Lake Perućac, June 2018
In June 2018, I spent a weekend on the shores of Lake Perućac which forms the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The lake was artificially created when the river Drina was dammed in 1966 near the village of Perućac in what was then Yugoslavia. The dam is being used to power a hydro-electrical plant in Bajina Bašta, a bit further downstream. The lake is located at an altitude of 290 metres and the bigger part of the lake is within the Drina river canyon, which begins 7 kilometres upstream of the dam. The lake and the canyon are of extraordinary beauty and due to their relative remoteness, as they are surrounded by steep mountains and forests, they are largely avoided by tourists.
While the focus of this post will be on the natural beauty of this region, and of course photography, any visitor to this area cannot avoid the region’s recent bloody history and ongoing political crisis. Firstly, Bosniak villages on the Bosnian side of the lake are now largely deserted and devastated, the result of genocide and other crimes committed in Srebrenica in 1995. My base was in the village of Klotjevac, Srebrenica Municipality, which had a pre-war population of 300. Now there are only a few families living there. If you drive around the area, you will encounter many monuments to those murdered during the war. When the lake was emptied in 2010 in order for maintenance work to be conducted on the dam, exhumations of Bosniak and Albanian victims took place. The latter were transported from Kosovo and dumped in the lake in a freezer truck. The remains of three Wehrmacht soldiers were also found at that time, a further testament to the violent history of the region, and Europe in general. Secondly, there is a dispute between Bosniak and Serbian politicians as to the ownership of the hydro-electrical plant which stretches to both shores of the Drina river. The border between the two countries has not been defined. Thirdly, many locals complain about the creation of a national park in the region by Republika Srpska authorities, one of the entities forming the complex political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The park only includes majority Bosniak villages and they argue that its promulgation threatens their livelihoods as restrictions may be imposed on matters such as sheep grazing, building permits, and other development.
Even as this shadow of history and politics largely looms over the area and its people, I wanted to show you its natural beauty. Regrettably, I did not have time to cross into Serbia to visit the Tara National Park and Zaovina lake (also an artificial lake which serves as a reservoir to the hydro-electrical plant). Perhaps another time. My story will therefore only be about the Bosnian side of the lake.
While difficult terrain and unpaved roads have kept the tourists away, this also means that the wildlife in this region is largely untouched. The forests surrounding the Klotjevac village are home to rabbits, foxes, roe deer, wolves, and bears. The endemic Pančićeva Omorika tree species grows on both sides of the Perućac lake. The lake and the Drina river are rich in various fish species. As a result, the area is very popular with hunters and fishermen. I was also told that due to the mountainous nature of the region, the weather is very unstable. I could definitely confirm this, as on the first evening of my arrival there were heavy thunderstorms over the lake.
Perhaps it was just my bad luck. But I experienced the same, erratic weather the next day, while boating on the lake. Periods of sunshine and rain showers alternated. At some point, seriously dark clouds approached us while out on a boat and we started rowing a bit faster.
The Serbian side of the lake is much more developed and further down the river is the town of Bajina Bašta. A fairly simple tourist boat traverses the lake, probably all the way to Višegrad.
In this region, which has a long mining history that dates back to the ancient times as it is rich in natural resources, there is also evidence of people who lived here long ago. Stećci, medieval tombstones linked to the now bygone Bosnian Church are scattered throughout the area, including across the border. Sadly, they seem neglected, and time and weather are taking their toll.
Further evidence of past habitation are the remains of a medieval castle on a hilltop at Klotjevac. I could not find a reliable source as to the origins of the castle. I did hear stories of local hunters that it is a good hunting ground for boars. I am sure that its former residents were not hungry. I also read that the path to the castle was cleared in the recent years and that the castle would otherwise be difficult to reach. Only way to it is on foot and you should be aware of venomous snakes (poskok – horned viper) in the area if you brave the hike.
At night, clear skies offer a spectacular view of the stars as there is no light pollution in the area. The region is perfect if you are planning to escape the business of a big city and reconnect with nature.
If you are an early bird, you can be treated to a special light show as the sun rises over the lake.
I was only able to show you a small piece of this incredible natural wonder. I am sure there is a lot more to discover and I hope to be back. A visit is highly recommended.