Why heavenly Bosnia deserves to be your next travel destination

“Is Bosnia dangerous? Isn’t there like a war going on there?” Our Bosnian guide frustratingly recounts the questions he is frequently asked when travelling overseas.

“Sarajevo is only known for three things abroad: triggering the First World War, 1984 Olympics, and the war (Bosnian War, 1992-1995),” he tells us.

“We need another Olympic games to balance things out,” he humorously says.

Sarajevo is an increasingly vibrant place again with a growing number of tourists each year. Rich in history and natural beauty, the country is relatively cheap to travel across by European standards.

A view of Sarajevo from the mountains that surround it.
A view of Sarajevo from the mountains that surround it.

Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, bears all the marks of the country’s turbulent history and blends together white Ottoman-style mosques, Serbian Orthodox and Catholic Croat churches, Austro-Hungarian 19th century architecture, Communist-era apartment blocks and modern shopping malls. A bit of Vienna, a bit of Istanbul, a bit of central Europe – and totally Sarajevan.

Sarajevo is made up of two words, ‘saray’ and ‘evo’: ‘saray’ comes from the Turkish word for palace and ‘evo’ is believed to be a Slavic derivative of the Turkish word ‘ova’ or ‘ovasi’ meaning field or valley.

The courtyard of Sarajevo's oldest Ottoman mosque.
The courtyard of Sarajevo’s oldest Ottoman mosque.
The Church of Saint Anthony of Padua is a national monument and Catholic church in Sarajevo.
The Church of Saint Anthony of Padua is a national monument and Catholic church in Sarajevo.

The city is built inside a valley and is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps mountain range with green hills and beautiful houses with red roofs and white walls, minarets, church towers, forts, mansions and graveyards donned across it.

Walking through the streets of Sarajevo’s old town with its wooden-built Ottoman-style bazaar and smell of kebab and grilled meat being cooked, I can see that Sarajevans, despite the rise of huge shopping complexes, still retain a love for the traditional markets. Families, couples, friends and colleagues alongside tourists relax in tea houses, smoking nargila (water pipe).

A view of Sarajevo's old market.
A view of Sarajevo’s old market.
The market is usually bustling with activity and is also a popular tourist attraction.
The market is usually bustling with activity and is also a popular tourist attraction.

Bars, pubs and nightclubs are blended in throughout the city; a tall woman wearing a hijab walks alongside her uncovered blonde-haired sister who is wearing a dress. The city still embraces its multicultural heritage, although as our guide, who has a Serbian father and a Bosniak mother, tells us – it’s not like it used to be. “Mixed marriages used to be very common in this city,” he recalls.

Bosnia was a part of Yugoslavia, which encompassed present day Macedonia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro.

An Ottoman-era mosque in Sarajevo.
An Ottoman-era mosque in Sarajevo.
There are many beautiful Ottoman mosques around Sarajevo's old city.
There are many beautiful Ottoman mosques around Sarajevo’s old city.

In 1991, 49.2% of the population identified as Bosniak (Muslim), 29.8% as Serbs (Orthodox Christians), 10.7% as Yugoslavs, 6.6% Croats (Catholics) and 3.6% as others (including Jews and Roma).

The war drastically changed the demographics of the entire region. Today, Sarajevo’s population is 80.7% Bosniak, 3.7% Serb, 4.9% Croat and 10% others.

The Road to Istanbul, an old Ottoman-era road, in Sarajevo.
The Road to Istanbul, an old Ottoman-era road, in Sarajevo.
The Vijecnica Sarajevo Town Hall built by the Austro-Hungarians in Moorish-style architecture.
The Vijecnica Sarajevo Town Hall built by the Austro-Hungarians in Moorish-style architecture.

Sarajevo’s streets are littered with reminders of the war and a sense of macabre is undeniably present throughout the city. One typical mini memorial I kept coming across is the red roses of Sarajevo. Every other street has a section of the pavement that looks damaged, but upon getting closer, I realised that the damaged pavement is painted red and forms a rose-like shape.

A Sarajevan explained to me that “these damaged parts of the pavement are where artillery landed and killed someone during the war. Rather than forgetting our past, we want to remember each and every individual tragedy, each life lost. We painted a red rose as a sign of love and peace. Because this is not an official memorial, the roses sometimes disappear. If the government decides to redevelop the street, people get angry about it.”

Red roses painted on the pavements of Sarajevo as a sign of love and peace for those who lost their lives in the war.
Red roses painted on the pavements of Sarajevo as a sign of love and peace for those who lost their lives in the war.

Cemeteries play an important role within Sarajevan culture; the city has integrated graveyard space into its everyday social life. I went to a few graveyards and saw people having picnics. A local explained to me that “Bosnian Muslims have always had a very open attitude to death. It’s a part of life. Why hide away from it? Why shouldn’t graveyards also be public parks?”

Sarajevans love life. Huge developments across the city, which not only include new shopping centres but also restoration of historic sites, opening of galleries and museums, give a clear impression of a place moving on.

Hikers and trekkers will be in heaven in Sarajevo; I walked up a steep hill and reached the yellow fortress, where I saw many young and old relaxing and enjoying the stunning views of the city at sunset.

There is no shortage of places to visit, hills to hike or adventures to be had in the city. Getting lost is not an issue; the locals are warm and friendly and are willing to help you find your way. I should warn you that food portions are large here; a little salad is a mini feast. But if Sarajevo doesn’t win you over, surely Mostar will.

Lush greenery along the road from Sarajevo to Mostar.
Lush greenery along the road from Sarajevo to Mostar.
It was truly an unforgettable experience as we drove past the heavenly scenery.
It was truly an unforgettable experience as we drove past the heavenly scenery.

A two and a half hour drive from Sarajevo to Mostar has to be among the most beautiful and stunning rides of my life. Green and lush valleys, snow-peaked mountain tops, clear river, mini mosques and churches in tiny villages – it could be the description of paradise itself.

Once you enter Mostar, the city does not disappoint with its old stone streets, vibrant market place and tasty food. Undoubtedly, the main attraction is Stari Most, a 16th-century Ottoman bridge which is aesthetically pleasing but difficult to walk across. Also known as the Old Bridge, it was destroyed during the Croat–Bosniak War 427 years after it was built. It was finally rebuilt in 2004. It is a hump-back bridge; it goes up, stabilises in the middle, before going down again.

Stari Most bridge in Mostar is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Stari Most bridge in Mostar is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Locals look amused as tourists struggle to cross the bridge and some even hold onto the railings while crossing. It took repeated attempts before I could confidently cross it.

One local man climbed to the ledge of the bridge. As a crowd gathered, he worked them up, and when enough people had gathered, he jumped off the bridge and landed safely into the crystal-clear waters below.

The crowd that gathered on the Stari Most bridge.
The crowd that gathered on the Stari Most bridge.

From Mostar, it is easy to travel to anywhere in southern Bosnia. There are numerous towns, villages, cities, historical sites and nature reserves to visit.

A must-see is the Kravice Falls, 40 minutes away by car. The beautiful waterfalls are an ideal spot to go for a swim, take photographs, relax and eat Cevapi or grilled kebab in bread. Even on a hot day, being close to the water will keep you cool as you listen to the sounds of crashing water.

The beautiful Kravice Waterfalls in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The beautiful Kravice Waterfalls in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Coming to Bosnia and Herzegovina is an unforgettable experience. For many, the word ‘Europe’ conjures up images of Paris, London or Berlin, but the so-called ‘other Europe’ is as important to the identity of modern Europe.

Despite its troubled past, the importance of Bosnia – especially at a time when reductionist identity politics is sweeping the Old Continent – is about demonstrating the multiethnic and multifaceted of Europe’s past, present and future.

Beyond the history and political lessons that can be learnt in Bosnia, it is also a cool place to enjoy good food, great sights and warm people. The place is really opening up to tourists and it deserves to be on your travel checklist.

All photos by the writer.


10 tweets that accurately sum up being a Pakistani cricket fan

Last night, Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by three wickets in a thrilling game to book their place in the Champions Trophy semi-finals.

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing throughout; like they say, it ain’t easy being green. For a minute there (or 20), all hope was lost. Naturally, Pakistanis took to Twitter to convey what it’s like supporting one of the flakiest teams around.

Of course there were Lagaan memes involved…

And a Lala collage obvs.

Some accused the team of toying with our hearts…

And some low blow comparisons were made.

We feel you, Ahmad Shahzad.

When you realize yelling at the television isn’t going to do anything and you bring out the big guns.

Wait, things are starting to look up. Must remind Indians…

But at the end of the day, our cricket team is like our child; only we can scream at it!

That being said, a few of us kept our chins up. We aspire to be as confident as this guy in a crowd full of Sri Lanka supporters. You go, Glen Coco!

And we did what we do best in the end; defied all odds!

Sarfraz hopes Cardiff run continues in England semi-final

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed hopes the team’s “high confidence” in Cardiff will stand them in good stead when they return to the Welsh capital to face England in a Champions Trophy semi-final on Wednesday.

It will be Pakistan’s second key match at Sophia Gardens in a matter of days after a tense three-wicket victory over Sri Lanka there on Monday saw them into the last four of a tournament featuring the world’s top eight one-day international (ODI) sides.

Pakistan, chasing a seemingly modest 237 for victory, were on the brink of defeat at 137 for six.

But Sarfraz made Sri Lanka pay for dropping him twice with a superb 61 not out and received excellent support from Mohammad Amir (28 not out) in a decisive and unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 75.

It was Sarfraz’s second impressive innings at Cardiff after the wicket-keeper’s 90 on the same ground last year saw Pakistan chase down a target of 303 against England in a four-wicket win that prevented a 5-0 ODI series whitewash.

“We played the last ODI here. We won that time, we chased 300, so definitely our confidence is very high playing in Cardiff,” Sarfraz told reporters after Monday’s nailbiting triumph.

‘Positive cricket’

England, however, have arguably improved their white-ball game even more since that series.

They’ve won 11 of their last 12 matches at this level, a far cry from their woeful first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup, and Eoin Morgan’s men were the only side to exit the group stage of the Champions Trophy with a perfect played three, won three, record.

“England is a very good team, a very, very good team,” said Sarfraz of the tournament hosts.

“If you are playing a world-class team, definitely, you play more positive cricket, so we will do so against England,” he added.

But Sri Lanka might well have won had they dismissed Sarfraz, with Thisara Perera guilty of dropping a simple catch at mid-on when he had made 38.

“If we had held those catches, it would have been a different story,” said Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews.

Pakistan certainly made far harder work than they ought to have done of getting to the knockout stage in a winner-takes-all clash given they held Sri Lanka to 236 all out, with pacemen Junaid Khan (three for 40) and Hasan Ali (three for 43) doing the bulk of the damage.

“I think it’s a great win today, and credit goes to the bowlers, who bowled really well at a crucial time,” said Sarfraz.

“Yes, there is a little bit of concern about the middle order batting, but we will sort out the problems.”

A two-day turnaround does not leave much time to address such issues but, then again, Pakistan only needed three days to bounce back from a 124-run thrashing by arch-rivals and title-holders India in their tournament opener before defeating top-ranked South Africa.

Roy worry

If Pakistan have middle-order concerns, the big decision facing England is whether to drop opener Jason Roy, whose latest low score against Australia means he has now managed just 51 runs in eight ODI innings this season.

Morgan, previously unstinting in his praise of Surrey batsman Roy, was not quite so effusive after a win at Edgbaston on Sunday where England slumped to 35 for three before their captain’s 87 and Ben Stokes’s 102 not out bailed them out, with the duo sharing a stand of 159.

“It’s unfortunate that Jason didn’t get runs,” said Morgan.

“We revisit it every game, everybody’s position, whether it can be changed around, can we do anything better?” England do have the in-form Jonny Bairstow waiting in the wings.

Although he has never opened in ODIs, Bairstow did make 174 at the top of the order for Yorkshire against Durham in a domestic 50-over match this season.

Roy apart, England appear to have all bases covered as they go in search of their first major ODI tournament title, with key fast bowler Mark Wood summing up their mood by saying: “It’s great to be part of a team with so many game-changers… so many match-winners, with bat or ball. “

PM launches Gulf ‘mediation effort’, meets Salman

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday launched a ‘mediation effort’ to resolve the rift between Qatar and other Gulf states.

PM Sharif, who arrived in Jeddah for a one-day trip, met King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

According to the Press Information Department, the PM was received by Makkah Governor Prince Faysal bin Abdul Aziz. King Salman also hosted an Iftar reception in honour of the visiting delegation.

The prime minister is accompanied by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Bajwa accompanies Sharif; Kuwaiti emir leading similar fence-mending move

PM Sharif’s mission comes in tandem with several other initiatives aimed at resolving the Middle Eastern schism, with Kuwaiti emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah spearheading a similar move. Saudi and Qatari delegations are, meanwhile, also holding talks in Washington DC, facilitated by the US.

Mr Sharif started his journey back home late on Monday night.

Although diplomatic observers are optimistic that a solution will soon be found, Arab countries allied with Saudi Arabia have so far taken a hard line on Qatar.

UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gar­gash said in a recent interview that “there is nothing to negotiate” with Qatar.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office had earlier expressed its concern over the crisis unfolding in the Arab world, which had led Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the UAE to sever ties with Qatar over allegations that the oil-rich island nation was sponsoring extremism and terrorism.

Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria had said: “Pakistan believes in unity among Muslim countries. We have made consistent efforts for its promotion.”

Unlike last year’s diplomatic crisis between Riyadh and Tehran, which PM Sharif had also attempted to defuse, a rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar poses a bigger foreign policy challenge for Pakistan, which has strong political, economic and security ties with both sides.

In addition, the ruling Sharif family has historic relations with the ruling families in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar — after being ousted by a military coup in 1999, the Sharif family went into exile in Saudi Arabia, while the Qatari royal family is one of the Sharifs’ main benefactors.

In fact, the former Qatari prime minister’s letter in the Panama Papers case before the Supreme Court was a mainstay of the prime minister’s defence team.

There are worries that Pakistan would not be able to maintain its neutrality in the conflict for long.

Domestically, the government had been under pressure to stay out of the conflict and, instead, play its role in trying to defuse tensions between the two sides.

Last week, the National Assembly adopted unanimously a resolution calling on all states in the Gulf region to shun their differences.

“This house calls upon all countries to show restraint and resolve all differences through dialogue. This house also calls upon the government to take concrete steps towards forging unity amongst the Muslim Ummah in the region,” the resolution said.

The prime minister had announced his intention to mediate during his visit to Astana for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. “Since Pakistan enjoys good relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar, we will try our best to resolve the differences between them,” PM Sharif had told journalists accompanying him.

Also last week, Abdul Hadi Al-Hajeri, a special emissary of the Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, visited Pakistan along with a six member delegation.

During his two-day stay in Pakistan, Mr Hajeri, who is a frequent visitor and a close friend of the ruling family, met Prime Minister Sharif in Islamabad and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore.

The foreign office spokesperson has already denied reports circulating in the foreign media that Pakistan plans to send any troops to Qatar, following Turkey’s decision to deploy its forces there.

Bilawal asks workers to prepare for polls

LAHORE: “He should have been standing at the entrance receiving the jiyalas (party loyalists) and listening to the voices coming from the core of their hearts,” remarked Sikandar Shah, an old guard of the PPP, disappointed at the distance maintained between party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and activists even at a heavily guarded venue as Royal Palm Golf and Country Club.

“I’m here to see for myself how the son of my martyred leader mingles with the workers,” said 73-year-old Shah from Lahore Cantonment who claims to be associated with the party since 1967.

The audience, comprising newly appointed office-bearers of districts and tehsils in five central Punjab divisions, was assigned seats in the capacious lawn meant for golf, as Bilawal addressed them for about 20 minutes from the balcony of the club building.

PPP Central Information Secretary Chaudhry Manzoor was the stage secretary, while besides Bilawal only Qamar Zaman Kaira was given the opportunity to speak to the workers.

Slams PML-N claims of mistreatment by JIT, its attempts to confront institutions

The PPP chairman continued his criticism of the Sharifs’ alleged attempts at “initiating confrontation between constitutional institutions, abusing and threatening the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and making it controversial for no reason”.

He also ridiculed the ruling family’s claims about having been held accountable many times in the past, saying that either the establishment came to their rescue or they “escaped” abroad after submitting “apologies” — a reference to an alleged Sharifs-Musharraf deal for the family’s exile in December 2000.

“If it’s not investigation into corruption and money laundering worth billions of rupees then what is it,” he asked referring to Shahbaz Sharif regretting earlier that Hussain Nawaz had been made to sit by the JIT like he was an accused in a corruption case worth billions of rupees.

Bilawal recalled how his mother had been made to meet her incarcerated husband during hot summer days along with her young children, and how his father Asif Ali Zardari was tortured during investigations, while even the Sharifs’ fingers had not been twisted.

He doubted that the JIT comprising officers of BPS-19 could independently investigate the prime minister. He further said the PPP would side with state institutions if the Sharifs tried to browbeat them and that the party would not allow the system to be derailed just to protect the government.

He also counted alleged failures of the government on various internal and external fronts and alleged that attempts were being made to break the PPP into pieces as had happened in the past by the establishment and Nawaz Sharif. But, he said, being an ideological party, the PPP could not be eliminated.

The PPP chairman asked the workers to increase contacts with people and prepare themselves for elections as he too would visit each divisional headquarters in Punjab after Eidul Fitr as part of the mass contact drive.

Regarding this, Mr Shah commented that “Bilawal has the current to lead the masses like his mother and grandfather, provided he is given a chance to mix with workers”.

He believed that jiyalas could be upset with the party leadership but only for a short time as “they cannot remain aloof from the PPP for too long”.