If your passion is hiking and you want to visit the mountains of Kosovo one day, then you better speak with Xhemil Veliu and listen to his experiences and suggestions.
Xhemil Veliu, a medical school student and a hiking enthusiast from Kosovo, reveals the best mountain destinations that are suitable for the development of this activity highlighting the benefits of hiking.
He calls the young people to participate in hiking activities because “there are no losers in this sport” and everyone gains something. In addition to sharing his experiences with us, Xhemil offers a few tips on the qualities a hiker should have in order to get the most out of this activity.
Q: What does hiking mean to you?
Xhemil Veliu: Hiking for me means nature, a healthy body and a healthy mind. Hiking is part of myself. It is a multidimensional activity where the most beautiful things that God has created are intertwined: water, nature, mountains, greenery, wild nature and animals. It is a very special and very endless sport. It is a challenge and a race to overcome the harshness of mountains, to aim high and to find that extra energy within your body.
Q: When did you first start doing this type of activity and what are the reasons that pushed you to start hiking?
Xhemil Veliu: I started hiking when I was a child, but I have been practicing it regularly since 2015, respectively after finishing high school. There are a number of reasons why I like hiking, but the ones I would mention are: it gives you direct knowledge about nature and mountaineering, the health benefits that this activity brings and improves my individual and social well-being.
Q: How difficult was your first hiking experience?
Xhemil Veliu: Like any sport in its infancy, hiking has its difficulties. I made the first climb to the top of Skarpa, located in the Sharr Mountains in Kosovo, and to be honest it was not that difficult. But to make a real hike you must have adequate equipment, but as time passed I overcame it, so other climbs have been more comfortable.
Q: Are you a member of any organization that deals with this type of activity and are there enough such organizations in Kosovo?
Xhemil Veliu: Yes, I am a member of “SHB Sharri” (Sharr Mountaineers Association) and I am also a member of “Finch” organization which deals with nature and birds protection in particular. Fortunately, we have a lot of these organizations that promote hiking and the nature of Kosovo in general. I hope that in the future I will lead such an organization.
Q: How often do you go hiking?
Xhemil Veliu: I am a medical student and as such I have limited time dealing with studies and lessons. If I had more free time, I would dedicate more time to hiking and sports in general. On average, I do 4 to 5 hiking trips and during the summer I often travel to neighboring places like Albania and North Macedonia and spend a few days in their mountains there as well.
Q: Tell us about your best hiking experience?
Xhemil Veliu: I have many experiences that are worth mentioning, but I can say that one of the best was last year when I participated in a hiking trip in Northern Albania. There we did the so-called “Tour of the North” through the beautiful mountains of Valbona, Theth and beyond. It was an experience I will remember for a long time.
Q: Can you mention some of the benefits of hiking?
Xhemil Veliu: Hiking brings many health benefits ranging from physical exercise to the emotional and mental relief that comes from being in nature. As a sport activity, hiking is more diverse than other types of exercises, especially those undertaken in a gym. It is a sport that gives you the opportunity to socialize with other people and make new friendships. In addition, there are health benefits too. This type of sport brings pressure on your bones by reducing the chances of osteoporosis, improves cardiovascular health, and creates a toned body with muscles.
Q: What preparations are needed for hiking and what type of character should a person who engages in this activity have?
Xhemil Veliu: Hiking is a sports activity that anyone can do regardless of his or her level of physical training. Depending on the desire and ability of the group, we can follow a path with a flat terrain with low difficulty, or we can follow a path with high difficulty. In hiking I have come to the conclusion that the character of the individual is very important in relation to this activity. I am of the opinion that the individual should possess these qualities to exercise this activity: be social, love and protect nature, sports lover, collaborative, being self aware, confident and a follower of the group leader.
Q: In which places did you go hiking, local or foreign locations?
Xhemil Veliu: I mostly hiked in Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania, and also during the years 2016-2018 I participated in some hiking activities in the Austrian Alps.
Q: Does Kosovo have attractive hiking spots and can you name some?
Xhemil Veliu: We have many attractive points where hiking can be done for both locals and tourists. We have the Sharr Mountains that connect Kosovo with North Macedonia, the Bjeshkët e Nemuna of Rugova that connect Kosovo with Albania, the Deqan Mountains and many others, which offer us stunning views.
Q: How much do youth from Kosovo go hiking and are you satisfied with their interest in this type of activity?
Xhemil Veliu: Hiking here is relatively new as an organized activity, which has started to be applied after the war of 1999. Since it is a new sport, it is not very popular yet. However, this does not mean that there is no interest at all. It is surprising that young people who do hiking here belong mostly to urban areas, while those who come from rural areas do not practice this type of activity that much.
Q: What would you say to youth in order to encourage them to start this activity?
Xhemil Veliu: I always appeal through social networks and through gatherings with friends that hiking is a sport that is worth dealing with. Apart from having very good benefits in physical, mental and social aspects, it also has the advantage of no competition between hikers. No one feels defeated after a hiking activity. Everyone wins in their own way.
Q: And finally, what message do you have for tourists who want to go hiking in Kosovo?
Xhemil Veliu: Come and be convinced with the beauties that Kosovo offers, and with the big heart that the youth of this place tender.
Photo: Xhemil Veliu
Author: Shefket Bujari
This story was produced during the three-month Program for Students of Journalism in the Western Balkans within the framework of the advocacy project “A Better Region Starts with Youth” implemented by RYCO with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany. All journalists’ work is their own and the content of any given article does not represent the opinion of RYCO, and RYCO cannot guarantee the validity and the accuracy of the information that these stories contain.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.