PROZOR, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Hajrudin Kadric never expected to see where his childhood home stood ever again.
Kadric's home was in one of about 20 villages that were submerged to make an artificial lake nearly a half-century ago to feed a hydroelectric power plant in southern Bosnia.
But now Ramsko Lake is practically drained because of an exceptionally dry and cold winter, which prompted a sharp increase in electricity production. As a result, crumbled houses and cracked tombstones have been exposed after the lake's waters vanished.
For Kadric and others, it's a unique chance to revisit their childhood stomping grounds and return to see what remains of their homes.
"I remember people speedily abandoning our village," Kadric said, recalling the days in 1968 when he and his friends had been forced to part ways. "Every day someone was crying as yet another family would leave."
Nearly 2,000 people were forced to move to make way for the lake. Residents were given several months to leave their homes and move to different towns across Bosnia where authorities provided them with accommodation.
The power plant fed by the lake now produces an average of 650 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year.
The emerald green waters have been temporarily replaced by a trickle of people traversing the lake's exposed muddy floor, some responding to a strong sense of nostalgia and others excited by the rare experience.
"We usually swim in this lake, but now — strangely — we get to walk on its bottom," Marin Juric, a 16-year-old exploring the almost completely dried lake with his friends, said with a grin.
Local teenagers climb atop what remains of a village mosque, which residents say was at least 300 years old when it was submerged, and wander among old graves.
On the other hand, 79-year-old Ivan Baraban described past times that were "much better, much happier and filled with song."
"People used to gather to mow the meadows together and sing," Baraban said. "We were content to work the land."
Baraban and Kadric conceded that the old times were gone and said they were grateful that the emptying of the lake had at least provided them with a short glimpse of their fondly remembered past.
Others got a peek at what the area used to look like before the creation of the lake.
"People of my generation do not remember what this valley looked like before," said Franjo Ilicic, a local resident in his early 40s. "We know what the lake looks like and we hope it will be back in all its beauty soon."
Ilicic's wish should soon be granted when spring rains and the melting snow from the surrounding mountains start refilling the lake.
The waters, usually up to 95 meters (around 300 feet) deep, will again submerge the graves of the generations who lived and died in the lost villages. And the hubbub of summer visitors to the picturesque lake will return.
After walking around large piles of stones standing where his old school and family home used to be, Kadric said he felt a strong if irrational desire to return and live again in the place where he was born, started school and made his first friends.
"I know it can happen only in my imagination, but that does not kill the desire," he said.