephen Hike (Szent István Vándorlás) started on 15 March by launching two groups from the two ends of the trail. According to plans, they would have organised similar ones in every fifth year, but 50 years passed finally until the next one: Saint Stephen Memorial Tour (Szent István Emléktúra) in 1988.

Storms of history

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The activity of associations was impacted by the WWI and the annexation, but tourist life restarted slowly in the twenties and thirties, and associations regained power. After the WWII, they had to face not only the difficulties of war, but the assets of associations were confiscated and they were disincorporated in 1946. Tourist associations merged into the Magyar Természetbarát Szövetség (Hungarian alliance of nature-lovers) that was established in 1948, which was under state surveillance and could not be operated as an independent organisation. The association is still active under the name Magyar Természetjáró Szövetség (Hungarian hikers’ alliance) – directed according to the current political trends.

The Hungarian Tourist Association has been operating again since 1989. After its reestablishment, its first president was István Peták, inventor and editor of the legendary hiker documentary series ‘Másfélmillió lépés Magyarországon’ (One and a half million steps in Hungary).

Those one and a half million steps

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Pál Rockenbauer’s travel series of 1979 was one of the great enterprises of the nomad – backpacker – hiking that revives nowadays. The ten members of the crew went along the National Blue Trail with rucksacks, tents and technical equipment. The wheeled machinery, which measured the length of their route – in the times before GPS – had a special charm. Counting with a man’s leg, it was really 1,499,032 steps. The Zemplén Mountains was the departure point and the 1124-km long tour ended in the Kőszeg Mountains.

With the aid of the crew and some invited experts, you can get to know the geographic and geologic curiosities, flora and fauna of the roamed lands and you can also see the inhabitants of villages, hear their histories and astonish at old professions. You even get a taste of local folk songs and folklore. They gave a complex picture of the tourist-infrastructure in the end of seventies, about the decaying condition of rest-houses and the scarce possibilities of having a wash.

The second series was made in 1986, also directed by Pál Rockenbauer, with the title ‘… And another one million steps’, in which they keep on walking from Kőszeg Mountains across the Transdanubia to Szekszárd. This section of the Blue Circle is called ‘Pál Rockenbauer’s South Transdanubian Blue Trail’. It is also called Blue Trail of the Great Plain as of 1996 – from Szekszárd to Sátoraljaújhely. With that, the trail makes a complete circle in the country.

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The title song that has become cultic since then is actually a Moldavian Csango folk song and a lyre of love performed by Muzsikás band.

We hope that we have managed to persuade you to an early-autumn hiking with this little cultural historical composition. This weather is the most favourable and predictable for discovering forests, even if you do not spring to the Blue Trail at once. However, we can encourage everybody to do so.

TEJ

Translated by Zita Aknai

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