‘Visoko’ means ‘high’ in Russian, and is comprised of two words ‘vis’ and ‘oko’ – ‘high eye’, that is ‘someone who looks from above’.
I’m in Visoko. A tiny place northwest of Sarajevo, Bosnia. In 2005 Samir Osmanagich, an Anthropology Professor and director of Centre for Anthropology and Archeology at the American University in Bosnia-Herzegovia, Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, claimed to have discovered here the oldest and the largest man-made pyramids on Earth named the Sun (the biggest and most visited), the Moon, the Earth, the Love and the Dragon. Since then the place has been frequented by scientists and those in spiritual search for pyramids are believed to act as giant energy amplifiers and carry an encrypted message of the ancient and more advanced civilizations. There are tunnels at the foot of the Sun pyramid – the Underground Labyrinth Ravne – which is claimed to connect all pyramids and to hold special frequency and high concentration of the negative ions, which is healing for the human body and mind. “When visiting the tunnels, the cells in our organism don’t have the external enemies and become able to begin their “job” – solving the problems inside the body. The regeneration process begins, i.e. the individual self-healing process.” (http://piramidasunca.ba/eng/pyramid.html)
I found myself here some three years ago spending one night on top of the Sun pyramid. It felt special, the air – still, the views – mesmerizing. Everything to make you want to come to a halt and stay, observe and saturate this energy, make it part of what you are.
I knew I’d come here again.
I take a bus from Split to Sarajevo, and from Sarajevo – another bus to Visoko, the last trip lasts for 2 hours. It’s hot, a woman standing next to me feels unwell so I let her take my seat and give her my water. She feels embarrassed she’s not well, and she thanks me repeatedly as she leaves the bus just before Visoko. I arrive – two beautiful young women are waiting for me at the bus station – Amila and her younger sister, the daughters of my host. They are taking me to the house of their mother Nadya – which I picked haphazardly out of a hundred of other properties at booking.com. Upon arrival Nadya gives me a big hug – she’s very happy I can speak her language (so I add Bosnian to my collection of Balkan languages, which, in fact, are more or less one and the same language). I arrive on Monday, I only booked two nights, yet as I enter my apartment, I straight away decide to stay an entire week. It’s a beautiful place, cozy, immaculate, equipped with all the necessities and more, with a huge and comfortable bed, and located right in the town centre, next to the river and a charming wooden Mosk; a walking distance from the tunnel Ravne. The apartment is only and luckily so available until Friday though, but Nadya says –we’ll find a place for you, you can always stay with me if there’s no other option. No worries. I feel at home in this strange and foreign tucked away place sheltered by the mountains.
The day I arrive I take a heavily wooded mountain path to reach the top of the Sun pyramid – that’s when you truly experience and discover the steepness of the pyramid faces. The climb is close to vertical, so now and then I have to hold on to tree trunks and branches not to slide back.
A walk up the top of the pyramid on the paved road takes about 40 minutes at a relatively fast pace. This road is located in between two pyramids – the pyramid of the Sun and the pyramid of Love. A stranger told me I should take it. And I follow the advice the following days.
I start my journey in total darkness, well before the sunrise, I stop by the airy edifice of the Mosk with lace-like carved wooden walls to listen to the chanting – it’s soft and peaceful, it marks 5 am. I’m passing by the café called Shebel (there seems to be a ‘shebel’ in every Balkan country), I look in inadvertently and see a couple of dark Kafkian silhouettes in there – looking as if they never leave the place; a bakery – it’s open, the baker is there – a withered old man, looking inquisitively at me. I stop and buy a freshly baked, still hot Bosnian lavash – I might meet some animals on the way.
Visoko stands out in the modern consumption-oriented world. There are no big chain shops here. Every little shop is a collection of everything and anything. Local food is similar to the Turkish cuisine, albeit spices. All that Bosnians know, when it comes to spices, is salt and pepper. The fresh juice menu in a little café in Visoko features rose water, elderberry juice and some other flower they make juice of – which tastes like Russian kvas.
I am approaching an Orthodox church – there’s a track next to it and a man perched on a ladder – putting up a sign “Sretan Vskrs” – Happy Easter, before the town wakes up. Earlier I saw a big sign “Happy Uskrs” – to honour the Catholic Easter, which took place last Sunday.
The Orthodox church is under reconstruction, but I found it open a day before. It was the only day it was open as I discovered later, and it was my birthday – I walked in, and sat there for a while – I was alone, enjoying the sight of the ancient frescos and the images of the saints. Incidentally, the oldest Orthodox church in the Balkans is located in Sarajevo, dating back to the 5th century. Sarajevo is also home to a Synagogue, built by the Sephardi who found asylum in Bosnia.
Christianity, Orthodox and Catholic, and Islam coexist here in a way that feels most natural, there’s no disharmony, no discordance, intolerance; in fact – they seem to complement each other – displaying the difference and similarity at the same time, the colourful mosaic of the humankind, the wealth of myths narrated by different cultures. There’s respect for each belief – and I am a witness thereof. Amila tells me: We don’t make distinction, we celebrate and honour it all.
It’s hard to imagine this place and those warm-hearted people having been drawn in the criminal war of the 90s. The area occupied by cemeteries in Visoko is disproportionate to the size of the town, or the size of the population. Yet, the entire place feels very young: there are children and young people all around, swarming side-street cafes in the afternoons, playing football and going for a stroll. Bosnia has suffered the most during the Balkan conflict of the 90s, it was a massacre, Sarajaevo was sieged for months.
The mine fields are still there – I was strongly recommended to stick to the path when on the way to the Moon pyramid, as both, the forest path, and the paved road, are framed with mine fields, so later on, now and then, on the way to the top of that pyramid, I chanced upon a confirming road sign. The reminders of the past are ever present. Yet, it seems that Bosnia is not clinging to its past, it moved on, by contrast to its neighbours, whose losses are not comparable to those of this quaint little country, jammed between Scylla and Charybdis.
…Past the cafés and the church, I walk onto the quiet road which will take me straight to the top of the Sun pyramid. The total stillness is interrupted only by the chirping of the birds, the fragrance of mountain plants is permeating the air, and so does the very special sensation of the small hours of the morning – of the nature awakening and life merely whispering.
I arrive just on time and watch the Sun rise from behind the mountain on top of the pyramid of the Sun. The light is gentle and tender and I can watch the round disk without squinting.
I do my Sun Salutation and chant a Gayatri mantra – I do so intuitively. That’s what you do here.
I stay here for a while. Until people start arriving, then I go down and walk into a little hut where I am treated to a special coffee by an old lady who lives here and runs this place. The coffee is made of the coffee beans fried over the fire, hand-ground and cooked on a fire stove. She demonstrates the grinder to me, proudly. Over time we develop a type of kinship; she waves at me as I’m descending the top of the pyramid each morning, she offers to dry my clothes over the fire and stay in her house to get warm. A coffee and a freshly baked cheese burek, a Bosnian pastry with homemade cheese becomes my morning ritual that follows the salutation of the Sun. It is here that I meet Mirnes– a boy who cycles up the top of the pyramid, which many find challenging to climb, he also walks 50 kilometers a day, and he studies Arabic on his own to read Quran in the original – he wants to be a Muslim priest. He is very passionate about his studies, he tells me about the Arabic language, how logical and mathematically beautiful it is, and about the mountains and valleys around. He is in his late teens. He reminds me of another boy I once met at an Orthodox Piva monastery in the north of Montenegro, where I stayed for a few days. That boy was assisting the priest, the only habitant of that monastery. We made friends during my stay. We used to sit on a bench and read together – he was reading “Que vadis” by Henirch Senkevich. Not an easy read for a teenager. I told him then: ‘You are starting your life well. The start is very important.’ He said: ‘But is there any other way to start it?’ He gave me a little present when I was leaving – an emerald-like religious bead bracelet. It remains one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.
It is also here, in this little hut with home-made pastries and fragrant coffee and tea brewed with hand-picked herbs, that I met two beautiful friends, Carina and Carina from Sweden, who happen to be the followers of my Indian spiritual teacher, and who made my birthday – which I was going to spend alone – a very special day, filled with love and kindness, presenting me with a cake made of oranges, dates and candles.
Amila takes me to see one of the sights when she’s moving me to her cottage two days before my departure. She also comes to pick me up and takes me to the bus station on the day I leave, and gives me a coffee pot I loved, as a present. Her cottage turns out to be another dream come true. It’s located in the forest, steps away from the tunnels.
It is my last night here, I am staying up until late on a terrace, even though my day started at 4 am, but I want to linger in this magic moment, the candle burning in front of me, the stars – above; the silhouettes of the enigmatic mountains marking the horizon.
Everyone I met in Visoko wanted to share something with me, be it a story or something material. A shop assistant in the vegetarian shop who kept giving me eco-bags despite my protests, and always asking me how I am – as if she’s known me for ages; a car mechanic who took me straight to the foot of the Moon Pyramid, which was way past his shop; the man at the foot of the Moon Pyramid who walked with me at length – to show the best way to go up; his brother – who’s the landlord of half of the pyramid land – who drove me to the top of the pyramid – as there was a chance of getting lost should I have walked for the first time on my own through the forest. Senan on top of the pyramid – offering his place to stay and treating me to a mint tea, touring me around and telling me about the Moon Pyramid as representative of the Female Energy.
I was coming to this place as a stranger, on my own. I was going to stay alone. It felt right to let things go. I left Montenegro in the start of April – with a little suitcase, a couple of jeans and tops, and that’s what I’ve been living off for a month. I left my car behind which I am quite dependent on. I came by bus. I still tried to persuade my friend Andre to join me on my journey – he couldn’t. It’s the first time in my life that I was travelling somewhere on my own and to be alone. And I now know it was the best way it could have happened. Because it is when you let things go, when you let the life flow direct you, that your heart opens up and the whole world embraces you, the world of Nadya – short for ‘Nadezhda’, which means ‘hope’ in Russian, Amila – mila means ‘sweet, endearing’ and Mirnes – literally ‘carrying peace’. These are the names, or shall I say charactonyms of some of the people I encountered on my journey, and I felt blessed to have had the Universe communicate with me through them. The message was very clear.
I felt caressed, loved and cared for by the sun, the moon and the stars, the ancient man-made mountains, the fragrant air and those kind people of Visoko. There wasn’t a moment when I felt alone, even when physically so. There was constant presence.
The sun is shining over the onion dome of the orthodox church. Fast river burrows the town, carrying the ducks, hawks populate the tall blue skies. I am walking… I’ve been walking for over 20 kms each day.
It rains the day I leave.
Visoko needs time and attention: it unfolds in front of you like a tale, fascinating and intriguing.
Visoko means ‘high’ in Russian, and that’s exactly how it makes you feel.
I know I’ll come here again.
Даст Бог. Inshallah