In case you happen to be a travel or tourism aficionado, there are around 85 different varieties of tourism to select from, enough to fill and make your wish list full to overflowing. From atomic tourism to whale watching, the list takes in activities as commonplace as just visiting new places to bizarre ones like booze tourism( colloquially known as ‘booze cruise’ in Britain for the trip they used to take to France or Belgium in the ’80s and ’90s to booze it up, owing to the low price of alcohol there), enotourism (this one is for the classy ones, in highly polished terms, to imbibe the wisdom of wine-making/ booze-distilling, plunging oneself into that well of knowledge while participating in the whole process, though the final approach to crash-landing is towards the same runway as booze tourism), glamping( glamorous camping) and a litany of other strange ones.
I, for one, am a happy camper indulging myself in the visual, virtual tour through the fine print than the real one. That would seem to qualify for the profile of a dreamer( as per myself) or damper( according to the other half ) and I admit it as a bit of a maverick trait. On those rarest of rare occasions, when a confluence of serendipities strikes hard enough at the roots of my complacency, I do take pains to travel, but never would I go for the sort of buccaneering trips that I jovially watch on television via the National Geographic or Discovery Channel. And those rare happenings almost always turn out to be a sort of edifying trip, when I insist on visiting historical sites, exclusively focussing on the war relics and remnants of ancient dynasties and kingdoms( not sure if this would pass for history tourism), while I see to it that I read the history of the whole thing before setting out to explore them. Not contenting myself with just reading and visiting, I deliver an impassioned homily about the whole history to the other two hapless beings( my husband and my son) with meticulous attention to all the details. Though in the end, I watch those vexed faces, imploring implicitly not to bore them to tears, exhorting explicitly that they had had enough and more of history lessons while at school. In short, planning our trips, by the very fact that they are usually mini-trips, struggles to take into account the different tastes of all three of us, my son preferring soccer related tourism and my husband opting for ‘tourism photography’.
I still remember our 2016 trip to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria( a site that I had long wished to visit). My choice of places included Dachau and the idyllic castles of Germany built by the odd ‘Fairy Tale King’ of Bavaria, Ludwig 2. The choice of the castles were fine with the other two, but the suggestion of the concentration camp raised those four eyebrows in front of me, and my husband tried to goad me out of that by proclaiming the nature of the camp premises as nothing extraordinary, but exactly like the Central Jail in our place( as if he was well versed with the jail premises). I dug in my heels and the visit had in me an experience of a lifetime, where I literally went through the pangs of the Holocaust. Now that they are accustomed to my immutable nature and an anachronistic existence, my preference for historical places is included in the menu-card, albeit their level-headed counsel to come out of the past and step into the present.
I am a history fanatic, so the rare occasions of tourism for me is something like viewing for real those things which I had seen through the print and screen only. But, I just wish to take them in visually, to an extent experience them conceptually and apprehend the physical torments one suffered, such as in a war zone and not to experience it totally in the fullest sense of the word. Recently, while reading a New York Times article, I came face to face with the term ‘dark tourism’ ( Oxford Dictionary defines the term as ‘ tourism that involves traveling to places associated with death and suffering’). In the article, just to give a few examples, they have included places as Dealey Plaza in Dallas where President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Nazi death camps like Auschwitz in Poland, Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia( a school turned into torture and extermination center by Khmer Rouge in the 1970s).
By and large, the article cites a Sarajevo hotel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the concept of dark tourism has been stretched to the extremes. Here one could literally experience war as it occurred during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. I admit I am not one in favor of that though. The hotel manager’s website boasts of a memorable stay in a bunker( yes, an original bunker with no proper food, light, windows, washroom, pillows, sheets, cots) with an added advantage of a piped-in din of gunshots and explosions 24/7 that helps sleep run for the hills. He claims that millennials rush to experience the effects of sleep deprivation and self-denial through abstemiousness. But he does acknowledge that they could do away with all the above-mentioned temporal add-ons but not wi-fi. So, he was forced to offer this luxury to attract young customers who wanted to have the war zone experience with a 24/7 wi-fi network.
I fail to grasp the kind of adrenaline rush these youngsters experience from a simulated war site with wi-fi facility. It is true that at worst they get to feel a slice of the torment experienced in person by the survivors of the war and at best practice a kind of spartan lifestyle, even as it would last for a short duration only. As per the article, dark tourism had its origin in Bosnia where, during the war and siege, sadistic Orthodox Christian fanatics from Russia and Greece arrived with sniper rifles and anti-aircraft guns to take a pot shot at the Muslims of Sarajevo, for a fee.
As you search the net for Bosnia, one of the questions that pop up is whether it is a safe place to travel or not? From what I have read and watched in TV programmes, Bosnia and Herzegovina or BiH as it is called is a beautiful country with a troubled past. Citing possible terrorist attacks and presence of old landmines and minefields, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs advises level-2 caution(to exercise increased caution), the UK too cites the same reasons as security concerns for travelers. Those who have direct experience visiting the country considers it safe in the cities and cautions to be careful in the countryside and hilly areas where landmines are still an issue.
Until 1908 Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire when Austria- Hungary annexed its territory. There are three main ethnic groups, the Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Serbs who are Orthodox Christians. And the 1992-95 war occurred following the break-up of Yugoslavia resulting in differences among all three by virtue of nationalism, ethnicity, religion, and secessionism. During the war, as it happens in any war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, sieges, deportation, and rape were allegedly committed by Bosnian Serbs that included the genocide of 8000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 ( notorious as Srebrenica genocide). The Serbs contend that they too had been tortured, raped and killed by Bosniaks. The country is an independent one now though partially under international oversight under the terms of 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the US-led treaty that ended the war. Geographically, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country in the southeast of Europe and Northwest of Balkan peninsula. It is a potential candidate for EU accession. The ethnic and secessionist tensions still remain, with the Bosnian Serb leaders raising the specter of secession from what according to them is a failed state.
Almost 50% of the total population is made of Bosniak Muslims, 31% Serbs and 15.5% Croats( as per 2016 statistics). According to the World Bank, the economic challenge for Bosnia after a post-war slowing of the economy is a model favoring public than private policies, import more than export and consumption more than investment. The war caused production to plummet by 80% and unemployment to soar. As per EPALE (Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe 2018), almost 60% of the young people are unemployed (overall unemployment rate is 20.5% according to Bosnia State Statistics Agency). In response to the high youth unemployment, a UN programme funded by Spain helps people find jobs and develop skills. Skilled and educated youngsters migrate to other European countries to find jobs leading to a considerable brain and talent drain. There is a widespread sense of hopelessness among the unemployed youth( according to EPALE survey) and in the survey, more than half of the participants said they would leave the country if they had a chance.
It was amidst this situation that the 27-year-old Arijan opened the War Hostel Sarajevo in the Bosnian capital. He should be applauded for the ingenious idea of avant-garde tourism, upending the normal and conventional in any tourism industry by taking an axe to the very root of it, that is, hospitality. According to him, locals are least interested in visiting the bunker ( of course, they had lived every moment in the horror of war and those who had gone through the torments could not be expected to come and stay there to relive the experience). Many of the visitors are from Europe, the US and Australia and most of them are youngsters, who are happy to forego all material things barring wi-fi. Arijan makes sure that his guests are incessantly pummelled with gunshot and explosion sounds through sound blasters such that they forget even the shadow of sleep. In addition, he pumps some kind of choking fog inside the bunker to suffocate his guests and emulate the smoky environment of wartime bunkers! No less of a blissful experience for a sleepless tourist! ( Is there something like ‘torment tourism’ in the A to Z of tourism index? I have to check the list again.)
I can understand very well that this twenty-seven-year-old Bosnian need to lead a decent life as other men of his same age the world over and he came out with this innovative idea of avant-garde tourism, handed out to him by the past of his country. But for the youngsters willing to put up with insomnia and choking spasms to learn about history, I still can’t come to terms with whether it is a fad that would pass away once they return back home and get a good nights sleep or whether it is some sort of a masochistic personality disorder punishing oneself to self-hurt or a Buddhist way of abnegation of hedonistic excesses even if for a short while.
Or could it simply be the hard way of treading those extra miles in search of lost times?