The Accursed Mountains
Descriptive notes for a photographic project that I would like to develop in the future on the mountains society.
The Accursed Mountains are a mixture of many apparently incompatible elements. The beauty of the landscape is fairytale-like. It is like being in the Alps but a hundred years ago. Where instead of the overflow of tourists there are only shepherds and farmers. It will not last long, because overtourism will likely arrive soon.
The Accursed Mountains are a large, rugged, pathless range that stretches between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. It is one of the rare mountain ranges in Europe that has not been explored entirely yet, besides having several unescalated mountain walls.
I passed through the range on an unexpected detour on my journey to…
…the Orient. My innate passion for all that is remote and difficult to reach pushed me up these mountains. Years earlier, I had read how interesting and unspoiled they were. However, I have the feeling that I arrived a little late. This place in the last 5 years has gone from being totally wild and unattainable to something that is preparing to change. From just over 2 explorers a week, it has already gone to 25 tourists a week, which, although they are still negligible numbers throughout the area, mark a precise trend.
Some local owners and farmers have bet on tourism and have converted old buildings to hospitality. It is bizarre to see inns in the middle of nowhere, on dirt roads. But progress is coming quickly and the construction sites to create new roads are already open. The regulations of the 4 national parks present in the area have not yet refined urban planning tools and building permit policies to protect the natural heritage of the mountains. With the advancement of interest in mass tourism, the risk of building structures that disfigure the landscape is real.
What I have seen is a paradise, on which I have however noticed a thin crack that could open in the near future in an uncontrolled way.
Only Main Roads and border crosses have been partly paved and upgraded to European standards in 2015. The rest of the access and crossing routes consist in often steep and dangerous dirty tracks through very steep canyons. Wading is often necessary to cross rivers. On some valleys there are only walking paths available, like the one from Theth to the city of Shkoder.
Due to the lack of mountain passes combined the particularly difficult orography, valleys remain isolated between them. It is often necessary to drive down to the coast and climb back again to pass from one valley to the other.
The Accursed Mountains are very sparsely populated. The villages only have up to a few hundred inhabitants. They are often settlements scattered on a valley without an identifiable center.
In winter some villages in the Albanian part of the Accursed Mountains are completely cut off from the rest of the world for months due to the very heavy snow.The area is home to Albanians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosniaks and kosovars which all contribute to a great ethnographic, sociological and religious diversity. The Albanians have many tribes tribes living in the region as livestock herders and beekeepers. The names of various Albanian tribes mainly originate from location names (Hoti, Gruda, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Dukagjini, Shkreli, Shala, Nikaj, Krasniqi, Gashi, Kuci and Rugova). Religion is also diverse. Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and others minorities cohabit in the same territory.
Large mammal species that have long been extinct in other regions are found here, such as the Eurasian brown bear, grey wolf, red fox, European wildcat, roe deer, fallow deer, red deer, wild boar and European otter
The highly endangered Balkan lynx, a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx, is mainly found in the Thethi National Park where about roughly 20–50 individuals still roam, though poaching is still a large threat. Chamois are found throughout the high altitudes. About 720 chamois live between the borders of Kosovo and Montenegro alone. There is speculation that the mouflon roamed the Accursed Mountains until World War I, when it disappeared.
Illegal deforestation is still a major problem today. To some extent even the national parks are affected. In dry summers forest fires are common. All the large mammals including wolves, chamois, foxes, badgers and wild boar are hunted without regard to national park boundaries.
There are four national parks in the Accursed Mountains — one each in Montenegro and Kosovo, and two in Albania. The three countries are planning to create another tri-state park in the area, that will be called the Balkans Peace Park and will feature no border crossings.