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									                      CHANGING WORLD – The Tara Canyon

I’d done this a hundred times before at dozens of different border crossings but,
somehow, nothing prepares you for entering a country that’s still synonymous with war.

Behind me is Montenegro – which became Europe’s newest country when it voted for
independence from Serbia in May 2006. A few hundred yards ahead – just beyond the
rather stern looking guard – is Bosnia where more than 100,000 people were killed just
over a decade ago.

The pictures of death, destruction and other unspeakable horrors that were a daily
feature on our TV screens have helped cement a vision of the former Yugoslavia in our
minds. While many of the newly independent states have largely moved on in the
popular psyche – Bosnia hasn’t. It was the Iraq of the mid 1990’s – and although it’s
peaceful now, as you approach the border its hard not to remember what happened here.

I shouldn’t really be scared as my destination isn’t Bosnia at all. Crossing the border is
just a formality as I’m actually heading to the Tara River which, for a short distance,
acts as a “no man’s land” between these two tiny states.

It’s not just the history of this place (and the gruffness of the border guard) that’s
disturbing me but also that, at this stunning setting, I’d decided for the first time to try
white water rafting. “Don’t worry,” said our guide Jorvan as I squeezed into the smelly
wetsuit he handed me, “Keep your feet under the ropes and you won’t fall out.” He
clearly had more confidence in my abilities than I did.

The Tara River is a little bit special. Along with the surrounding Durmitor National
Park – which is like a cross between the Alps and Dartmoor – it’s UNESCO protected.
The river is a deep turquoise colour and the water is so pure we could scoop it up and
drink it. The canyon through which it flows is one of the deepest, and most spectacular,
in the world.

“Row,” yelled our captain Milo as a particularly heavy rapid threw our raft what felt like
a dozen feet in the air. A collection of gapes and gawps followed from the multi-
national collection of adventurers who were sharing the bright yellow rubber craft with
me, as one of our oars broke loose and drifted away. It was expertly rescued by the
skipper of our sister boat which was following us downstream.

French, Germans, Brits and Hungarians were all represented in the two craft but despite
the international flavour of our expedition the Tara Canyon is still well off the main
tourist track. You need to be pretty determined to get here. It’s several hours from
Montenegro’s blossoming coastal resorts – and even further from the Bosnian capital

However, in Montenegro at least, the tourist potential of the Tara Canyon is starting to
be recognised. Thus far, development’s been slow and sympathetic to the environment.
Rather than building big gaudy hotels, local Montenegrins have, instead, invested in
                                     Andy Milburn
                                    T: 07956 374680
self-contained eco-friendly accommodation. The series of small wooden cabins they’ve
constructed are designed to appeal to those who love the outdoors. It’s a niche market
but one which will appreciate the sensitivity with which the natural world is being

There’s a catch. While the war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia couldn’t destroy the
Tara – there’s a real prospect that the economic development that comes with peace

It’s neither hotels nor visitors that pose the real threat – that comes from the huge, and
growing, demand for power in the Balkans. For some years a hydro-electric project’s
been proposed that would involve damming the river. The Montenegrin government
initially backed the plans but did a u-turn in the face of strong protests from UNESCO
and environmentalists. A unanimous vote in Parliament against the scheme also went
some way to persuading them to change their minds.

The greens won that first battle – but it was just the opening salvo in what seems set to
be a long war. A few months ago another hydro-electric scheme was proposed – and
even if it fails, with the region industrialising fast, it may be difficult for future
governments to resist such a potentially cheap, and plentiful, source of electricity.

They’ve done it before. In 1975 the Mratinje Dam, one of Europe’s highest, was built
across the nearby Piva River – which flows into the Tara. As well as generating huge
amounts of electricity the dam also created the huge manmade Lake Piva which now
fills miles and miles of canyon, dominating the area.

“Row,” yelled Milo again as a huge rock appeared in front of our tiny vessel, spinning
us 180 degrees as we slid past it and brushed the canyon wall. We’d successfully
negotiated the last powerful rapid on our 20km journey – and on our gentle drift back I
was left to ponder the future of this river.

It’s ironic that tourism – which destroys so many places – could actually save this one.
The more people that know about the Tara Canyon – the more people that visit it – the
harder it will become for politicians and big business to destroy it.

As I remove my wetsuit and jump in the jeep that will take us back to base I’m once
again filled with a sense of fear. Not because of what happened on one side of the
border or the other but for what the magnificent Tara Canyon will look like if I ever
come back.

WORDS: 919

                                     Andy Milburn
                                    T: 07956 374680

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