And the Mountains Echoed: Switzerland
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills”
Wordsworth echoed my emotions perfectly as I sat amidst the conifer cones, under the looming pine trees, with the mountain stream beside me trickling away to greener lands. Once in a while, we all need a break from civilisation. Taking a step away from the crowd and experiencing nature is something everyone would like to do. Switzerland, a small, land-locked country in the middle of Europe, is the perfect destination to live that experience.
Situated close to the German-Swiss border, this particular tourist attraction is also the largest waterfall in Europe. Tourists take a boat ride and climb the massive rock at the center of the waterfall, which has stood strong for centuries. Several variants of fish can be found jumping out of the water. Visit the Laufen Castle and get an admirable view of the river and the waterfall. A lucky few may also get to see a tiny rainbow being formed at the foot of the falls.
Almost 7000 lakes can be found in Switzerland. I dedicated a whole day to Interlaken, which is located between the two lakes of Brienz and Thun. Needless to say, I have never felt more at one with my surroundings. Standing by the lakes, the Jungfraujoch is clearly visible. This mountain is also famous for being known as the ‘Top of Europe’.
While travelling by train from Zürich to Bern, the sylvan European countryside caught my attention. There are several railway routes which lead to Jungfraujoch. To cover a significant portion of the entire alpine region, it is recommended that you try different routes for the upward and downward journeys. While the natural beauty will certainly leave you dumbfounded, you must halt at Grindelwald- a popular ski resort and tourist destination, which is located midway on your journey to the top.
Despite being only a cluster of hotels and restaurants, Engelberg is a famous village in Switzerland. It is from here that the trip to Mount Titlis begins. Mount Titlis is known for the rotating cable car ride which takes you all the way to the peak. Unfortunately, torrential rain and a cloudy sky dampened our journey. The storm gradually subsided, which meant that the journey to the top was a possibility, although the scenic view the Swiss rave about, was obscured by clouds.
Much to my delight, as the cable car went up the mountain, the rain gave way to snowfall. Since this was my first time witnessing snow, my joy knew no bounds. Problems like being caught in a blizzard on Mt. Titlis, with an external temperature of -10 degrees Celsius, faded into insignificance. Nature had a way of surprising us, and my ecstasy was shared by every tourist stuck in the snow storm. After spending an hour, we made our way down along with the clouds, the fog creating an ambience best enjoyed while sipping a cup of Darjeeling tea.
There is a reason why Bollywood has defected to Switzerland for picturesque song sequences. With its panoramic windows, a ride on the Glacier Express, the world’s slowest express train, is a feast for the human eyes. Connecting the two most beautiful mountain resorts of Switzerland, St Moritz and Zermatt, the train streaks through one of the most beautiful landscapes at a snail’s pace.
True to its name, the train drove through a large glacier, end to end. Snow for miles with alpine snow-peaked mountains adorned the distant horizon. Some relevant research revealed that the Gotthard Base Tunnel, a part of this Express route, is the longest railway tunnel in the world! As we reached Zermatt, the countless chocolate shops were rendered diminutive in the presence of the Matterhorn. Shaped like a jagged tooth, it is also known as the ‘Berg de Berge’ and stands tall over its neighbours.
My visit to Heidiland, located near the Swiss-Liechenstein border, was special because of the admiration I bore towards Johanna Spyri’s bestseller. As the bus from Zurich dropped me at the base of the hill, the accuracy of Spyri’s description of Swiss meadows seemed to bring the scene to life. Farm animals roamed about freely in and around a solitary cottage with smoke curling out of its chimney. Surrounded by farming tools, rustic clothes and old books, the story of Heidi and a childhood well-spent suddenly flashed before my eyes.
A visit to Rapperswil taught me that first impressions can be deceptive. As I boarded the local train to Lake Zürich, I had painted a fairly descriptive picture of the site, which involved graffiti paint and Eminem lyrics on building walls. Instead, I was greeted with this:
Blossoming throughout the year, three rose gardens have made Rapperswil famously known as Rosenstadt (Town of Roses). The graffiti based artwork I had expected, was replaced by a more medieval form of artistic expression- frescos. Several Baroque-style cottages were stacked side-by-side, each of them adorned with personalised paintings of Mary and child. All the main sights were concentrated in the Altstadt (Old Town), and with medieval alleys spreading out from the Hauptplatz (Main Square), a flurry of souvenir shops, cafes and curio shops will suck away your time there. I climbed the Lindenhof hill and roamed around the Rapperswil Castle. Finally, I spent some time at the harbour to admire the sight of boats and pelicans approaching the mainland.
This country boasts of absolute political neutrality since the 15th century. Tourists should be thankful because this policy had left the country untouched during the World Wars which ensured that its natural beauty remained preserved. Political neutrality has affected the country in other ways too- there are four national languages in Switzerland. Despite a majority of German-speaking citizens, French, Italian, and Romansh are spoken here too. Coming from a country with a larger scale of linguistic diversity, it was not surprising to hear an announcement in the train being repeated several times in different languages.
Living in the city of Zürich was a wonderful experience, with every little activity taking place with clockwork precision. Trains were punctual to the very second, something I admired on a daily basis. These rides were spent in four equally entertaining ways – reading, staring at the wonder that is the Swiss landscape, listening to the animated chatter of the co-passengers or talking to another Indian family sitting right across the aisle.
All major trains leave from the Zürich Hauptbahnhof, a place where I’ve spent a long time analysing and admiring the Swiss metropolitan lifestyle. Shops are always teeming with men and women travelling to and from work. A wide range of items including pork ribs, pizza slices, pasta and several wraps and rolls are spread across the station. For those with a sweet tooth, the pretzels and macaroons sold are simply fantastic. If you have time on your hands and are gastronomically curious, the fondue is a must. Cherish the taste of bread dipped in exotic molten cheese only found in this part of the world.
We have all been architects of our dream home during our childhood. They are usually cottages built of wood in a forest, by a bubbling brook far, far away from the rest of humanity. Waking up to the chirping of birds and spending the day strolling by the nearby lake would be the daily routine in our youthful eyes. Switzerland fits this description to perfection. It keeps its tourists in a trance, lost in the splendour that has not been polluted by human hands.