Steep peaks, wide green plains, clinking cows and stunning views. No, this is not a picture of the Himalayas or the Alps, although it might seem like it. Especially, when you are accompanied by the first Kosovan woman, Uta Ibrahimi, who summited the 8848 meters of the famed Mount Everest.
We did not accompany Uta to the world’s highest peaks but instead gathered in a sanctuary of untouched natural beauty, the Sharr/Šar mountains. There, in one of the most remote regions in Kosovo, we could behold such scenery thanks to the mountain range giving this region its endless lure.
Together with nearly dozen young residents of Dragash/Dragaš, we had a unique opportunity to hike with Uta and learn from her experience. As the SDGs champion in Kosovo, she promotes gender equality, youth empowerment, and environmental protection, so she passed on her knowledge about sustainable activities in the region to this active young group.
In Dragash/Dragaš, we run a project with locals and the Austrian Development Agency to develop new skills and find jobs, so the role model of Uta of how to take future career into own hands and appreciate the environment we live in is much needed, especially for the young people.
Our journey started in a remote tiny village Brod and continued to the steep slopes of the mountains. The unspoiled natural beauty of the peaks and the region, which is very alluring to explore, has been only fairly promoted, leaving ample amount of potential untapped. There has been an increased emphasis from various sources on the touristic potential of the area, encouraging the local community to think better about its surrounding resources and bounty.
It has also led the youth to explore the possibilities of a career in sustainable tourism and adventure activities, and to consider the nature as a means of making a living. The region is well-known for preserving old traditions and has a great potential as a hiking destination, ideal for outdoor adventures or family trips, also spiced up with picking edible mushrooms or blueberries.
While hiking, we passed by vegetation unknown to us. As Uta explained, the region is blessed not only with forest fruits, but also with seasonal varieties of natural foods and herbs. They are traditionally used for tea or as a medicine. One of the most unexpected plants Uta showed us was a wild carrot, growing all over the mountainsides. Her being a great teacher, I saw Uta happily passing on her passion and dedication for sustainable development and tourism.
Some of the young women and men are already appreciating the opportunities of the nearby mountains. Staying in touch with nature, they come to the peaks to enjoy roaming around or organize biking trips across the mountain trails. Despite many wanting to become famous football players or singers, the young hikers are aware of the possibilities that this mountainous region can offer. So maybe in the future we will see them guiding tourists throughout Sharr/Šar mountains and educating travelers about responsible tourism, collecting herbs and forest products, and sustainably working with the nature.
As we continued through the plains, the wide valley in the middle of green hills suitable for pasture throughout the summer time opened in front of us. These grasslands are used by local farmers to keep sheep here throughout the summer season and are guarded only by the famous Sharr/Šar mountain dogs. This is also where the traditional eponymous cheese comes from. We could constantly hear animals’ bleating coming out of nowhere, which gave the mountains a mystic touch.
Although in the end we did not reach our destination, the elevated Shutman Lake, because of a coming storm, we were happy for the exclusive opportunity to hike with the famous alpinist. In today’s world full of technologies and virtual connections, it is challenging to find young people to be attracted by nature. That is why it is even more satisfying that the youth from Dragash/Dragaš were fantastically interested in such activities despite lacking the required experience. In the world of immense potential, they will need help to become active contributors to sustainable development and promotion of the region.
By Pavla Snajdrova