A New Hiking Route: New Tourist Potential For Željezno Polje

Photo: Redžo Efendić

Markings on the hiking trail near Mahnjača encourages the inhabitants of Željezno Polje to discover the beauties and potential of their mountainous village. This is a story about how the joint work of mountaineers and other locals opens the way to new recreational and economic opportunities.

When driving from Žepče to Zenica in central Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), you’ll pass through the straits of the Bosna River near the town of Želeća, where you can see a mountain ridge with meadows and fir forests. This is the Mahnjača Mountain, the highest northern point of the Dinarides in the valley of Bosnia. It is the highest peak in the area, all the way to the Slovak Tatras.

Recently unknown in hiking circles, the mountain is characterized by diverse flora and flora, fresh springs of mountain water, and an interesting historical background. The large local community and civically-engaged population certainly have something to offer guests, both now and in the future.

The position of the mountain, on the border of the municipalities of Žepče, Teslić and Zenica, makes it suitable for various mountaineering tours that lead to its highest peaks – Velika Mahnjača (1358 meters above sea level) and Palašnica (1323 meters). From these peaks there are views all the way to the Sava River and Majevica Mountain in the north and the Konjuh River in the east. The Vlašić massif, to which this mountain geographically belongs, can be seen from Palašnica as if it’s in the palm of your hand.

Precisely because of that, Mahnjača has delighted the passionate Zenica mountaineer and hiking guide, Afan Abazović.

First, in February 2018, in cooperation with the residents of Željezno Polje, a village of over 4,000 inhabitants on the slopes of Mahnjača, Afan organized a humanitarian hiking tour. Then the idea was born for the actual marking of trails on this mountain.

“Analyzing topographic maps, satellite images, combining field work with it, and in a conversation with my friend Kenan Efendić and the people of Željezno Polje, we came to the conclusion that a trail marking project is urgently needed,” says Abazović, president of the Azimuth 135 Association based in Zenica.

Until the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this mountain was mostly unknown to mountaineers and other nature lovers. The only mass event organized here was the people’s celebration for July 27, the Day of the Uprising of the People of BiH, which was once a state holiday in the former Yugoslavia.

Photo: Redžo Efendić

From a Humanitarian Trail to an Actual Marking

After the humanitarian tour, says Abazović, he decided to mark the trail. Zenica mountaineers Lejla and Una Selimović and Amir Tufekčić helped him with that. Locals Almin Mutekić, Hasan Okanović, Kenan Efendić, Bego Tutnjić, and Suvad Hadžić also contributed. These local enthusiasts were the ones that helped the most, and in the meantime they established their own hiking association.

The trail leads through the picturesque nature of Orčevići, located on the steep, northern slopes of the mountain. Then the mountaineers, after the ascent, come along the ridge to the arranged hunting lodge and the Gojanovci picnic area. A good military road, not far from the front line, which was held by the 319th Mountain Brigade of the Army of the Republic of BiH in the last war in BiH, leads to a military facility on Velika Mahnjača – an important radio relay node of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA).

Walking further along the western ridge offers stunning views of a greater part of the country: from the valley of the river of the same name from Žepče and Maglaj, all the way to the heights of Vlašić and Borija. Then the mountaineers descend to the hamlet of Mjestova Ravan, and on that part of the route they have the opportunity to rest and socialize with other locals on several beautifully-landscaped picnic areas.

On the spacious and steep pastures, hikers and excursionists will meet local shepherds in the summer, happy, talkative, and hospitable people from whom they can buy good Travnik – or as they say – “fatty” sheep cheese.

Photo: Redžo Efendić

The Locals Form A Mountaineering Association

The trail was officially marked at the end of September 2020, and a new mountain route was ceremoniously opened at the beginning of October. At this great event, the participants of the tour were hosted by the residents of Željezno Polje. There was a delegation of the Commission for Marking of the Mountaineering Association of BiH also.

After the first humanitarian tour, a group of local enthusiasts discovered the charms and possibilities of their local mountain.

“Sometime in February 2020, we came up with the idea to get together and establish a mountaineering association, ‘Mahnjača 1358.’ There were 12 or 13 of us at the beginning and then we founded the board of directors,” explains Muris Tutnjić, an active member of the community, now the president of the society.

With the funds of municipal and cantonal authorities, members of this mountaineering association quickly resolve formal matters and are already beginning to mark smaller mountain trails on their own. It is a very active local association.

Tutnjić and his colleagues, as well as other representatives of the community and the local women’s association, prepared an impressive welcome for the mountaineers, who mostly came from Zenica, but also from Sarajevo.

This is what Abazović is talking about, when he visited his new friends and colleagues on Independence Day in 2021, when the first anniversary of the local mountaineering association was marked.

“During the entire process of ‘activating’ the mountain, from those first visits to the last tour with 230 participants, Željezno Polje proved to be an extremely hospitable place, which is crying out for tourist visits,” he says.

He adds that the place is easily accessible – there is about ten kilometers of asphalt road, the possibility of private accommodation, local products of traditional Bosnian cuisine – and all of these elements are necessary for a beautiful tourist story.

Abazović and Tutnjić agree that it is necessary for as many locals as possible to be interested in the mountain, in order to enable tourist development in this place.

Photo: Redžo Efendić

Details For Hikers: How and Where

Abazović explains that this is a physically-demanding tour, but that there is no need for “serious” mountaineering equipment. The starting point can even be reached by local road.

“The strongest ascent is right at the beginning, from the village of Orčevići to the hunting lodge Gojanovci. Then there is a beautiful coniferous forest and mild sinusoids to Palašnica, the southernmost peak of the mountain, from where there is a view from Vlašić to Konjuh. Then follows a steeper descent to Jezera, then a flat section to Padeži and then another descent in the Mjestova Ravan. It is extremely interesting, with springs of mountain water, and a constant change of vegetation,” describes Abazović.

This area and its mountain also tell an interesting historical story. Although information about this place dates back to the fifteenth century, when the Ottomans conquered Bosnia, it seems that the campaign of the Austrian arsonist Eugene of Savoy in 1697 forced people to move from the valley of Bosnia to safer Bosnian forests. Fertile areas suitable for pastures developed slowly, quadrupling the population during the twentieth century.

The famous battle on the slopes of Palašnica in the Second World War is well known, when the German 7th SS ‘Prince Eugen’ Division inflicted heavy losses on the Fifth Kozara Brigade of the Yugoslav Partisans. It was then that one of Bosnia’s national heroes, Rade Kondić, was killed in a picturesque mountainous area, and a monument was erected there on Palašnica. The monument was renovated about ten years ago by local anti-fascists.

War did not bypass this mountain and some of its areas were mined. However, the trail is quite safe now. It mostly leads to already-cleared roads far from any action or slopes that were not even covered by the war.

Photo: Redžo Efendić

Local Mountaineers Protect Their Mountain

The mountaineering association “Mahnjača 1358” is not an ordinary association. Part of their mission is to preserve the beauty of the mountain, protect its forests, and open locals’ eyes to this natural treasure.

Thus, cameras connected by mobile internet monitor for places where irresponsible individuals throw garbage and create illegal waste dumps.

“The situation is very bad because garbage is thrown into nature uncontrollably and thus its appearance and beauty are disturbed. We are ready to do everything to stop illegal garbage dumps, and for those who continue to dump waste illegally, after it is determined by reviewing the recordings, the responsible forest management will impose a fine in the amount of 500 BAM,” explains Tutnjić, the president of the Association.

Local mountaineers are also aware of the role they can play in remembering the history of both the people and the mountain. This year, they will welcome participants from the memorial tour, “Way of Salvation.” It is a march in memory of a few thousand inhabitants of the Novošeher region who escaped from their villages to Željezno Polje in 1993 through forests and canyons.

Tutnjić adds that from conversations with many mountaineers, he saw how much Mahnjača has to offer guests. The Association is financed by membership fees and donations, so in the next period they expect to enrich Mahnjača and welcome even more guests.

“Currently, we need a space for our Association where we could keep all the necessary documentation and meet as needed. This very important item is being resolved in order for our Association to continue with its normal work,” concludes Muris Tutnjić.

Photo: Redžo Efendić

Redžo is a Balkan Diskurs trained correspondent from Željezno Polje, near Žepče. He graduated in History and Bosnian Language at the Faculty of pedagogy in Bihać. Redžo is a member of the Youth journalism association (ONA u BiH) and writes for the Karike Magazine.

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