Wednesday, June 04, 2008

spectacular Alpine scenery of Switzerland

Switzerland-autumn-Geneva-travel-trip
The scent of alpine flowers and spicy herbs rents the air and the faint ting-a-ling of cow bells accompanies hikers from alp to alp. Hey, I'm in Switzerland, whose charming landscapes have enough zing to pep up the most jaded traveler.

My husband and I had set off for Switzerland last autumn with four friends in tow. The country is absolutely stunning in autumn, we had heard, with the skies a clear blue on most days. The summer crowds recede and the prices are considerably lower.

And so it was. Brilliant hues of red and yellow blurred past us as our train sped from Geneva airport to Interlaken - the first stop on the itinerary. The trees had donned the rich colours of the season and were resplendent in burnished shades.

Interlaken is perfectly positioned as the gateway into the Bernese Oberland. It's a pleasant enough place, even though it is bustling and commercial and packed with Swiss-kitsch souvenir shops. The town is situatedbetween the lakes Thun and Brienz and is famed for its superb views of the Jungfrau massif.

Interestingly, many of the shops that cram the town centre have signs in Japanese- an indication of the large number of tourists fromthe Land of the Rising Sun. But I think signs in Indian languages won't be too far off given the rising number of Indian tourists!

Indian cuisine seems to find favour with the Swiss,for we located an Indian restaurant in Interlaken. Setup six years ago, Spice India has a loyal localclientele - we found that out when we went to dine there. After a hearty meal of fish tikka, seekh kebab and tandoori chicken, we were ready to tackle Jungfraujoch the next day.

At an altitude of 3,454 m, Jungfraujoch is Europe's highest railway station. The journey involved trainchanges at Lauterbrunnen, Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg.

We changed trains so often that a German phraseconstantly announced on the public address system in a singsong voice before an approaching station - Nachsthalt or next stop - will always be imprinted on my mind.

After spending a few moments on the Sphinx observationterrace - a great place for taking photographs, wemade a beeline for the snows of Jungfrau plateau. The walking trail was quite crowded and a number ofpeople had brought along their dogs. We spotted a massive but benign looking Newfoundland and decidednot to pass up this photo-op. The dog obliged happily enough. A passer-by jokingly suggested to the owner that he should charge us for the snaps.

The trek proved quite arduous and a friend dropped outafter a while. I followed next. The other members of our group were in better shape evidently and completedthe trail without much fuss.

The ice palace at Jungfraujoch is an amusing novelty and worth visiting - especially since it's free to Jungfraubahn passengers. The ice sculptures include vaulted rooms, birds, animals, penguins, people, cars, furniture and even a bar.

Zurich, Switzerland's most populous canton and the country's financial capital, was our next destination. I had earlier read on the Internet about a Durga puja being celebrated in Zurich and, as it was MahaAshthami, we decided to troop down to the puja venue. The venue turned out to be a restaurant owned by an enterprising Bengali businessman. It was time for pushpanjali when we arrived, and so we were quickly ushered in for the puja.

There was a decent turnout and people had come from as far as Brussels andCologne to take part in the festivities. The idol had been shipped from Kumortuli in Kolkata, and the priest had also been flown in from there. Evenings were devoted to song, dance and sitar recitals.

Care hadbeen takento replicate Kolkata's puja atmosphere and we left after feasting on the prasad - sumptuous khichri, puris, vegetable curry, chut ney, papad and sweets. A quick trip to Lake Zurich and more photographs - especially in front of the Ganymede sculpture - followed.

Then, it was time for some 'retail therapy' at Bahnhofstrasse - the Swiss version of the Fifh Av enue that is home to some of the country's finest stores and largest banks. Dawdle in front of wellexecuted shop windows, enjoy a coffee at Sprungli, watch the world go by, and, of course, shop to your heart's content. The Bahnhofstrasse has long had the reputation of being one of the world's premier shopping venues.

If you are well armed with Swiss francs or a creditcard, then these shops may interest you: Bucherer -Switzerland's largest retailer of watches, clocks, and jewellery, Jelmoli - the largest and oldest department store in Z├╝rich, and Bally, which stocks fabulous footwear and clothing for big spenders of all ages.

It was back to the mountains with an outing toSchilthorn the next day. From Interlaken, we took atrain to Lauterbrunnen and then the funicular to Grutschalp. Finally, we hopped on to another train for the idyllic and car-free hamlet of Murren. Perched on a high, sunny terrace facing the Eiger,Monch and Jungfrau, the village is the highestaltitude ski resort in the Bernese Oberland. There isan extensive choice of lodging to suit all tastes.

From Murren, we had a nail-biting 30-minute cable carride to the summit at Schilthorn, towering at an altitude of 2,970 m.The mountain summit became famous when the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed there.

The Piz Gloria revolving restaurant atthe summit has glorious mountain views. The peoplerunning it are not reluctant to cash in on the 007 connection, showing highlights of the film and selling a variety of souvenirs. The restaurant, surprisingly, stocks rice and dal, which is what wehad for lunch. A lot of Indian tourists must be comingto the place, as I found a set of instructions written in Hindi — in the bathrooms.

The last day of our trip was spent in Geneva. There was not much time on hand, but we did squeeze in atrip to the Jet d'Eau, the world's tallest fountain,on Lake Geneva. We dined on couscous at a Lebanese restaurant before heading back to the airport.
- Mysterious moors, rushing waterfalls cascading downthe mountains, jagged rock formations and lush alpine meadows covered with flowers that never fail to enchant. The trip had given us a chance to marvel atthe simple things in life.
- Every moment spent in Switzerland had been worth it

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