Interlaken Sunrise

IN THE LAP OF SWISS ALPS

Switzerland has been on the wish list of several Indian tourists and Bollywood movie buffs, especially honeymooners because it has provided the picturesque backdrop for several Bollywood movies. Yash Chopra was mesmerized by this country on his honeymoon, and he continued to feature it in several of his films, including the Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol blockbuster of the 90’s- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. It’s no surprise that there is a train named after him ‘The Yash Chopra Train’ on the Jungfraujoch Railway.  He was conferred with the title of the ‘Ambassador of Interlaken’.  

Interlaken is a small dreamy town located at the foothills of the majestic peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. It’s so-called because it is situated between two lakes- Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The Aare river meanders through Interlaken. Countless tourists prefer to stay in Interlaken and explore the mountains in the Bernese Oberland region, as well as enjoy the thrill of high adrenaline adventure sports like paragliding, skydiving and bungee jumping.

Toy Train, Interlaken, Switzerland
Toy Train, Interlaken Switzerland @Rafiq Somani

After checking into our hotel at Interlaken, we were told that the best way to explore the town would be either on foot or on a toy train that takes you on a half-hour tour of the town. The train ride began from the Höhematte, a meadow in the middle of the town. We decided to walk to the centre of the town and were greeted with the unobstructed vistas of snowclad peaks and azure blue skies dotted with paragliders in colourful parachutes. The emerald green meadow and myriads of flowers like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and so on, all in a riot of bright hues had us beaming with joy and excitement. We saw a few Indian tourists including a couple posing and clicking pics à la Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, with the guy bending on his knee, with a flower in hand and the girl coyly accepting it. No wonder the tag line of Yash Chopra movies has been ‘Come, fall in love’! A case of real-life mimicking reel life.

Paragliders, Interlaken, Switzerland
Paragliders, Interlaken, Switzerland @Rafiq Somani

 The train ride through the town covered the major landmarks like the old town, the castle, the casino, the Aare river, the Japanese garden of friendship, the two railway stations and so on. The Mostosi brothers who run this train are very popular and well known in this town, which was evident as several passersby waved and greeted our train driver as we took the train ride. 

Interlaken’s local mountain Harder Kulm can be ascended by a cable car. It has a restaurant at the summit and a vantage point with a spectacular view of the town, the lakes and Jungfrau region. Unfortunately, we missed this experience by a day as the cable car operates from mid-April onwards. Interlaken provides some scenic postcard-perfect pictures, especially in the early hours of the mornings or in late evenings as the sun emerges or sets behind the mountain peaks.

No trip to Switzerland can be complete without a visit to the majestic snow-clad Swiss Alps. The next day after breakfast, we were all suitably dressed in thermals and woollens for our Jungfrau experience. The Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region in the Alps is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Aletsch is the largest glacier in the Alps, while the Jungfrau peak is one of the highest peaks in Europe and Jungfraujoch, at 3454 metres above sea level, is Europe’s highest-altitude railway station.

The story of the construction of Jungfraujoch Railway is about one person Adolf Guyer-Zeller, who had a bold idea of blasting a tunnel through the rocks of the Eiger and Monch mountains and constructing a railway to the summit of Jungfrau. When he sounded off this idea to the local people, they were impressed and thought it had tremendous tourism potential. The Jungfraujoch railway, which is a technical marvel, took 16 years to construct and required the grit and determination of hundreds of workers. This railway, since its opening in 1912, has been frequented by visitors from all over the world.

From Interlaken, after changing two trains, we boarded the cogwheel train from Kleine Scheidegg, that passed through a seven-kilometre-long tunnel and took us to the terminus of Jungfraujoch- Top of Europe. The first attraction on tour was the ‘Jungfrau Panorama’ which is a 360-degree cinematic experience that left us spellbound and craving for more. Next, we took an elevator, which incidentally is Switzerland’s fastest, and within 27 seconds were at the Sphinx Terrace. The Sphinx Observatory with its silver dome is Europe’s highest altitude research station. The Sphinx Terrace is a vantage point from where one can get breathtaking panoramic views of the Aletsch Glacier as well as Italy, France and Germany. The Bollywood movie Krrish 3 and English film Grand Budapest Hotel are shot here.  It was freezing and very windy, and soon we decided to head to the next attraction of the tour.

The Alpine Sensation is a light and music journey through the Alpine world. We were on a moving walkway through a gallery that exhibited pictures and paintings chronicling the exciting journey of the making of the Jungfraujoch Railway. We then entered the Ice Palace, which was created in 1934 and had several pathways and niches. It is a cavern in ice that has sculptures of eagles, penguins, polar bears and numerous other creatures of snow. The ice palace is cooled to minus three degrees to offset the heat created by hundreds of visitors that visit it every day.

Display at Alpine Sensation
Display at Alpine Sensation @Rafiq Somani

The Glacier ice plateau was the next attraction on tour. It is at this vantage point that one meets the snow and gusty winds. Our first attempt at accessing this plateau was unsuccessful, as we kept skidding and falling, partly because the snow had turned slippery due to the number of visitors walking over it. We gave up, thinking it would be foolish to slip and get hurt and spoil our holiday. However, my husband did manage to reach the plateau, and when he returned, it compelled our colleagues and me to muster the courage to try a second time. Armed with his tips and suggestions, we then decided to reach the plateau.

The wind was at its pounding best and biting cold at minus 8 degrees. It was a battle between man or should I say woman and nature. It was after an exhausting but exhilarating walk that we finally reached the plateau. A hundred emotions and thoughts raced through my mind. How difficult must it have been to construct a railway line in this hostile environment? How do mountaineers manage to scale these mountains, including the tallest mountain Mt. Everest? Would I have regretted not having tried a second time? In life, more often than not, we regret what we could have dared to do but didn’t. I am glad I dared to take a second chance!

The last leg of the tour was the Swiss Chocolate Heaven experience. The Lindt chocolate shop is a massive hit with children and the young at heart who succumb to the sinful chocolate temptations sold here. Interactive exhibits describe the chocolate-making process and its history. One can pick and choose from a range of chocolate delights and get them packed as souvenirs.

Swiss Chocolate Heaven, Jungfrau, Switzerland
Swiss Chocolate Heaven, Jungfrau, Switzerland @Rafiq Somani

After the exciting tour, we were famished and what could have been better than savouring an Indian meal, served at the Bollywood Restaurant. It is unimaginable but true that one can relish dal makhani and parathas while enjoying a majestic view of the Swiss Alps!

We carried happy memories with us as we undertook the return journey. We passed another tourist spot Grindelwald, which is popular amongst skiing and hiking enthusiasts. From the wide windows of the train, we witnessed the scenic views of green meadows interspersed, with wooden chalets having sloping roofs and overhanging eaves, that make for a dramatic alpine storybook setting.

En route Jungfrau, Switzerland
En route Jungfrau, Switzerland @Rafiq Somani

The half-day trip to Jungfraujoch -Top of Europe was worth it because it had a perfect balance of the elements of beauty, adventure and history. One thing is for sure the Swiss Alps are inviting you to ‘Come, Fall in Love’!

GETTING THERE:
Nearest Airports: Zurich is the nearest international airport. You can take a flight from any of the major cities in India with a stopover or transit in between in case there are no direct flights. From Zurich, you can travel by train to Interlaken and from there to Jungfrau.
Where to stay: You could explore options on the net depending on your comfort and budget. A Youth Hostel is also located in Interlaken.
Travel Tip: It is an expensive trip to Jungfraujoch (approximately Rs. 12,000 per person) and so it’s better to check the weather forecast and then visit. Get a Swiss Rail Pass for all your Swiss travels.

This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, June 2017.

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