As I take off from where I left it in Splendid Switzerland, I cannot help but think that each excursion in Switzerland was truly memorable.
Switzerland offered me ample opportunities to click pictures, and shoot home video, and was, indeed, most fulfilling and enchanting for my mind's eye, and soul.
I sure have a trigger-happy disposition with cameras. Thankfully, I had also the good sense to carry enough memory because I ended up clicking close to 500 pictures.
My Sony Cyber-Shot captured many unforgettable moments of Switzerland's everlasting magic. I present a handful of them - for your viewing and reading pleasure.
My first major excursion was to the French part of Switzerland. We were visiting the Leysin American School, one of the four English-based international schools in Leysin, an Alpine resort village near Montreux.
Leysin attracts climbers, hikers, and bikers from all over the world to explore its mountains and trails. The beauty of Leysin touched my soul. As I was returning from the visit, I felt there can't be a better place for students to learn and grow than the tranquil ambience of Leysin. Such was the impact that for a few serious moments, the thought of turning into a full-time teacher crossed my mind, just so that I'd be able to live in Leysin.
On our way back, we took the Golden Pass Panoramic train. This took us back through a longer, but the most scenic route in Switzerland. The sights of mountains and lakes are a visual treat.
City Excursions - Basel, Lugano, and Interlaken
Located in north-west Switzerland on the river Rhine, Basel borders both Germany and France.
Basel is considered the art and architecture capital of Switzerland. Apart from shopping and strolling through romantic lanes and alleys in the Old Town of Basel, I also visited the famed Zoological Garden, lovingly known to the people of Basel as the Zolli. The zoo, which was opened in 1874, is spread over an area of 11 hectares, and is home to about 6,000 animals belonging to 600 species. I spent the maximum time in the aquarium which houses some of the rarest species - aquatic and amphibian.
Lugano was different than Basel in some ways. The city is built on the periphery of the incredibly beautiful Lake Lugano, also known as the Ceresio. Embraced by tall, green mountains, the lake has a dramatic quality. Its calm, mirror-like waters change in colour and mood through the day, and also through seasons. Another striking aspect was that no sooner than I landed in the city, I saw men that resembled Al Pacino, and women who had features similar to Sophia Lauren and Monica Belluci.
Interlaken is situated in the heart of the Swiss Alps, between the Lakes of Thun and Brienz, and at the foot of the famous trio of peaks, the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau. I went to Interlaken twice, but unfortunately I could not spend much time on either occasion. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I spotted many Indians who seemed to be residing locally. Yet, the few hours I spent there left a lasting impression on me.
Perhaps, the most famous tourist spot in Switzerland, Mount Titlis is a wonder. It was about 23 degrees when I left Lucerne for Mt Titlis and I was wondering if I'd get to see ice on Mount Titlis. But, I was not disappointed.
This glacier paradise at 10,000 feet offers a snow-and-ice experience on the highest point in Central Switzerland. The nearest railway station is Engelberg, from where I took three cable car rides to Mount Titlis. The first one was in a gondola for six people each. In Station Trubsee, I changed the cable car. This time, I found myself in an 80-person Gondel, where we rode up to Station Stand. Finally, it was time to board the Rotair, the first revolving gondola of the world, which offers a "round view panorama trip" to the top.
As I approached Titlis, I was thrilled to see so much ice all around. Once on the top, the experience was simply magnificent, and surprisingly the cold was bearable. Walking on a thick layer of ice, I felt I was in paradise. The "tyre ride" was one of the most exciting snow-games and I took no less than five rides!
Mount Pilatus was the nearest mountainous excursion from Lucerne. I reached the foothills in just about 20 minutes and boarded the cable car to the 7,000-foot summit. Mt Pilatus turned out to be central Switzerland's most scenic peak, with a view of 70 peaks and five different lakes. I clicked the maximum pictures here, even as I discovered the area's mystical legends [See box]. The combination of clouds, ice, mountain and sunlight cannot be described; it's to be only experienced. It was extremely cold, in the range of 2-3 degrees Celsius, quite a departure from Lucerne city, which was around 24 degrees during daytime.
While returning, I descended by the world's steepest cogwheel train that passes through five tunnels and runs at a gradient of 48 per cent. The occasion left a funny feeling in the tummy. It was, however, a small price to pay for the extraordinary sights that the train provided.
The ghost of Pilatus and the forbidden mountain
In 1387, six clergymen were incarcerated for planning an unauthorised journey to the lake of Pilatus and an ascent of the mountain peak. Fearful thunderstorms and heavy flooding around Pilatus were harbingers of something supernatural afoot, prompting the Government of Lucerne to forbid locals and visitors alike from climbing the mountain. Even shepherds were placed under oath not to approach the dark waters of the lake, where it was rumoured that the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had been laid to rest. Banished to this desolate wilderness, the man's tormented spirit was said to surface every year on Good Friday, in a vain attempt to wash his bloodied hands.
In 1585, the parish priest of Lucerne, accompanied by a courageous band of citizens, ascended Pilatus to challenge any spirits lurking there. They threw boulders into the lake, churned its surface, waded through the shallows. A supernatural counter-offensive failed to materialise, and the spell was broken.
- Source: Plaque at Mt Pilatus
Located in Schaffhausen, close to the German border, the Rhine Falls are Europe's largest waterfalls, but not in terms of their height, which is a mere 75 feet. It's the force of the water with 600 cubic metres flowing out per second across the 450 feet breadth — simply breathtaking. The sheer drama of the place, with water resembling pure white milk, and a spray rising in a cloud of rainbow, was magnificent. The view was even better when I took one of the boats that took me dangerously close to the Falls.
I thought I had witnessed the most awesome power of water in Rhine Falls till I saw Trummelbach glacier falls. The Trummelbach Falls are the only glacier-waterfalls in Europe inside a mountain and still accessible. The 10 glacier waterfalls inside the mountain are made accessible by a tunnel-lift. The temperature inside the tunnels was close to zero degrees Celsius and the raw power of wild falls cutting through the hard rocks was mind-blowing. Take a guess on how much water flows out of the tunnels: 20,000 litres per second!
The Trummelbach Falls are fed by the melting snow and ice from the glaciers hugging the flanks of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains.
Not far from Trummelbach Falls is Murren, a breathtakingly beautiful mountain village which has a mere 450 inhabitants! Murren cannot be reached by road - either cable car, or train. I took both: the cable car for ascending and the train for descending. Perched on a high, sunny terrace facing the famous Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, the village is the highest altitude ski-resort in the Bernese Oberland. It's also famous for the revolving Piz Gloria Restaurant, which is where the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was shot. But, I would, any day, choose Murren only for its unadulterated beauty.
Journey back home
As my stay in Switzerland came to end, I felt poignant. I wanted to spend more time and resolved that I will return. My journey back home was made somewhat less gloomy with a lovely in-flight experience aboard the Swiss International Airlines.
I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment thoroughly, watching as many as three Hollywood flicks, including the critically acclaimed The Pursuit of Happyness. The nine-hour flight itself was smooth, with hardly any jerks. Even the touchdown was superb.
As I stepped on home soil, I knew I had left a part of me in the "Garden of the World."
Of watches and chocolates
Switzerland is famous for its watches. The Swiss watch and clock industry originated in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century. Four centuries later, thanks to tradition, craftsmanship, high technology and innovation, the Swiss watch-making industry continues to retain its leadership status in the world watch market.
Switzerland is famous for chocolates, too. The pioneer of Swiss chocolate-making, Francois Louis Callier, opened the first swiss chocolate factory in 1819. The rest is history.
Did you know?
Engelberg-Titlis is the only summer snow paradise to be reached within one-and-a-half-hours from Lucerne, Zurich, Basel and Berne. You can ski and snowboard almost all year round at an altitude of 3,000 m [10,000 feet]. In summer/fall, there is, depending on snow conditions, a downhill run for skiers, a fun park for snowboarders, a fun lift on the snow, guided glacier walks, and much more for non-skiers on Mt. Titlis.
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