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Dragash in Kosovo is one of the poorest regions in the country, but it also happens to be one of the most beautiful. A new guide will encourage hikers to these underexplored mountains and plant the seeds of a sustainable tourist industry.
Interested in exploring the beauties of Kosovo’s nature and still haven’t visited the Dragash area? Well, look no further: travel blogger and Pristina resident Todd Wassel has turned his incredible hiking experience in this forgotten region into a guide to discover and enjoy the area.
Located in the southern end of Kosovo, Dragash is an oasis of untouched natural beauty and traditional villages sandwiched between the borders of Macedonia and Albania.
Todd Wassel, a conflict resolution and human rights expert who has lived in Japan, Thailand, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, and most recently Kosovo, has visited over 30 countries.
He began his wanderings 11 years ago as an English teacher in Japan. Since then, he has shared his travel experiences in a blog, and describes the natural beauties in incredible places around the globe.
Living in Kosovo since the middle of winter in 2010, Todd has been exploring the country’s nature, discovering a beautiful and challenging environment which needed to be promoted more and more.
“From the time I moved to Kosovo, one and a half years ago, I have spent most of my weekends climbing the mountains, visiting small villages, and falling in love with the area,” said Todd to Balkan Insight.
Amazed by the natural beauty of the Dragash area, which has not been promoted at all as a magnificent area to climb or hike, Todd took the challenge to present all his findings into a travel guide for the nature lovers.
“The book is a hiking and nature tourism guide to the mountains of Dragash. It includes 12 hiking routes and three mountain biking tracks in Dragash, shown for the first time. All the hikes come with both detailed maps and local knowledge. For the more experienced hiker, you can also download the GPS tracks so that you are sure not to get lost,” explained Todd.
Being fascinated by the undiscovered nature in Dragash area, and depressed by the fact that during Yugoslavia this area didn’t have the chance to become a real touristic zone, Todd spend more time in this area in order to let people know what they are missing in Kosovo.
“I was hiking in Dragash and couldn't believe that more people didn't know about the amazing beauty of the area. It struck me that if people knew how to come to Dragash then more tourists and nature lovers would start arriving.
“At the heart of it, the guidebook is the first step in helping, to not only attract employment to the Dragash area, but also to use the income generated to protect the natural environment in a sustainable manner,” said Todd.
When we asked Todd what was so challenging in Dragash, he added that Dragash is one of “the most remote and sparsely populated areas of Kosovo, but contains some of the friendliest people I have met.”
Moreover he added that from this region he has been enchanted with the local’s traditional lifestyle.
“In one village you can still see traders crossing the mountains over to Albania on horseback to buy and sell vegetables. I think there are very few places left in the world where international commerce still takes place on the back of horses,” added Todd.
The Dragash hiking guide includes 12 accessible routes, and it might be followed with a second edition to incorporate feedback from users and expanding on some other areas.
The Dragash area is perfect for families who want to picnic alongside clean rivers, to hunt butterflies, or catch glimpses of wild mountain goats jumping from rock to rock.
Still others can enjoy mushroom picking after a nice rainfall, or eating while blueberries and raspberries right off the bush.
The Dragash hiking guide book will soon be available in English, Albanian and Serbian and can be downloaded in electronic version from the website www.toddwanderings.com for free. Printed version will also be available through the UNDP, who have sponsored the guide, in limited supply but will be free as well.
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.