Lukomir, Lukomir…what to say about Lukomir.
First let me start by introducing this little mountaintop dwelling properly. It’s about an hour and a half from Sarajevo on Bjelasnica Mountain and was known as the highest and most isolated permanent settlement in Bosnia. Keyword is was because two years ago residents started moving down for the winter, many to their families in Sarajevo.
Winter gets tough up there and seeing the conditions in which they live I couldn’t imagine things being any other way when temperatures get below freezing and roads are blocked with snow. But this is just a technicality really because regardless of how many months out of the year they are living there, Lukomir just might be the last remaining village of its kind in Bosnia.
Around the same time Sarajevo was under siege in the 90s, so were these mountains, but thanks to Lukomir’s isolated position, Serbian forces couldn’t get to them while all the other surrounding villages were completely destroyed. As a result, Lukomir remains a tiny “window into the past”. At least until the tourists start to arrive.
Sad to say, but it appears that these days Lukomir is in danger of being destroyed not by weapons of mass destruction, but rather mass tourism and a dying population. Most of its residents, at least the OG ones, are all 60+ years old and outsiders who see it as a business opportunity rather than a historical site in need of preservation have already moved in and started to take over. Below is one of the first signs of its authenticity’s death. A bar. In a traditional Muslim village.
This may have been one of the only times in my life I wasn’t happy to see one, but I can see how it works. Tourists love bars/cafes/restaurants and the only other place to get food and drinks up there for day trippers and hikers is in the homes of the locals which is what we did. Lunch and kafa at Rahima’s house – grandmother of one of the ladies who works for Green Visions which is the tour company that arranged the trip up there for me.
Because of that family connection and their policy to pay local partners fair prices, I felt good being there, but in general, I have no idea what sort of operation other people/companies are running. The way the rest of those Bosnian mamas were trying to hustle a sale of some pita and socks on us as we were walking through the village after lunch made me sad, but I suppose this has been happening in one way or another for centuries. It’s just a little more disturbing when they are simultaneously rocking a Britney Spears t-shirt..
So what to say about Lukomir… I had a lot of mixed feelings leaving and still do even weeks later. On the one hand, the last thing I think Lukomir needs is more tourists until it receives some sort of help to balance the ones it’s already getting. Clearly its “protected” status by the government hasn’t helped much in the way of stopping non-traditional buildings from going up. Nor does it seem to be helping much with the maintenance of the native ones.
On the other hand, it is a really unique spot in Bosnia that I couldn’t recommend a visit to enough. The surrounding scenery will take your breath away, especially if you are up for some hiking, and even though they are more connected to modern society than ever before, there is still an old world feel to it that you can’t really find anywhere else in the country.
Final verdict is GO and GO NOW if you have the chance, just make sure to do so responsibly. If you are not planning on hiking up there from a lower village, go with a respectable tour company. Try to avoid large group tours. Don’t support the non-local establishments there. And if you happen to see Rahima hanging around, please tell her I said hello.
LindseyOctober 25, 2013 at 12:04 am
These are such beautiful pictures! Such a gorgeous little town, I agree that the signs of commercialism are sad. It’s such a controversial predicament.
LarissaOctober 27, 2013 at 10:15 pm
Thank you! Controversial – yes. I think it’s mostly negligence on the government’s part. If you are going to claim something as “protected”, protect it.
Lindsay DonaldsonOctober 31, 2013 at 10:32 pm
I’m so jealous. Curious – what type of economy exists here? Are they pastoralists or what do they do for income/food?
LarissaNovember 1, 2013 at 9:00 am
Yeah, they are mainly shepherds but now tourism is bringing new opportunities to earn some cash and most seem to be jumping on it.
FrancaNovember 1, 2013 at 11:31 am
What a nice post Larissa. Places like Lukomir are becoming rare and in my opinion they shroud be protected from the mass tourism. At the same time though the money that these people will get from tourists will definitely help them a lot. It’s a very difficult call to make, It would be ideal if things stayed as they are even with more tourists visiting Lukomir, I’m not so sure that would be possible though.
LarissaNovember 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm
Thanks, Franca. I don’t think Lukomir will ever see the kind of numbers that other, more easily accessible traditional villages get, but the tourist to local ratio is what qualifies it as “mass tourism” in my opinion (if that makes sense). Money from tourists definitely helps and I am not condoning that – I just think the government or some cultural protection agency should get involved in order to make it more organized and give them an incentive to preserve what they have, not change things just because they think it will bring in more money.
CraigFebruary 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm
Hi Larissa. I came this post whilst researching Lukomir. I keep coming across your blog by accident, and felt compelled to comment on this post. (Keep up the great work, by the way!)
it’s certainly interesting, isn’t it? We find places like Lukomir beautiful and fascinating, it’s part of the draw to go see these places. A life completely different to our own, something so rare in Europe particularly nowadays. So one by one we trek to and through these places, admiring the hand-weaving, log fires and time people have for one another – so much so that we take pictures, we write blogs and tell stories to other like-minded folk of Lukomir, who in turn go to see it for themselves. More and more people start to come, until it makes more sense for the people of the land to ask tourists for money (it’s no longer the odd traveler, there’s a steady stream by now…) in return for accommodation, food, drinks, so bars and ho(s)tels pop up. It makes more economic sense than sheering sheep for a living.
I wonder if by visiting these places, as you say, we are actually commercialising them? Unintentionally spreading a new-world philosophy as we visit these places? Does a government eco/cultural grant just patronise the people, that were living happily poor and old-fashioned before?
I went to the Tatra/Tatry mountains for hiking last year, and (beautiful as they are) found them to have been commercialised and sold to tourists as its income stream. I stayed overnight in a mountain hut 1500m up that had been fully booked months beforehand online, the hut having hot water, hot food and wi-fi. Convenient? I guess. Definitely suited to the level of tourism it receives. But I couldn’t help but feel I was missing a beautiful mountain charm, that I went to visit.
I wonder if there is really an answer to this? People have traveled, wandered from place to place, for centuries. Is it natural social evolution? Who knows. After reading this, I’ll definitely reconsider a potential trip to Lukomir – perhaps I’ll start a new Lukomir of my own one day.
Thanks for the article. Perhaps our paths will cross one day, but in the meantime, keep traveling, learning and enjoying life.
LarissaFebruary 21, 2014 at 1:17 am
Thanks for the great comment and glad you finally introduced yourself if this isn’t your first time here :) Very interesting points you bring up as this is one of the biggest debates about travel and tourism – however you want to differentiate the two, if at all.
Of course this has been happening for centuries in some way or another and this isn’t just a problem for traditional villages, but cities and towns as well. While locals have every right to make some money from the influx of visitors, my biggest problem in this particular situation is that it’s other people NOT from Lukomir who are perhaps profiting the most because they have the money to essentially bypass what protective laws are already in place and build whatever they want. Or there are the irresponsible tour companies who bring up whoever they want, charge those people a pretty good price, and do not give back at all to the local community.
Every case is different which is why I don’t think there will ever be an easy answer to your question(s), but in the case of Lukomir and the non-commercialized-but-could-soon-be-commercialized spots I saw in Bosnia, I think it really boils down to responsibility from all parties. Responsibility of the tourists to visit in the least non-intrusive way possible, responsibility by the government to recognize and uphold protection of important areas (natural or cultural), responsibility by tour companies and those trying to make business there to not overdo it or think about profits more than the well-being of the locals whose lives they are impacting, and finally, responsibility of the locals to also recognize that what they have is special and needs to be taken care of or else it will be gone.
Thanks again for the comment, very thought provoking and it would be great to chat about it some more in person if our paths ever do cross. Safe travels and I hope you do make it to Lukomir one of these days to see for yourself.
ALEKSANDAR SAVINFebruary 22, 2014 at 10:18 am
Odmor u nedirnutoj prirodi, etno okruzenje -to je “nova dimenzija postojanja”. Treba doneti zakon da se takva sredina sacuva- da je “mangupi “ne razvuku. Treba naci negog dobrog pravnika , iz sveta, da to osmisli… I jedna pesma..
asmahMarch 24, 2014 at 9:49 am
hai kcan u please share with me how to go to lukomir…its very interesting place.
LarissaMarch 31, 2014 at 2:02 am
It was indeed interesting! If you are visiting Bosnia and have some time, I would absolutely recommend it. As I mentioned, I went with the tour company Green Visions. I suppose one could attempt getting up there on their own if they had their own car (because you will not find public transportation there) or you hike up from near Sarajevo (if you are a skilled hiker), but easiest way is with a guide.
Mustapha Kemal NUJJOODecember 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm
I appreciate and concur with your analysis of the situation.I also feel concerned as a world citizen .I also fear lukomir will definitely loose it authenticity (e.g by the introduction of sale of alcohol – bar) , though the improvement or enhancement of their condition of living will be much appreciated.I really love Lukomir and wish to visit it in the future.May be a non profit NGO sponsored by those believed in the idea of coorporate social responsibility can be a possible solution. Could lukomir be classified as a world heritage before it is irreversibly too late? Hope that somebody might already have thought of it. World awareness of the situation is the least that can be done.who will bell the cat.?
LarissaJanuary 13, 2015 at 4:16 am
I don’t know the status now, but I will find out for sure the next time I am in Bosnia. Will be interesting to do a follow-up piece now that it’s been over a year since this was written.
AzlenaSeptember 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm
Such a beautiful article Larissa!
It was poignant and touching and I feel for the villagers. How they live and the their village itself is such a refreshing eye-opener. They are truly a gem amongst the busy tired cities.
But to have the intrusion of city elements into the village I find appalling and disturbing.
I feel that this is where education and respect is of paramount importance.
Keep up the good work babe!
LarissaJune 19, 2018 at 6:58 am
Thank you, I will try :) I feel really lucky to have visited when I first did – I think it must have changed quite a bit more as there are quite a few more tour companies offering day trips there from Sarajevo.