We were staying at The Thessoni in Zurich. The travel agency got us an Indian spread for dinner the night before, and all along, I kept complaining about how they were playing Nazi games with our taste buds. However, we did have something to look forward to the following day.
It was early morning, when our bus started climbing the serpentine mountain roads, and we had to stop to take in the breath-taking views of Zurich cradled in the lofty mountains and misty meadows.
We reached the Jungfraujoch Station, after being handed booklets, which bore the words “Jungfrau: Top of Europe”.
Top of Europe or no, in a moment, all of us collectively felt like we were on the top of the world.
The Bernese Alps are a part of the magnificent Alps, with respect to West Switzerland. Jungfrau – “jung” in German is “young”, and “frau” is “woman”; German and English, after all, have a lot in common – is one of the zeniths of the Bernese Alps. The Jungfraujoch is the saddle – or col – between Jungfrau and Mönch.
We rode the cog-wheeled train down the Jungfrau line, the nineteenth-century brainwave of Adolf Guyer-Zeller. If I could condense what we saw on the way, in a maximum of three words, the perfect description would be: Land of Christmas.
Let some photographs do the talking for a moment.
I had previously walked about in snow, in East Sikkim, while travelling the Silk Route, but this was overwhelming. It was everything the dreamy novels had prepared me for. I had half a mind to write a letter, just for the sake of it, that began with: “Heidi, you were right.”
We changed trains at Wengen. Wengen was caked with snow. Standing in the open for a while had you topped prettily with little wisps of feathery white.
Huddled cozily in the train, our fellow Indian travellers started discussing how ideal it would be, if, in this spine-chilling cold, a plate of hot pakoras manifested.
Teeth began to chatter as we ascended and ascended, through hauntingly-lit fantasy game tunnels and snow-massaged paradise.
I don’t need to tell you that the best things fly by in a heartbeat. In the blink of an eye that took in the rolling giants of snow and in a breath that fixed the pure fragrance of heaven in memory, we heard that we were nearing our destination.
Little by little, the dream trip crept towards completion.
There was a hotel perilously high and very close to the top of the Alps. People gathered that this was where the mad travellers came to stay. In fact, to be a traveller is to wear your madness with pride. To be a tourist is to measure each step with the help of an expert itinerary. My first trip to Europe, for safety issues, turned out to be a traveller’s experience governed by a tourist body.
I made a mental note to let it be for the first time.
There were many other aspects of this first time to relish, like how we felt when we reached Jungfrau, how the Alpine chocolate tasted there and how, for a while, there was nothing at all to worry about.
Everything was deliciously Swiss. Little wooden chalets, large shaggy men with snowy white hair, piles and piles of jackets on everybody – a layer reserved for anxiety for the tourists – and the feeling of being frozen. Being frozen in a fairytale.
When we got off at the station, I mused on how the spine-tingling authenticity of wanderlust came from photographs of road and station signs. Seeing the name “Grindelwald” on this particular sign, my inner Harry Potter fanatic squealed.