MostarPosted: July 15, 2016
Travelling in the bus from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina is interesting experience. Dubrovnik is a small landlocked isthmus and is connected with the rest of the country through the Neum corridor. So there are multiple immigration checks en route. The border control personnel get into the bus and stamp the passport. By the time you have crossed all the border posts, you’ve have acquired at least half a dozen stamps on your travel documents and it appears that you’re extremely well-travelled.
Entering into Bosnia you witness a number of mosques and churches and Christian and Muslim cemeteries along the roadside and you can almost get the sense that one side of the road is inhabited by Muslims and the other by Christians. As we got off the main bus stop at Mostar, our host Senel was at hand to receive us with his car. His establishment in the heart of the old city has a 9 rating from Airbnb. Senel had fled to Germany during the war and returned because he says he loves his city, where he knows almost everyone. This was not the sentiment of another Bosnian I met. Arman, a cousin of Senal, whose taxi we hired for a day trip around Mostar, spoke of German officials threatening forced eviction if they and other Bosnian refugees did not leave after the end of war. Both Senel and Arman spoke good German from their times as refugees and I could make good conversation with them. One thing that came out was that they don’t wear their religion on their sleeves. Despite the ravages of the war and the genocide, they want to live in peace and bear no grudges for the past. Despite stark reminders of the war like the pock marked walls and reminders of NEVER FORGET, the city has healed fast and is on the road to recovery. Bosnia is not part of the EU but the prices of foodstuff and rents are lower than neighbouring Croatia. It’s now thronged by tourists. Incidentally Pakistani peacekeepers played a prominent role in restoring peace in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Mostar has an old war charm about it and has a distinct Ottoman heritage. It is also known as the place where east meets west. Its most famous landmark is Stari Most, literally the Old Bridge, over the River Neverita. It connects the two parts of the city. Constructed on the orders of Sulaiman the Magnificent in 1566, the bridge was designed by Mimar (Engineer) Hayruddin, a student and apprentice of the famous architect Mimar (Engineer) Sinan. An exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans, the Old Bridge was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by Croat forces during the Croat–Bosniak War. After the war it was rebuilt with the help of the UNICEF and was reopened on 23 July 2004 in all its old splendour.
The old bazar cobblestoned and lined by stores selling trinkets and souvenirs is magical place. A singing minstrel in old ottoman dress complete with a red fez cap and baggy trousers strums his stringed musical instrument and would be happy if you throw a few coins for his labours. The city’s unique appeal is the quaint restaurants, some of them located just next to the ancient river with its clear waters. A meal in these cafes is a memorable affair. The lavender scent wafting by is mesmerising and large portions of trout or kebabs with freshly baked bread are mouth-watering. The old bridge is naturally the most frequented place in the city. Located just next to the bridge is a divers’ club, where daredevils change before jumping off the bridge in the cold waters of the river below to let the passer-by that they know no fear. A short walk away from the old bridge is another famous bridge known as the crooked bridge. The area around it is overflowing with flowers. A number of mosques in the old city resound to the call of the azan but the attendance is thin. The maghrib prayer of the mosque, where I prayed was led by a very young man without a beard. Many of the minarets bear green flags with Islamic symbol of a half moon and a star. Looked like the flag of Pakistan minus the white patch. This is, is however, not the official coat of arms of the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina. I saw similar fags in other places with Muslim majority.
The charm of the old city is many splendored but you can venture out and see more sights in the surrounding area. We hired a taxi and visited Tekia of the Dervish in Blagaj, the old fort in Paticelj and the amazing waterfalls in Kravica. The Tekia is an amazing place. Nestled in the foothills of the mountains, it was a place where the sufi saints of different tarikas would pray and conduct dhikr – the practice of systematically reciting Allah ho. The symbol ‘ho’ in Arabic is written at various places in the Tekia. The prayer place and niche are ideal for meditation. Even today, a prayer call is alluring and mellifluous and is impossible to ignore.
The settlement at Pocitelj has a Muslim fort and a mosque. The business is slow here as salesmen and women sit outside on an exceeding hot day to sell their ware. I climbed up the tower of the old fort that is in need of urgent restoration but provides a good bird’s eye view all around. As I wondered around and entered the mosque to offer prayers, my wife in her own exploration met the Imam’s wife, who took her to her home for a a very welcome glass of sherbet and a cup of Turkish coffee. As I came out of the mosque, she told me that the Khanum has gone below. I don’t know how they conversed with each other because ‘zaban-i-yaar-i-man Turki o’ Turki name danam.’ Roughly translated it means: The language of my beloved is Turkish but alas I don’t know Turkish.
A visit to the magnificent waterfalls at Kravica neatly rounded off our day trip. There are about a dozen cataracts that are falling down a steep precipice, not quite as high as the Niagara falls but easily accessible for all those who wanted to beat the heat. Lots of people were taking a dip in the extremely cold waters in skimpy swim suits, others were sunbathing and tanning their European bodies and enjoying their beer in the shade. Despite all the rush, the waters were not muddied and there was no litter around the place.
Mostar underwent a long siege and suffered the worst that human beings can do to each other. Twenty years from the genocide, they seem to have recovered from their trauma and fast returning to normality.