In August 2010, when I told my relatives, and friends outside the Ministry of External Affairs, that I had been transferred to Zagreb, many of them had no clue either about that city, or the country of which it is the capital. In fact, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was better known to them because of the “stupid war” – as Drago, the owner of my apartment in Zagreb (and a Croat displaced from Bosnia) – described it to me.
Over many glasses of excellent home-made wine Drago told me some of the little known things about the war of early 1990s, as I tried to understand the how and why of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resultant turmoil in the newborn countries which persisted even after two decades. Anyway, that war led to an implosion that produced six different countries out of the old Yugoslovia. Croatia is one of these. Zagreb, which was the principal city of a province, became its capital.
Croatia is a tiny country, roughly of the size of our Himachal Pradesh, and its population is just above 40 lakhs, which is less than that of Kolkata (minus its suburbs) and just one-fifth that of Delhi. However, this tiny country is endowed with such natural beauty that, during the four months of summer, the number of tourists from all over the world swellto 1,20,00,000 or three times the country’s population!
Of prime attraction are Croatia’s Adriatic coastline, and the beautiful cities of Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Pula and many others dotting the coast. Between the plains of Slavonia and the coast, Croatia also boasts of the majestic Dinaric Alps, and a number of beautiful national parks and protected areas. The Capital, Zagreb, with its beautiful statues, unique heritage buildings, parks and museums is also extremely attractive.
The Beautiful Coastline of Croatia
I lived in this lovely country for a little over three years, and had had glimpses of some of its famed beauty spots, thanks mainly to its fantastic road network. Cruising along Croatian highways at a maximum speed of 130 km is an unforgettable experience. With long viaducts over verdant valleys and numerous tunnels piercing the mountains these roads are an engineering marvel.
If it is true that ultimately a country is made of its people, then Croatians will pass the test with flying colours. Whatever might have happened during the war (and which nation hasn’t got fanatics?), Croatians in general are a very friendly and hospitable people (that explains why tourists return to Croatia year after year).
Croatians are greatly fascinated by India. Some are attracted by our history, philosophy and religious ideas, while others marvel at our diversity and wonder what keeps us together! The existence of a Centre of Indology at the University of Zagreb for over fifty years without a break is ample proof of Croatia’s interest in India. Many Croatians have learnt Hindi at this centre, and many others are learning our classical dances in India.
Croatian academicians, while speaking about India, never fail to mention that poet Rabindranath Tagore visited Zagreb in 1926 as part of his tour of Europe, and about the reception he was given and the enthusiasm that his visit generated among the discerning sections of the Croatian population. Only a year after Tagore received the Nobel prize, Croatian philosopher Pavao Vuk-Pavlovic translated his Gitanjali into Croatian. This was one of the first translations of Gitanjali in a European language other than English.
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In a few hours from now Croatia will take on France – another great and friendly nation – at the Football World Cup. As I eagerly await the kick off, memories of a most enjoyable posting in Zagreb are flooding my mind. Today I cannot remain neutral, and would wholeheartedly wish that this trophy is lifted by Croatia. A combination of teamwork, skill and grit have brought them this far without a single loss. I would like them to cross the last hurdle too.