Kosovo: The forbidden road

It is difficult visiting Kosovo without the war coming to mind. I remember the 1999 images of desperate people standing together in a field, having lost everything. The memories resurface when we go for a hike in the Rugova gorge.

We walk along a gravelled road, popular among mountain bikers, wanting to see if there was anything nice to see here too. Up on a rock wall, we see the plaque. Three young soldiers, boys, died here in 1999. We look around at these beautiful surroundings, where the cruelties of war took place. We move on. It is not that long since Serbia rattled its sabres again and NATO had to relieve the tension. Peace is fragile.

The road winds itself around the hill as it slopes up. The trail has come to a sort of a peak when we hear a chainsaw. An old man is building small log cabins. A kiosk is also on the site, but it doesn’t seem to be open. The whole place is being prepared to accommodate more visitors, whether they are cycling or walking, like us.

The old man smiles, winks at us and wants to shake our hands. We think we understand some of what he says. We wave him goodbye and move on. Later we meet another man who also grabs our hands. Somewhere we have made a wrong turn. We should have taken a turn off the road and down a path to get back to where we stay. Instead, we now stand outside his house where he and friend are trying to get a cow to move. First, he looks sceptical, but when he understands what we need, it’s just smile and again, shakes our hands.

The old man smiles, winks at us and wants to shake our hands

Eventually, we find the right path as it starts to rain and we hike down the slopes again. No need to say it feels good to get back to the cosy house ‘Chalet Kujta. Fire in the hearth and hot tea in our cups. We gaze out of the windows. Throughout the neighbourhood, they are preparing for more visitors. Several apartments and houses are being built to accommodate travellers who want to explore the gorge and the surrounding area.

Border crossing
The clouds hung heavily over the mountains as we drove into Kosovo from Rozaje in Montenegro. From what we could see on the map, this seemed like the only road we could take driving into Kosovo. There was another little road according to the map. This road, from Montenegro’s side, looked rather small and having our experience of Albanian roads in mind, we didn’t want to take any chances.

In Rozaje, a cyclist from Germany confirmed our thoughts. From Kosovo, he had cycled up the ‘forbidden road’, as he called it. It goes through the Rugova gorge where we are now. Here he planned to cross the border to Montenegro and onto the small road. He was stopped and made to turn back, finally crossing where we did. This is not an official border crossing and can give you problems later if you enter Kosovo here, then want to cross the border somewhere else, like Serbia. Besides, apparently there’s no proper road at this point anyway.

The first city we saw in Kosovo was Pejë. Not a beautiful city, a bit rough around the edges, so it’s a pleasure to turn towards the forbidden road and through the Rugova gorge. It’s so beautiful and dramatic here. Steep mountain walls reach skywards and tempt climbers to come and try. There are opportunities here for all skill levels and in high season there is a zip-line. You can also hike in the mountains, cycle and explore caves. The M9 road meanders through this gorge, offering a very interesting drive. It’s narrow and steep and at one place you have to drive through a short, low, dark tunnel. You really don’t want to meet a truck here. The road is paved and it takes you up towards the Montenegrin border, but there, you have to turn around.

Steep mountain walls reach skywards and tempt climbers to come and try

Our hike up the gravelled road sure built up an appetite. We bring some flashlights and walk down the hill to the main road. Not far from where we stay is Restaurant & Motel ‘HANI’. I have crossed fingers and toes that they are open, as we haven’t bought any extra food to cook ourselves. Peanuts for dinner don’t last long.

We are in luck. A waiter holds the door for us as we enter. There are a few people at a couple of the tables, otherwise it’s quiet. But it’s so cosy here! We get a table a little away from the others, by the window. Here we can admire what they have built outside, as well as the extensions to the main building itself. Once again, they are preparing for more visitors.

There is a lot of cheese, which they do like here

We get the menu. Thinking, discussing and asking the waiter eventually, if he can serve a selection of different local dishes that we can taste. A bottle of locally produced wine accompanies the meal.
What’s finally on the table is absolutely gorgeous. There is a lot of cheese, which they do like here. Oven baked pepper in a creamy cheese sauce. Yummy! The meal is finished with a glass of raki. Of course.
The waiter, he’s lovely. His presence is just right and always has a smile.

We are stuffed and warm when we go back out into the dark again. The flashlights we’ve brought with us are really useful now. It is pitch black when we crawl back up the slopes towards the house again. Fortunately, there is still heat in the fire. It feels really good to get to bed.

Kosovo, what a rough beauty you are!

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