Theth! Where the nature is in its primordial state. Where among the severity of the protrusions and the depth of the valleys is preserved the secret of the Creator and the creation. Where man is still puny and the mountains are gods. The hospitable inhabitants of the stony guesthouses, the living wonders carved by love between the water, the rocks and the adventures that must be felt at least once in a lifetime. Discover the blessed land of the Accursed Mountains.
In Hindu culture, was said that gods and goddesses sheltered in the mountains to meditate, to withdraw into themselves, to obtain new spiritual strength, liberation or to selfsacrifice.
The mountains were peaceful areas and worthy of divine events, where the earthly concerns didn’t turn up. Hence the temples and monasteries built by ancient people rose in the higher ridges of the craggy mountains to honour the gods, in the midst of the fabulous beauties of nature.
You can not escape the temptation of wearing with some mysticism of beyond this world even the journey to Theth, the mountainous village of the Alps, which for its hardship it may well resemble a pilgrimage towards a holy place. Once you left behind Shkodra, Koplik and surpassed the bifurcation of the road that leads to Bajza you realize that only the most persistent may reach the destination. The tarmac gives way to the stones which rattle under the wheels of the SUV (For those caught by enthusiasm and do forfet to ask for the state of the road, they should at least know that the SUV car journey can not be optional. It is the only way to reach Theth) while the noises of urban life are replaced by the cicadas buzzing and pine scent. Time has already begun to flow more slowly. The frenetic pace seems to belong to another world, which powerless to extend its tentacles till here, has given up from the invasion.
But the new struggle begins by climbing the mountain. Few mention the bad road where the vehicle’s speed doesn’t exceed 20 km/h in a narrow path where the exchange of vehicles from opposite directions turns into a dangerous sport. After climbing it almost to the top and with an extended hand it seemed like touching the crown of the craggy peaks of the Alps, you ought to come down through the same mountainous path to the deep valley fenced by the mountains. The wooden road sign with the engraved letters “Theth” did not imply that you’ve arrived, merely you have got in what would seem a temple of nature, that preserves with bigotry a primordial truth inside. The amicable inhabitants that appear at the village entrance say that it’s needed another half an hour or fourty minutes to reach the center of the village, where the SUV enters across the dried riverbed with white gravel, as the only way.
The Commune Center is near the Church, as to dictate that religion has brought everywhere civilization. The stone kullas (perhaps smoothed out of a mountain’s piece) in the ashy afternoon after the rain become even more mystical.
We arrive at the house where we will lodge in. The Kulla of the Poliaj, is one of those village houses that hosts and conveys tourists from around the world, with great curiosity to discover Theth.
The chilly temperatures in the late afternoon are understandable, give that you’re about 1000 meters above the sea level.
The householders await you with a stance in-between the tradition of hospitality and the service culture. To break the fast there is bread fresh from the wood-burning stove – says Vlora, the mistress of the guest house, a woman from Peja that has come as a bride in Theth – mountain cheese and garden vegetables. Dinner, which as far as it was understood was the main meal of the tourists who come huddled after exploring the natural wonders that the area reveals, coming with big hunger. Darka, që mesa u kuptua ishte edhe vakti kryesor i turistëve që kthehen të tulatur pasi kanë eksploruar mrekullitë natyrore që të shpalos zona, vijnë me uri të madhe. “Young goat’s meat and roasted boar”- they say to keep alive the traditional cuisine of the area.
The first question to the locals is the meaning of the name. What does Theth stand for?!
Nardi, a young man who lives abroad, but which comes back the summer to help his brother with the tourist business recounts that the legends say that it comes from the word “thep” (en. jag, jut), that seemed to make sense completely because wherever meets the eye in that valley you see jagged mountains that surrounds you on all four sides of the horizon. The valley of 2630 hectares declared a National Park it is protected by the jagged mountains of Radohima, Sheniku e Papluku, at a height over 2500 m above the sea level. “Once even rye it was cultivated”- he continues – “and so these two words gave the name to Theth”. Other interpretations connect it with the depth of the valley.
The goal of the tourists is to visit all the natural attractions that Thethi has to offers.
The closest is Kulla e Ngujimit (The Lock-in Tower), was built over a massive rock – as it is explained by the latest offspring the Koçeku household, that for centuries have been known in the area as reconciliators of feuds – to be protected from earthquakes.
Up the wooden stairs, while Sokoli, who has declared it a cultural monument (on his own initiative and requests from the visitors 100 lek to the Albanians and 1 euro to the foreigners).
We sit down with him and hear stories of how males over 14 years old, who where involved in the blood feud came and locked themselves in the kulla for fifteen days and paid food and accommodation, and the owner of the kulla gathered the elders, both sides fall into talk if the blood feud could be forgiven. “This cradle held within the male child, the youngest of the clan and the elder of the family which committed murder overturned it. If the elder of the family of the murdered would overturn it, it meant that the feud was forgiven, otherwise that child would die” – Sokol tells, adding that there are more than 110 years that this kullë doesn’t perform its function. “Since they began to ask money for mediation, this has not worked. Because the Kanun doesn’t allow this” – he specifies, while he took an ash leaf and puts it between his lips creating rhapsodic melodies, that mixes gently with the gurgling of Shala river, quite near the kulla.
It looks like time travel. We are in the midst of Dukagjini area, in the land of the people who regulated the relationships with the Kanun, photos on the walls of the generations of the Koçeku household, who served as reconciliators, the sofra*, the sheepskin, tinder to kindle the fire or tobacco shredding machines, little windows where only the muzzle of the rifle or where you could see a scrap of te world covered with wooden lids.
As night fell, the mountains seem as dorming giants and obtain an even heavier shade, while in the early morning, where the sun seems almost as if it rose after those peaks, mixtures of green in all its shades offer a quite a show for the eye.
There you can tell that by stepping in the sanctuary of nature, where it tells you in every stone how tiny and without significance is man. There the ridges of the mountains tell you that they are the only gods of that ground and the rule of nature from man is just an illusion. The only trace of the modern hand is the electrification, the vehicles, mobile phones and web connection, that have arrived that far.
What’s impressing is the sense of time which seems to be measured differently in those lands. For every destination the minimum time needed to arrive was one hour. Afterwards it increased to two, three and even five hours to go and see the Mount Jezerca and to go to the top of the Accursed Mountains. And the journey is in its natural state in these lands: by foot.
The next stops are the basins of water in the area of Ndërlysaj. Pavlin, our host, helps us with a map and a brochure on Thethi and the area of Kelmend; 20 minutes by car in a mountain road, totally unpaved. Those who really help when it comes to orientation, are the locals. And elderly man, who graze small livestock in a little meadow between the mountains, where the sun fulls plumb, is so friendly that he’s ready to leave his cattle to show us the place.What awaits us, on arrival, is and impressive tableau. Who knows how many millennial activity of the water had eroded the mountains forming natural pools.
It felt if you were on another planet, (if we were), because it was like nothing on earth. You could not stay without being plunged in those transparent waters, although cold and with slippery rocks underfoot… Under those, the water had formed a canion and after it the so called “Black Pit” – as one of the locals told us – the river flowed in his bed and so on…
Tourists use this miracle – which no architect would be able to repeat with the same magic – to bathe.
Once being bathed in those waters and had browned thy skin under the sun, the next stop is the Blue Eye. To find it you should be following what in the hart is named as “The goat path”, the narrowness and severity of which deserved the name fully.
One hour of hiking with a rhythmic walk, while the sun of the day was not appearing too much of an ally, by climbing the mountain, you felt like Sisyphus (destined to climb over and over again in eternity on foot). No car could pass through those trails.
The inhabitants who we meet during the road greet us in English. It seems that the presence of the foreigners is much more normal than that of the Albanians going to visit. Perhaps rightfully so. The Alps have always been there, but few were the tourists, at least Albanians that have wanted to seek, to explore and make their own adventure in these territories. Few are those crazy or curious Albanians which would climb from Shkodra to Theth by foot or bycycle, that would take the boat to navigate the canyon or that would hike even in winter… The Blue Eye, hidden between the trees and bushes, offers and impressive view. Similar to its namesake in Saranda, the cold water of the Black River in Kaprre gave to these lands the variegation between the green, blue and the transparent. Only the most brave or those who endured the cold plunged in.
The descending would be as difficult as the climb, only that in the steep time seemed to fly faster. Less than one hour and we have to pass thr river to go back to our accommodation center.
The old ones remember with nostalgia how they traveled this Goat Path often to come out the other side of the mountain where they summered and guarded livestock in the hut. During winter, they went back to their stony houses in the village. “Once it was more beautiful. We planted everything this, it was even more inhabited” – recalls Leza, and old lady, who lives in Shkodra during the winter.
There were many elders from Thethi whom wintered in Shkodra and come back when the first tourists start coming, lasting – if the weather is favourable – until October maybe.
Now there are only 11 families that have decided not to abandon the place, even when the winter goes wild. The inhabitants recounts that in the coldest months snows reaches up to 2 meters and most of them, especially women and children locked themselves indoors. Those who challenges it are few. It is Paulin Polia, the owner of the kulla where we accommodated, who has a passion climbing mountains and alpinism and accompains those foreigners whow share the same passion with which they want to defy nature.
On the way back you can’t resist the temptation of not contemplating closely the waterfall of Grunasi. Another mountain challenges you. After passing a small bridge of wood over the Canyon of Grunasi you find yourself in frond of a small thatched stall in a stone fence. Elizabeth, a 12 years old girl, who works there with her brother in summer months, shows us the way. The path is even more difficult than the Goat Path. You need to climb and pass over small rocks and streams while the little girl is used with climbing three to four times a day, while she accompains tourists, she’s the first to arrive the waterfall. The water creates little rainbows when it flows powerfully on a rock covered in moss. Elizabeth says that the waterfall “feeds” with the snow melting waters of summer, wich will soon freeze again and the nature will keep even more franatically this deep valley between the mountains that preserves the primordial state of the creation.
* In the Ottoman world, sofra is traditionally a low table used as a dining table.