Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters


The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.


The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political

Politics of climate change, sinking Bangladesh and floating houses

Climate change is real and permanent. There is no turning round as we have gone past the point of no-return. It can only get worse from here. Climate change is, therefore, an existential threat for our children and grandchildren for whom time is running out fast.

Floating house in BangladeshApparently, it isn’t a threat for those who abdicated leadership of a warmer world and yet formulate environment-damaging energy policies from the luxury of their cooler world—air-conditioned homes and offices. If they cared even a bit about their progeny, they wouldn’t be flying in ozone-layer-depleting private planes or riding fossil-fuel-guzzling stretched limos and SUVs.

A few world leaders led by Donald Trump believe that carbon dioxide makes the earth greener instead of creating climate crisis. Consequently, Trump deleted references to “climate change” from government websites, fired scientists from advisory boards and the Environmental Protection Agency. He seized on the uncertainty in climate models to reverse greenhouse gas emission regulations of the Obama administration and withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He even nonsensically blamed this year’s out-of-control California fires on environmental laws. Other climate change deniers are his bagful of deplorables, the well-paid operatives of organisations that take contributions from fossil fuel corporations and a colourful cast of self-styled “experts” who have made a living out of rejecting the scientific evidence of climate change.

They are perhaps not aware that one of the most alarming but reliable projections for global warming has been made by researchers at the prestigious Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford in California. The results of their research, based on a decade’s worth of satellite observations concerning the net balance between the amount of energy entering and leaving the atmosphere, have been published in the December 2017 issue of the high impact, peer-reviewed journal Nature. They concluded that if large emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated throughout the century, worldwide temperatures could rise nearly five degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

It is an undeniable fact that episodes of raging wildfires, high-category hurricanes, ferocious cyclones, floods of biblical proportions, deadly mudslides, severe droughts, bone-chilling Arctic blasts followed by lethal heatwaves and the melting of Arctic ice at a rate never before seen are effects of a sub-one degree rise in global temperature since 1880. Heaven only knows what will happen if we, as agreed upon by the 2016 Paris Agreement’s stakeholders, take the free pass of heating up our planet by two degrees before the end of this century.

Even a two-degree rise in global temperature would most likely set the stage for the greenhouse effect to spin out of control, eventually triggering a runaway greenhouse effect whose impacts would be cataclysmic, to say the least. Nevertheless, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that there is virtually no chance of a runaway greenhouse effect being induced by human activities, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still moving in the wrong direction.

What triggers a runaway greenhouse effect? The increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, two of the dominant greenhouse gases, would raise the global temperature which, in turn, would cause more water from the oceans to evaporate and carbon dioxide stored in the soil and oceans to bake out. This would be in addition to the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The positive feedback of continued emission of these greenhouse gases would ultimately snare our planet into a vicious cycle of a runaway greenhouse effect, which was responsible for raising the surface temperature of Venus to a blistering 480 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt lead.

One of the countries that is already paying a hefty price for the climate sins of industrial nations is Bangladesh. It is predicted that the two-degree boost in temperature and the subsequent rise of sea levels would sink the coastal areas of Bangladesh, thereby resulting in an unprecedented human tragedy. Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater which supplies drinking water for coastal regions and degraded farmlands, rendering them less fertile and at places completely barren.

Although engineering adaptations to climate change have been successful in other countries, such as the dikes constructed in the Netherlands, they won’t work in Bangladesh because the soils are sandy and constantly shifting. Thus, if the country does not want to see millions of her climate refugees migrating inland and ending up in decrepit slums, then the government should take a serious look at the “Dream House”—a flood-resistant floating house—built by a team of BRAC University students.

The concept of floating houses and floating villages is not new. There are many such villages in the world. They are communities with houses and other amenities of a town built on top of large raft-like structures or on stilts, as in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Floating houses in Bangladesh’s coastal areas could save the lives and livelihoods of millions from the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change. Bangladeshi farmers have already developed techniques for building floating farms, known as “dhaps,” with duck coops, fish enclosures and vegetable gardens anchored by ropes to the riverbanks where the water rises at least three metres during the monsoon season.
The arduous life of the people living in the floating dwellings that would gently rock and roll with the ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal would not only be a paragon of adapting to climate change but also a modern-day example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”


The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.



Advanced science, Astrophysics, Bangladesh, Economic, International, Technical

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

Is Britain heading towards a ‘banana state’?

A ‘banana state’ or ‘banana republic’ is generally perceived to be a state where the government is blatantly dysfunctional, wobbly and very vulnerable; the politicians, particularly of the ruling party, become self-serving, corrupt and utterly negligent to national interests; national economy becomes dependent on foreign capital and investment (often American’s exploiting local conditions) and relies on few agricultural products, particularly banana (hence the name ‘banana republic’); the weather is warm that makes its people subservient and docile. Britain now satisfies, for all intents and purposes, most, if not all, of these criteria.


Let us examine these four criteria sequentially. The present government under the premiership of Theresa May is distinctly dysfunctional and wobbly. Boris Johnson, the arch-Brexiteer and a loose cannon of zero intellect, used to dish out national policies on the hoop when he was the foreign secretary. His motive was that the government would find it extremely difficult to ditch ideas, however useless or dogmatic, of the foreign secretary. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland having only 10 MPs had to be bought over by Theresa May for the staggering sum of one billion pounds to prop up her knife-edge administration in parliament. Now Jacob Rees-Mogg, ex-hedge fund manager and presently the leader of the so-called ‘European Research Group’ (ERG) (a shameful pressure group financed by foreign donors) and viscerally anti-European and arch-Brexiteer, is the back-seat driver and vicious sniper to the prime minister. He sets terms for the prime minister and tries to control the Brexit policy on the strength of 50 or so Tory MPs in the ERG. The government can hardly be more dysfunctional and vulnerable due to such crooked self-serving bigoted MPs.

The government exists with all the paraphernalia of ruling the country, but without any strategy, mission or vision. It relies on anti-European hysteria, snappy slogans, and populist narratives. When Theresa May came to power within a month following the most disruptive and destructive EU referendum in 2016, she said at the steps of 10 Downing Street that her government is going to work for everyone, she will prioritise ‘not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged but the working people’, she boastfully (rather beastly) declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’. These were nothing but cheap political slogans, just as typical banana republic politicians would resort to. She is in power but not in authority.

Even more stark demonstration of the banana republic is the egregious pronouncement of promises by ministers, even by the prime minister and other powerful politicians of the ruling party. These promises are made to get support of the general public (in election, in referendum etc) but knowing very well that these promises are only empty words, just bluffs to the public. These promises are not achievable and the politicians would get away without being made accountable.

Politicians of Britain have become self-serving, tribal and opportunistic, relegating national interests to nonentity. David Cameron, the prime minister between 2010 and 2015, had to give in to the demands of right-wing xenophobic imperialist elements of his party and produced ‘Bloomberg Speech’ in 2013, where he promised to give a referendum to the public by 2017 regarding UK’s continued EU membership. It was the most self-indulgent disruptive promise made to satisfy the rogue elements of his party at the expense of national interests. Self-interests and tribalism cannot go deeper than this.

After David Cameron’s announcement of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, political jostling, tribalism, lies and deception all broke loose. Boris Johnson, the then MP and ex-Mayor of London (elected twice), along with Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for justice, Ian Duncan Smith, the then works and pensions secretary and many more politicians of the ruling party gave fictitious and egregious promises to the general public and the deplorable, illiterate and semi-literate public clung on to those promises. They promised to put back additional £350 million per week to the NHS, if UK leaves the EU. ‘The future is bright’, ‘take back control’ (from Brussels), ‘British Parliament is sovereign’, no more ‘unelected representatives’ would make our laws, etc were the thunders of these self-serving dogmatic opportunistic politicians. They also fabricated millions of phantom immigrant Turks waiting outside the borders to come to the UK, if UK remains in the EU. Although all of these pronouncements were blatant lies, the Electoral Commission was impotent to put a stop to the falsehood and the referendum proceeded with these lies.

Barack Obama in the dying days of his administration tried to warn British public of the consequences of leaving the EU. But then the Brexit politicians led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove screamed loudly complaining against ‘American interference’ in British internal matters. But when Donald Trump interfered only a few days ago and advised the prime minister, in no uncertain terms, to leave the EU without a deal and sue the EU, the Brexiteers found nothing wrong in that! Tribalism and racism are obviously deep rooted in Brexiteers minds.

America had aggressive stance towards other states right from the end of the WWII. America, Britain and Russia, the victorious Allied Powers, were at par in 1946. But then as decolonisation proceeded, Britain started to decline in political, economic and military spheres and America started to step in with ‘ethical and moral’ flags in those countries to fill the vacuum. Very soon, America ditched those moral pretence and started outright domination of those countries and became de-facto masters of these countries.

Britain invented ‘special relationship’ with America in order to remain as a super power or at least pretence of a super power. Britain benefited from American political support, American offer of nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines etc in return of accepting American hegemony. Special relationship remained especially advantageous to America and made Britain especially subservient to America.

All American and British governments since WWII had tried to gloss over this ‘tilted special relationship’ until the reality television show presenter and street brawler Donald Trump spilled the beans. He explicitly told British prime minister to break off ties and negotiations with the EU (as he declares EU is America’s foe) and start negotiations with America, even though America recently imposed 25% tariff on British steel. The ‘special relationship’ has in effect become a master-servant relationship. If America manages to prise Britain out of the EU, its dominance over Britain, in economic and political fields, will be permanent. Britain’s ‘banana republic’ status will become rock-solid, similar to other banana republics in the Caribbean.

While America is pulling Britain to subservience, there is a very strong bunch of xenophobic imperialist Tory politicians who are hallucinating of bringing back the second era of British colonialism and ‘rule Britannia’ status! Boris Johnson went to India, Myanmar and other ex-colonies deluding that he would get the reception and imperial status of colonial foreign secretary. Liam Fox, Brexit international trade secretary, claimed that making a trade deal (probably with ex-colonies) is the easiest thing in world history! However, in over two years as the international trade secretary he managed to get not a single trade deal! Banana republic ministers are all puff and froth, no substance.

The last but not the least aspect of banana republic is the warm weather. The warm weather has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that it somehow helps to produce a good football team. A team when nobody, not even the team players themselves, expected to perform well, they went as far as the semi-final in the world cup in Russia this year. It may be that the warm weather makes human joints more supple and flexible, muscles stronger and resilient than they would otherwise be the case!

However, there is a negative aspect of the warm weather. People become mentally blank and vacuous; they lose their capacity to critically analyse issues. Otherwise, how could millions of people take Boris Johnson’s imbecile comment that the ‘future is bright’ for the UK (on leaving the EU) to be true, when the economy is undoubtedly going to suffer very adversely? How could people become so emotive and bigoted when Nigel Farage showed a photo of long queue of migrants to assert that they were all waiting to come to Britain? People lose their basic human sense in the warm weather and that probably makes them behave like lambs?

It is a shame and highly deplorable that a great power like Britain with educated mass can so easily be persuaded by populist and bigoted politicians to cause such a self-harm to satisfy the interests of these dogmatic politicians by voting to leave the EU. This Brexit is likely to be, unless halted immediately, the sharp decline of British power and become a ‘banana state’.

– A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Economic, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious

Life beyond Balkanisation

When someone mentions the word ‘Balkanisation’, it immediately brings back the dreadful memory of Srebrenica massacre – ethnic cleansing, vicious racial killing, mass murders etc. In short, Balkanisation conjures up a situation when an ordered, organised state disintegrates into lawless chaotic mafia states – as had happened to the former state of Yugoslavia – on racial, religious, ethnic divides.

Having toured the heartland of Balkanised lands very recently – Croatia and Montenegro – I came back with the impression that Balkanisation may be brutal, but there is life after that. It does not turn previously antagonistic states into eternal enemies. Balkanised states may very quickly forget and forgive past atrocities and live together amicably and decently.

The word ‘Balkan’ is presumed to have come from the Turkish language meaning ‘a ridge of wooded mountains’. This is the region where, along with Greece, Turkey and Persia, various amusing fairy tales, myths, mysteries etc were generated at the early stages of human civilisation. Those tales were gradually subsumed and assimilated into various religious narratives. For example, the sky and thunder god, called Zeus (who ruled as the king of gods in Mount Olympus) in ancient Greek religion, became angry with god Haemus and sent thunder which injured Haemus and caused him to bleed (thereby the word ‘haemus’ or ‘bloody’ came into the English language) and the blood drops became a ridge of mountains. In ancient Greek and even in modern Greek, the Balkan Peninsula is known as the ‘Peninsula of Haemus’. The Ottoman Turks called the region Balkans.

However, there is no blood of gods in the mountains now. But, if one has to look for blood, one can find blood of innocent civilians all over the place in the former Federal State of Yugoslavia. After the death of Marshal Tito, the then president of Yugoslavia, in 1980 the multiracial, multi-ethnic federated state started to agitate on nationalistic grounds. After the fall of Berlin Wall, the whole of Yugoslavia broke out in open warfare. The six republics – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia – broke away and eventually became independent states. Although Slabs, taking the mantle of the former state, viciously fought against Christian Croats and Bosnian Muslims under the murderous Serb leaders like Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, the tide of history could not be reversed.

20180522_101013The whole of Balkans, particularly the coastal belts of the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea are absolutely breath taking. Our journey started with our arrival in Dubrovnik, a beautiful Croatian sea resort. After having some light lunch, we set off for Montenegro by bus. Just about 20 minutes’ drive from Dubrovnik, we came to the border crossing. These two countries may be in good terms at the moment, but immigration officials showed no mercy towards the tourists. The first leg of our journey was to get out of Croatia. It took more than 20 minutes even with our well-known local tour guide to get exit visa in Croatia. Then there was the no-man’s land of about 1 km before we came to Montenegro border. We had to wait for more than 40 minutes to get the entry visa. The tour guide told us that we were lucky, it could have taken much longer!

We then drove for about an hour including a ferry crossing to come to our hotel in Budva in Montenegro. The hotel is located in a nice locality within ten minutes’ walk to the beach. There is some anomaly between Croatia and Montenegro in matters of currency. Although Croatia is in the EU but it has not yet adopted Euro. Their currency is Kuna; although Euro is perfectly legitimate and freely available. When economic convergence will be achieved, Kuna will be disbanded and Euro will be the only currency. On the other hand, Montenegro is not in the EU, but they use Euro as their currency!

Montenegro is a small country with a population of only 640,000 and has an area of 13,800 square km. Mountains, lakes and forests abound everywhere. When the Venetian invading army in the middle ages came to the country’s Adriatic coast, they only saw black mountains and hence called it Monte (mountain) Negro (black). They only managed to conquer the coastal belts of the mountains, when ferociously nationalistic Montenegrins fought off well-armed Venetians.

The following day, we headed for Cetinje (pronounced as Chetnia), the former capital of Montenegro and the royal seat of the ruling Petrović family. Then we had a tour of King Nikola’s Museum. King Nikola ruled this tiny kingdom for 58 years until 1918, when his kingdom was subsumed into the state of Yugoslavia after WWI. It was interesting to note that despite the size of the kingdom, Nikola had grand presence in the world scene of kings and queens including those of Britain, Germany, Russia and others. Possibly those were the times when royal families all over the world had global fraternity.

The highlight of the tour was the visit to the town of Kotor, a world heritage site. At the foothills of the mountain, the setting of the medieval buildings was breath taking. As we were going through the main square, all of a sudden we heard a march-band from one of the side roads feeding into the main square. They were celebrating Montenegro’s 10th anniversary of independence day.

We then visited the nearby town called Perast. In the adjoining lake there are two man-made church islands. One of the islands, called Our Lady of the Rocks, has a very interesting legend. A wounded soldier on the rock discovered Virgin Mary’s image on the rock and he was miraculously healed. He then dedicated his life to making a church on the rock in her honour. We took a boat trip to ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’ and the legend has it that if someone makes a wish and throws a stone from the church to the waters, that wish would come true. I threw a stone after making a wish that I get a cool one billion pounds. I am still waiting to see my wish come true!

20180520_105047Next day we visited Podgorica, capital of Montenegro. It used to be known as Titograd, after the name of President Tito. It is a quaint old city where people go around with their businesses leisurely. We then visited the massive Sipcanik wine cellar. The cellar was an underground hanger for military aircrafts that was dug inside the mountains and nearly 400 metres long, where about 30 fighter planes used to be kept securely from American attacks. It now houses around two million litres of wines. Wine is Montenegro’s major export item. We had a lovely wine tasting session accompanied with cheese and biscuits.

The following day we went back to Dubrovnik through a new route. We went through the longest tunnel in Southern Europe – 4190 metre long – in the Balkan mountains. Dubrovnik had been dubbed by Byron as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ and is the home for the rich and famous local people. The Old Town contains an array of monasteries, beautifully decorated churches and civic building from 14th centuries. There are quite a number of palaces (more like large terrace houses) belonging to aristocrat families and the aristocracies are displayed by the ‘Coats of Arms’ firmly embedded at the main entrances of the palaces.

The next couple of days were spent in cruises in lakes. Lake Skadar is the largest lake in Southern Europe, straddling Montenegro (containing two thirds of the lake) and Albania (containing one third of the lake). It is home to nearly half of Europe’s population of endangered Dalmatian pelicans. Probably these pelicans are more than just endangered – almost extinct – as we could not see more than three or four birds in more than four hours of cruising.

Altogether the tour was very enjoyable. It was even more enjoyable and remarkable when one considers that only about 23 years ago, the area was in flames (metaphorically speaking), threatening to engulf the whole region into utter super-power conflagration. But that danger was contained by NATO action and taming the aggressive streak of the Serbs. Now things have quietened down. Balkanisation had taken place, but it did not cause permanent damage to peace in the region. A land of beauty is blooming again.


– A. Rahman is an author and a columnist