Unending expanse of rapeseed fields spread over hills and valleys like a yellow carpet. Occasionally a small fenced hill populated by a herd of brown and white cows. Huge distant mountains capped in white forming a girdle around the country atmosphere: This is the rural Switzerland.
The Zurich International Airport was unusually abandoned for a bright summer afternoon except for a horde of Indians who just landed from Doha. I stood in the queue waiting for the visa officer to approve my entry to Europe. The lady at the counter smiled and glanced through my fresh passport. A minute later an accent flavoured with Europe mumbled through the glass, “Welcome to Switzerland, have a pleasant stay here!”
Hotel Movenpick was at a comfortable distance from the airport. We dropped our luggage at the hotel and went roaming in the Zurich city. What mesmerized us is the town planning and the architecture of this European town. There are hardly any people on the streets; it seems like the city was eagerly waiting to fill the anthropomorphic void, which we were too glad to fill.
There are moments in our life which are simply indescribable by language. The words like ‘awestruck’ and ‘dumbstruck’ are grossly inadequate for these occasions. Since life can’t get perfect anymore, one wishes that death be granted upon them instantly. This was the conundrum I faced when I stood in front of that mountain of chocolate in the department store. T’is a far far better sight than Charlie and Chocolate Factory; the pile of chocolate that rested in the wooden shelves, covered in wrappers of red, yellow and gold, waiting to be eaten. Toblerone is not the only chocolate in Switzerland, but it might be the only chocolate brand, the name of which can be pronounced by a hungry Indian. And these chocolates were going to be the breakfast, lunch and dinner for certain people in the months to come.
The bus went swaying as it climbed up the mountains of pines and poplars. Slowly, but steadily the vegetation changed from tall trees to isolated patches of grass. Mt Titlis is one of the tallest peak in central Switzerland. It is more popular for its rotating cable cars that carry people to the peak from the base. But it takes two trips in cable cars to reach the peak. In the first one, I had the first encounter with snow. Not considering the ice crystals in the refrigerator, it was the first time I saw that white fluffy thing that everyone talks about happily.
To reach the peak one has to walk through an ice cave. This cave has ice sculptures carved in them. There was a bunch of Canadian students in their maple leafed uniform; a college trip to Switzerland.
Often in life we are too optimistic about certain things. But on rare occasions like this optimism is drained away through some natural process. Survival of the fittest. The snow peak was nothing like those movies where the hero and heroine throw balls of snow at each other. The icy wind overtook the morning sun in lowering the temperature below zero. My loafers grew damp with snow and froze my feet. The unbearably cold wind froze my face. I couldn’t feel skin anymore; it was uncomfortably numb. My teeth grind hard and at one moment I was positive that my jaws cracked. At that strategic moment, the cold allergy made its Swiss entrance. While my brother made a snowman though unsuccessfully, I sneezed at least a fifty times. It didn’t take much for me to lose sense of everything. The next proper memory I have is of sitting in front of some food at the base of this mountain. Snow is evil.
The next destination was Interlaken. Interlaken is a small lake town. Here is a beautiful dark blue lake covered with mountains on all sides. The town adjacent to the lake is at the base of a mountain. There are gardens and lawns with flowers and plants much different from the tropical ones. Displayed here are tulips of almost all colors of the color spectrum. We sat outside a café enjoying the deep scent of roast coffee and the mountains of Alps.
Rhine waterfalls belong to the Swiss German border. This is a relatively popular area among tourists. My Swiss souvenir, the black spotted cow, came from the shop nearby. So did more bars of bitter dark chocolate. And so after some good days in the land of cheese, we left the Swiss country to enter the Black Forest, the land of Rapunzel and Martin Luther.
Switzerland came at a very crucial moment in my life. Just six hours after writing HSEE entrance, my ultimate attempt at taking education seriously, I flew to Alps. These are the mountains where Heidi and her goats once roamed in wild joy. The same mountains also witnessed Maria Von Trapp dancing to the Sound of the Music. What could be a more better start at freedom than the Apls!
In Switzerland I met the apricot; the dried peach colored chewy apricots, which considering Hugh Grant’s Notting Hill suggestion, I ate with honey. Apricot was to then become an addiction for some months. By the way, apricots in India are horrible.
Note: These are the bits and pieces of a travelogue on a journey that happened two years ago. Broken narratives here are the product of that blurred recollection.