Battling the slippery stones and the blazing sun, climbing the steep bridge, I pause and take a moment to grab some air. But instead of taking a deep breath, I end up gasping! A handsome young man clad in swim briefs jumps off the bridge, flying straight into the cold waters of River Neretva. There is a sudden roar in the crowd — applause follows!
Jumping off the Stari Most Bridge in the pretty town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a tradition dating back to the 15th century. These daredevils are professional divers who collect funds from the tourists and once sufficient money has been gathered (usually 10 to 20 Euros), they throw themselves off the bridge, flying in the air for three seconds before plunging into the emerald green river. Every July, there is a bridge diving competition held in Mostar.
Named after the bridge keepers Mostari, the iconic rainbow-arch shaped bridge Stari Most was a limestone structure raised by the Ottomans. Built in 1566, the Stari Most Bridge was bombed to rubbles in 1993 in the Croat-Bosniak war, only to be zealously reconstructed in 2004.
A stroll away from Stari Most is the Čaršija or the Bazaar, the heart of Mostar’s old town. Lying on both sides of the bridge, it is dotted with artefacts that mirror the historic Ottoman influence on Bosnian culture. Stalls on either side of the cobbled alleyways spill out the Bosniaks affection for traditional possessions. A glimpse into the aršija shows an extensive display of vibrant rugs with classic motifs, wooden flutes, Turkish glass lamps, delicately embroidered table cloths, handmade jewellery, little trinkets made of copper and steel, fluffy woollen carpets, Persian mosaic plates and ceramic and copper coffee ware. I took home a couple of richly embroidered pouches, handcrafted earrings and tiny mosaic engraved mirrors as souvenirs.
Two beautiful women decked up in authentic Bosnian costumes greeted me. Just when I thought I found an answer, my nostrils signalled me to look beyond the dames. It was coffee! Bosnia is a haven for coffee lovers. Drinking coffee in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more like a tradition than a causal affair. The beans are freshly roasted, ground and transferred to a slightly warm, copper pot called džezva. Boiled water is then added to the džezva and is allowed to settle for a couple of minutes, resulting in a fresh, thick textured coffee! We were given an empty glass, a džezva full of coffee and a cube of the Turkish delight ‘lokum’ to finish it off!
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fusion of architectural and natural beauty. This former Yugoslavian nation is worth a visit. Squeeze a couple of days from your itinerary to explore this little known gem of Europe. A day trip from Croatia or Serbia to Mostar is time well-spent. But if you’ve got more time, wander in the Ottoman flavoured backstreets of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We spent so much time rambling through the bylanes of Mostar that we had to give Sarajevo a miss.
While driving back to Dubrovnik in Croatia, we took a detour to peek into Medjugorje, meaning ‘between hills’, a tiny hamlet in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia. Famous for its supernatural events, religious tourists swamp a hill near Medjugorje, following a series of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Keeping aside the controversies, Medjugorje is a charming town. St James Church, a Parish church in the centre of Medjugorje, has a unique feel to it. Its exterior altar which can accomodate about 5,000 people has a striking symmetry that adds to the beauty.
Bidding goodbye to Medjugorje with a heavy heart, we got back on the road. Winding roads that snake though the plush green meadows with puny yellow flowers strewn all over the fields. There is torrential downpour somewhere far away in the hazy distance.
Bitter history of Mostar, where every stone screams a sombre story, the pristine aura of Medjugorje that hooks with the inner harmony, unruffled landscapes that quieten the disrupted soul – Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ve overwhelmed me and have left me yearning for more!
How to get there
Flights from Bengaluru to Sarajevo via Lufthansa and Croatian Airlines cost around Rs 52,700 (round trip for one). Our travel to Mostar was a part of a bigger Europe trip. We flew Qatar Airways to Rome and back and the round trip cost per person was Rs 40,000.
Places to stay
The room tariff is around Rs 3,000 per night at any three-star hotel.
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