Friday, November 25, 2016

India Diaries - Day 5 & 6

The day started with feasting on the leftover vada pav from yesterday and the cakes and the biscuits. Since there was no PR to be done for that morning, we were summoned to make the mandatory trip to the mall. To be honest, my shopping patience is pretty limited, infact contrary to the stereotype, I hardly shop just to avoid several hours of misery of queuing up near the changing rooms and making a mess of the hair while trying on the clothes and then dragging the feet from shop to shop. This is too much trouble and unnecessary waste of energy. Also malls in India are usually full of tourists loitering around in the air conditioned space to beat the heat more making it impossible to manoeuvre successfully without bumping into a head or two. Life has become a bit better with the new era of online shopping.

So anyways the husband and I head towards the mall nearby which is surprisingly empty due to combination of factors such as weekday, afternoon and off course demonetisation. I usually buy sweaters and warm wear there as the coziest thing I can find in Mumbai is a raincoat. The staff in the mall is surprisingly uninterested and when asked if there are other sizes, they just declare there aren't any without even looking for it.

Post the shopping, the husband and I head out to yet another venture of some PR to meet yet another acquaintance of the inlaws. The MIL orders us to meet them as apparently she has had to lie several times to them as to why we couldn't meet them on our yearly trips. Having heard this several times gets me thinking on why it is so hard to accept the truth that I spend several hundred pounds to spend sometime with the family and that it's not always possible to meet all possible people who dropped by at the wedding whilst it is something that the husband and I would love to do. Anyways, it seems that the logic doesn't hold much stand so we are on the way. I silently thank my friends who never ever complain that the husband hasn't been able to show up on the PR exercise.

On our way back we pick up oranges and carrots, or so we think. Only when we reach home, we are told by the MIL that we actually picked up a different fruit from the same family called 'Kinnow'. Earlier in the day, the husband and FIL were commissioned to buy 'tondli' but they ended up bringing home totally something else. After these two incidents the MIL has realised that we are not fit for handing over any shopping list and has probably vowed to do any further shopping herself or under her supervision. I am not surprised.

Later in the evening, we visit the Ganpati Mandir nearby and the newly constructed temple is beautiful, huge with an ornately decorated roof and has a nice positive vibe to it. The campus is huge, and has other small temples around it. Funnily people are taking selfies with the God, where is this society heading I think, and after this facepalm moment, we head back to home.

The dinner is in the Sayaji restaurant which has amazing food with fancy names - like Nargis Do Pyaza and Birbal ki Handi. Off course we have over eaten and with heavy stomachs and contented heart, we return home.

The next day begins with a typical Indore breakfast, poha and kachori and it's amazingly delicious and crazily spicy. The plan is to meet a friend on the other side of the city, and after several hundred calls and thousands of opinions floating in the house, we finally go across the city and meet the friend. After several days of excessive intake of the food, we are in good coma and we have light dinner and the Indore stay has come to an end.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

India Diaries - Day 4

Early to rise, the husband and I were all set to fly to Indore. The husband ordered an Uber but since neither the husband or I had any data plan on, we were kind of lost as soon as we stepped out of the house. The Uber driver was equally confused and picked someone else who also happened to have Joshi surname and who also happened to be going to the airport with a big bag. Only when the husband called the driver, he realised the goof up, asked the passenger his full name, dropped him back where he picked him and came back to pick us. That is one reason why I haven't changed my surname I told the husband who was not impressed by the reasoning. Anyways, the driver probably wanted more money and decided to take a longer route via BKC to the airport. Additionally, all along the route, we were confused if the domestic flight is departing from the Santacruz or the Sahar airport and were nervously trying to call the helpdesk to confirm the same. After a good one and half hour of incessant traffic, we finally made it to the correct airport in time.

The check in was fairly organised and we made way to the security. When I passed the security, I saw three young kids, 20s something shouting at the security personnel who was stamping the tags on the bag at the security. Apparently they were not impressed by the fact that they were asked to remove and scan their ankle length boots and also added that the woman at security was extremely rude to them. Now I admit that being rude to passengers at immigration and security has solely been patented by Americans and no one else, therefore practising it in India was a clear violation of the patent but I personally only saw the security asking the girl to remove the shoes and when she resisted, she gave her a good sounding which I think is fair. Try resisting in America and that is the last time anyone will ever see you resisting anything because you might rot in one of their cells framed for a crime that you haven't heard of. Anyways I was disgusted by the way the kids (yeah they are kids in my eyes) were shouting and I wanted to give them a piece of mind myself but then I saw the husband walk towards me so I shut up as I feared being called the bully.

We made way to the gate and I saw a young couple occupying 4 seats, two for themselves and two for their bags. Now since there was no other seat, I signalled the girl to pick up the bags and put them down, but she completely ignored it and behaved as if she didn't know what I was saying. For a good 30 seconds she kept staring at me, and vice versa, and I pointed to the bag again but to no avail. Just when I was about to pounce on her, two other seats were emptied and having sensed my next move, the husband quickly redirected me to the empty seats, lest I unleash the wrath on her. I did make a passing by comment however that 'Seats are for people not for bags' and the husband was smiling from ear to ear having proven the bully point. He calls me 'gadadhari bheem' sometimes and 'angry bird' the other but in my defence, I believe that being silent while witnessing the crime is same as participating in the crime itself.

Anyways after this morning haggling, we were finally off to Indore. As soon as the plane hit the tarmac, you notice that there is no other plane in sight in the entire area, at a distance is the old terminal which is prettier but now abandoned for a new glassy terminal, the ground staff stroll lazily attaching the door to the tunnel to step out. Funnily the front half of the plane disembarks through the tunnel while the other half are asked to climb down the ladder, board the bus to be taken to the arrival lounge, aah the inefficiencies we introduce in our daily life. Anyways the baggage arrives quite swiftly, as we step out in the land of Maa Ahilya Devi Holkar.

Indore, even though considered a tier two city has good infrastructure, specially near the airport and the new IT corridor that is being built. Special lanes have been built for buses and new sprawling malls, hotels and restaurants are seen everywhere. Yet, it still has a charm of a small town , the lazy mornings, the slow afternoons and late nights, everything moves at its own pace and you can feel it as soon as you step out. Inspite of this, cars, scooters and buses seem to be always in hurry of going somewhere, and till date it's a mystery to me. If you think the traffic in Pune is horrible, you have to visit Indore for there is utter disregard for any sort of lane discipline and everyone seems to be colour blind because no one stops at any signal. I consider myself a good driver but I rather not test my skills there.

So anyways, after zigzagging and criss crossing several bylanes, we finally made it home. The house in Indore is massive, beautiful and well kept and can easily give Jalsa some though competition but like any other town, the eerie silence is deafening as I am used to living in small flats with constant ringing of door bells or the honking of the vehicles from the road below.

We settle down on the table and we feast on the vada pav that I have carried from Mumbai. This has become a routine now, I am the delivery girl who carries Mumbai's vada pav for the in laws and brings back Indore's kachori for the parents, both being my favourite as I love everything that's fried. After a scrumptious lunch with all sorts of sweets ranging from cake, gajar halwa , gulab jamun I retire to the room and am unable to fight the sleep any more.

In the evening, the inlaws insist that we visit the MILs sister who is quite old and lives on the other end of the city. Now I have no recollection or clue on who we are visiting because barring his few relatives that live in UK or US, I haven't heard from any of his relatives post the wedding. But I gathered from the conversation that she is quite old but independent and I was looking forward to meet her as I love meeting old people for a reason that I will elaborate soon.

Much as expected, the MILs sister was overjoyed to see us, and with whatever little she could hear, she was happily participating in the conversation. She immediately summoned her son to come back to the house so we could meet him too. The conversation was a feel good one and only filled with blessings. Not one time there was any nasty remark or comment on my clothes, on whether I cook or not, on whether I wear the jewellery that I should be wearing to announce to the world that I was married. This is what I love about old people, they have seen a lot in their life to know what matters and what doesn't. This is the same with my grandparents and their friends. Their friends are usually just simply overjoyed that I took time out to meet them, and even if I don't manage to meet them everytime, that is fine too because there is no ego there. I feel we are the best when we are young or when we are old, because both times the heart is pure, the mind is clear as that is when we truly follow this, knowingly or unknowingly that whoever minds don't matter and whoever matters, don't mind.

Monday, November 21, 2016

India Diaries - Day 3

Considering the late end to the party the previous night, my day started at a reasonable hour or so I thought. I was feeling quite tired but after a while, when I made sense of the situation in the house I gathered that the door bell had rung several times since morning starting with milkman, paperwalah, kachrawalah and the bai, my grandparents were almost ready for the second breakfast, the tea prepared in the morning had turned stone cold, dad had already completed 5km walk as per the fitbit and mom had finished cooking the afternoon lunch half an hour ago. I must have at least slept for a day I thought, but then I saw the watch and it was only 830. I could not believe that yesterday's party had no effect whatsoever on the universe but me and everything was status quo. I realised that may be, just may be there is a possibility that the world does not revolve around me. But I let that thought pass because I like to think it's otherwise.

Now everytime I am in India, anyone I meet greets me with one of the three comments "oh you have lost so much weight" or "you haven't changed a bit" or "you seem to have put on weight". I can never understand how the three statements can coexist but I am pretty sure that everyone feels obligated to make a definitive statement on my appearance. So just to make it easy for everyone, like shakira says, hips don't lie and so doesn't my weighing machine, so don't feel pressured to judge my weight, I will figure out sooner or later. Also needless to say, mom always feels that I have lost several kilos from the last trip and trust me, if that was really true, I would have disappeared by now. But this time, the husband was getting all the attention and all the energy of the house was being directed to have a menu of his choice to suit his troubled stomach. Perhaps the centre of the universe is gradually shifting to the husband I thought, but again I might be over analysing the issue.

Later in the day, we made a mandatory trip to a mall nearby and I was amazed to see so many foreign brands crunched side by side in a mall that is nothing short of a maze. It made me wonder why I had spent several hours last week gathering useless gifts, but I digress. The purpose of the trip to the mall was very clear, my parents wanted to buy something for the husband but with his choice. Now I found it a bit odd that no one mentioned anything about me while leaving the house but what was shocking that once the husband was done, there was a sudden rush to go home for lunch as I could very well do my shopping online. I had started to sense that may be the centre indeed was shifting but then it could be that they were really hungry.

The final nail in the coffin was put when my aunt invited us for dinner. Never before has she ever decided a menu without asking me but today was all about the husband. I felt that the husband was kind of enjoying this new centre of gravity who, I must admit, also left no stone unturned to thrust himself firmly on the centre stage.

The dinner was fabulous so I couldn't complain and just when I was about to hand over the crown to the husband, my aunt and the cousin told me that they would make my favourite dish on my cousins birthday. When we were back home, my grandparents gifted me a new 2000 rupee note for my shopping. Later that night, when I was packing for Indore, my parents told me that I would be missed for next few days. It seemed that after all I was still at the centre of the universe.

But then may be, the husband and I both can be the centre of the universe. Or for that matter, the world is a happy place with several centres as every child is truly the focal point for the family. And no matter how old I become, their world will still revolve around me and now also perhaps the husband.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

India Diaries - Day 2

It was a lazy start to the day and I sheepishly walked from the bedroom to the hall and made myself comfortable on the sofa. I picked up an ad page lying  besides me which seemed quite heavy and it had a big iPhone and iPad on it with citi credit card offering some credit to purchase these 'half eaten Apple' products. Then I noticed that there was a Times of India logo on the top. When I turned the page, I realised that it wasn't an advertisement page but rather it was the front page of the newspaper which was basically a full page ad. Whatever happened to all the news in the country, I mean surely there must be something worth reporting on the front page, and if nothing, the least they could have done is some Modi bashing because that is what we do best. Anyways, my ordeal did not end there and what followed the so called front page was a half front page with news that didn't matter at all. Then there was a third 'front' page which had news on the top half and a big Dove ad in the bottom half. I remember when I was in school, everyone in the class had to take turns and bring one news item from the front page to read in the class after the prayers. Assuming this still happens, I wondered if the students would talk about Dove or iPhone today in the class, I sighed and went back to reading the paper. Finally on the third front page there was some Modi bashing and I returned to normality.

So today,19th November, was 'World toilet day' and no am not joking. With so much 'swatch bharat abhiyan' going on, I thought that it would be a big thing in India because building toilets is also key to bharat being 'swatch' really. I tried to google some information and the only usable link that I found was that there was a competition held for toilet humour and the joke that won the prize was from two years ago "For Christmas last year I got given Sudoku toilet paper. It’s useless. You can only fill it in with number ones and number twos". I had a hearty laugh at that and moved on. Later in the day, I was assigned the duty to pick up my nephew from his school so he could join in early for the family get together that the mom had organised in the evening. The husband and I reached a bit early so I used this opportunity to enlighten the husband on where my junior college classrooms were and what mischiefs me and my girl gang used to do looking out from the window seat. While I was reminiscing those days he came to a conclusion that I have always been bully and that it has nothing to do with the marriage. I let him think that although in my defence he is the one who always gets his way by taking the more politically correct route.

Slowly the parents crowded the gate, the school vans parked themselves almost blocking the road and scooters and cars slowed down awaiting the school bell. Suddenly I saw one of the parent sitting on his Honda activa spit on the footpath opposite to where I was standing. "There goes my Swatch Bharat tax", I exclaimed disgustingly. "I am paying for this man to spit on the road. We should tell him not to do it". The husband didn't seem much stirred by my emotional outburst and said that I was just acting over smart and behaving like a typical NRI. Moreover he pointed out that I was the bully in the family so I am the one who should say something. Before we came to a conclusion on who should approach the man, he drove off with his son and my nephew came out running as well, so I left it there.

Cricket is the universal religion in India and the husband has a new found support in my dad to watch the India vs England test match. Usually in London, I either have to move to a different room to read a book or I have to entertain myself by watching countless episodes of Splitsvilla (mostly the latter) as I cannot understand how one can watch every single minute of the 5 day test match on tv. Also in my defence the husband watches any game on planet, like South Africa vs Pakistan test series, with the same amount of interest which therefore ends up me stomping my foot to the other room. But now, since two people in the house want to watch cricket and with dad practically controlling the tv remote, I have no option but to watch the match. The only saving grace was the hindi commentary which was amazingly spontaneous and hilarious with some clips of VVS and Dean Jones trying to outsmart each other at some challenges and games.

Slowly my uncles, aunts, cousins start coming in. The house is packed with people. Someone is not feeling well so my mom changes the original plan of going up the yeoor hill to the resort to having a home gettogether. She promptly arranges for starters and orders food from a nearby restaurant. The topic ranges from London weather to brexit to trump but eventually all roads lead to demonetisation. There are 3 CAs and one banker in the room who are working hard since the announcement for different reasons. Whenever the topic is inching towards my culinary skills I successfully re-route it to demonetisation.The room is small but cozy and everyone has fitted in just perfectly. The food arrives and everyone eats to their heart's content. I give a glance to my mom and I am amazed at her ability to always bring together so many people and bring laughter and cheer to everyone. I wonder if I can ever do that but for now let me enjoy this moment for like someone said "you are the happiest in this moment".

Saturday, November 19, 2016

India Diaries - Day 1

Modi's demonitization drive has created quite a stir, not only in India but also in the country of Her Majesty, The Queen. One day, while I was sitting in my office typing an email furiously and fuming over IT not delivering the requirements in time, my phone suddenly started buzzing. I ignored it for a while only to find 258 whatsapp messages sent to me over the numerous groups that I have subscribed to. Normally I tend to ignore the forwards but this time I was worried that it may be something serious like may be Hillary had conceded defeat before the election results were out and declared that all this debate with Trump was just for fun or may be Salman Khan had confessed that he was driving his car but that it was the car who was actually drunk and because someone filled it with vodka instead of diesel. But it was none of the above and I have to admit that the creativity and geniusness of the forwards on this demonitisation was simply amazing which also explains why the advertisements in India are so much better in India unlike UK where there is a big fat man with weird zigzag moustaches shouting 'go compare' in a shrill loud voice so much that I rather would pay extra money and save myself the horror of comparing any prices on their website which would constantly remind me of the useless jingle every second I stay on their website. My colleague aka 'Thakur' who I blatantly accuse of hoarding lots of black money was immediately on his phone making some 'calls' while acting cool. The next day, whilst he seemed to have found ways to make use of his cash stacks for better purposes than making a bonfire, refused to tell me how and insisted that he didn't have anything to worry.

Some of my friends, on the other hand were worried on how they would convert their money that they had brought with them to this country and all of that eventually landed with me and the husband to make sure it's transported safely to India. So the husband and I loaded with this cash and several other useless gift items and chocolates made way to the London Heathrow airport. All throughout the one and half hour journey passing by the countless tube stops, the husband kept complaining on how far the airport is and how inconvenient I make the India trip because I insist on a direct flight and refuse to take the one stop flight from the London city airport. Now what I don't understand is how spending four hours in transit can be better than one and half hour in travel, but then the husband has proven higher IQ so I just change the topic.

We finally reach the airport and few minutes into the line I notice that the web check-in queue actually longer and moving slower than the normal queue. Sometime later, the Delhi travellers start jumping the queue under the pretext that they are in hurry even though their flight is only 10 minutes before the Mumbai one. Note to self - don't check-in online & arrive late or raise hand when asked for Delhi passengers even though travelling to Mumbai and jump the queue - note end. Anyway, somehow we pass the security and hog some food in the lounge that the husband has access to.

After we settle down in the plane, the usual haggling over overhead storage or reclining the seat begins. I find this a common sight in the India bound planes. One time, I witnessed a passenger violently kicking the seat in front of him as he was upset with the angle of recline of the seat in front of him and the other time one passenger refused to sit down because he insisted that he stores his handbag right above his seat lest his chocolates were stolen. Anyway, I put my headset, gulped down a glass of wine and watched 3 movies and one dream in the 8 hour odd journey. I could not believe that jet had a separate 'Akshay Kumar' film category in their movie section, and also made me wonder how successful he has become but mostly how he would have handled his stacks of black money.

The moment I stepped out of the plane, I felt alive and happy because the new airport terminal is so welcoming and 'indian' in its decoration but mostly because I could connect to the free WiFi. The husband was obviously carrying more liquor than permitted levels, half of which was in my bag and when our suitcases arrived on the belt it had a huge white crosses on all sides. Having seen numerous episodes of 'Nothing to declare', I promptly put all my effort in erasing those marks to a point that they were almost invisible. I was already having nightmares about carrying so much cash that I didn't want to attract any more attention. The husband thought it was unnecessary to rub that cross off and of course he was asked to scan his bag and handbag at the customs. Luckily they let him go. With renewed confidence of having beaten the customs, the husband wanted to also exchange all his old notes even though half of them were not even his. But the post office in the airport had already ran out of cash at 1200 so he agreed to move on.

As soon as I stepped out, I was greeted by the honking of the auto rickshaws, the screeching brakes of the best bus, the cars crawling side by side with narrow gaps, the scooters making their way zigzag between the stalled traffic, the metro passing above, there was so much chaos, but there was a method to the madness, I was home and it was an amazing feeling.

All day long, I hogged on the home cooked food, caught some sleep, then hogged on my favourite parle-g which btw I can still dunk to perfection, then again ate some food until it was time to call it a day. This is what I call a perfect start to a holiday

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Switzerland Diaries - Day 5 : Lucerne

It was a lazy start to the day and our legs were still tired from two days of mountain visits although all we did was sit on the cog wheel trains admiring the genius Swiss engineering. If you plan to visit Lucerne and wish to live around the old town, then I suggest you book fairly in advance. Husband and I were late in planning the stay at Lucerne so we had to settle with Ibis, which I had to admit had a decent location but a very tiny room with a very weird half see through bathroom door. Also when we booked the room, the room was meant to be big enough for 3 people to stay but off course we must have missed the fine print and the third bed was actually a bunk bed that I feared would fall and suffocate me at night. Thankfully nothing of that sort happened and we checked out in the morning and headed straight to the city centre.

We headed to a Starbucks near the train station to grab some breakfast and we ordered a croissant and a coffee. When they handed the coffee, the croissant and the bill to us, the husband noticed that the bill receipt said ham and cheese croissant so we enquired about it and requested them to replace it. Not only did they refuse to do it but also started shouting at us in German, something that I found very unusual for such a otherwise friendly place like Switzerland. When the husband pointed out that they had indeed labelled the stuff incorrectly on the display window, and nowhere it was mentioned that it was ham and cheese, they refused to accept saying that we should have confirmed anyways. Until now, I was quiet but this didn't go down to well with me. All this while, the husband was being polite to the otherwise rude lady, but at this point, I had totally lost it and I told her we dont need anything from them and we were leaving and I kept saying it while she kept blabbering something in German. I have to say, it was quite a gamble but she then reluctantly offered us a chocolate muffin instead which I accepted with at least equal, if not more reluctance.     

Although it wasn't a very good start to the day, I fell in love with Lucerne. Lucerne is a small town with picturesque bridges and beautiful water promenades with the backdrop of the mighty mountains. The town is bustling with vibrant colours and amazing music fills the sunny plazas. Full of small souvenir shops, Lucerne is one of the favourite tourist destinations especially because it acts as a gateway to Central Switzerland. 

We had planned to walk around the town following the Lonely Planet book and the first stop was Kapellbrucke or the Chapel Bridge. The 170 metre wooden bridge that spans river Reuss is named after the nearby St. Peter's Chapel. Built in 1333, it is one of the oldest wooden bridges in Europe built as a part of fortifications of Lucerne with the purpose of connecting the old part of town on the right bank with the new part on the left and to serve as protection from any attacks. Adorned with colourful flowers along the entire 170 meter length, it is wonderful to stroll across the creaky wooden bridge. Part of the bridge is also a “Water Tower” which is original, but its gabled roof is a modern reconstruction, rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1993.  The bridge's interior is famous for some high quality paintings, dating back to 17th century. As you cross the bridge, note that it has paintings hanging below its roof in triangular shape and depict events from the history, paintings that present life and death of Lucerne’s patron saint St. Leger to legends of city’s other patron saint St. Maurice. They were painted in 17th century by a local Catholic painter Hans Heinrich Wägmann however in 1993 on August 18th, fire broke out, probably from the cigarette, and destroyed two thirds of paintings. 

At the other side of the bridge is the beautiful Jesuit Church. The bridge and the church are visible in the song “Jara Gunguna Lein Chalo” of the movie Laaga Chunri Me Daag starring Rani Mukherjee and Abhishek Bachhan. Offcourse, we didnt know it then but few days later on a lazy sunday afternoon, the husband and I would get excited to see this bridge in a song.

When you cross the bridge, you arrive at St Peters chapel and next to is is Kapellplatz. In the center of the square is a fountain commemorating Carnival revelry in Lucerne. The Kapellplatz surrounds the 18th century chapel which was built over a former 12th century. The exterior walls are adorned with several works of art and a carving of the Mount of Olives remains from the previous church building. On the square you will see an unusual fountain - called the Fritschi Fountain that was built in 1918 in the style of much older Renaissance style fountains. On the top are painted allegorical figures. The fountain is named after Brother Fritzi, a legendary figure and supposedly his grave is under the fountain. No one knows who Brother Fritschi really was. The legend goes back to around 1450 and the most probable explanation is that there was a farmer living outside town who left some money to the Safran guild on condition that they serve wine to the poor during Fasacht. The guild is still fulfilling this obligation today.

Fritschi Fountain

We crossed to the other side again and went around small lanes soaking in the charm of this town until we were in front of the Jesuit Church. We went back and forth but could not find the entrance until we saw a notice put on the door. It wasnt in English but we could gather that it is closed for renovation so we sat down on the river bank opposite to church admiring the clear blue water with white swans and the bridge in the background. It was simply perfect picture.

We kept walking along the river banks until we reached Nadelwehr or the Needle Dam. It consists of many planks of wood which can be raised or lowered by hand depending on the amount of water which need to flow out of the lake, thus preventing flooding. It is great to see that such an old invention still serve its purpose.


Although overshadowed by its larger counterpart, the Chapel Bridge, the Spreuer Bridge is worthy of a visit. The original bridge was erected around 1400 but destroyed by storm in 1566, and then rebuilt again. It has the same triangular paintings as the Chapel Bridge, which are not seen anywhere other than in these two bridges. Between 1626 and 1635, Kaspar Meglinger added 67 paintings which represent the "Dance of Death" reminding the observer of how we are all equal before death, regardless of wealth and standing. They are still original, as luckily no fire has devastated the Spreuer Bridge. The name comes from the German spreu meaning chaff (the husk around wheat grains), as this was the only bridge from which one was allowed to throw chaff into the river (being the furthest downstream).

 Dance of Death

The city mills were destroyed in 1875 by fire. Instead, turbines were built and used to drive a variety of machines. But the mechanical transmission of power was outdated and replaced by an electricity generator. In 1998 the power plant was completely redesigned and equipped with the latest technology available, delivering electricity to about 1,500 households in Lucerne. So one can find here a well-preserved example of 16th century art of engineering next to state-of-the-art 21st century technology.

Old turbines

Once you cross the bridge, sit down for sometime in MuhlenplatzThis is one of several squares/former market places within Old Town Lucerne that combine a mixture of original structures with faithfully done more recent buildings, all painted and decorated to give a 16th-17th century feel to the site. This one has a nice clock tower. From here starts the upward road towards the Nine Towers and the city wall. 

Above the Old Town lies a ridge that runs from west to east and this is where the walls were built in 1386 still standing almost intact. Watchtowers built along the wall offered a view of the city below with nine of these towers still standing today. Three out of nine towers are open to public. The Schirmer Tower is made of polished stones and features fitted cornerstones and like the other towers it has a frieze of round arches at the top and a low pyramid-shaped roof. The next tower open to the public is Männli or Little Man Tower and is the second tower along the wall. It is named after the little iron man, a merry figure carrying a banner which is known throughout the countryside. The third tower open to the public is Zyt Tower which is named after the large clock. It is the oldest city clock and it is allowed to chime every hour one minute before all the other city clocks. Luckily we were climbing up the tower when it started ringing so we could see all the mechanical circles and ropes unwinding themselves to ring the bell. The access is free and offers amazing views of the city below.

City view from the city walls

We climbed down through the other side of the city walls. The best way to enjoy a new city is to take a walk in the city turning into lanes taking getting lost in the small lanes. We were exhausted and we saw an Indian restaurant on the way which looked quite tempting but we gave  it a pass and sat down at a local cafe instead. It was a delicious meal and we went back to our explorations.

One of the best places I visited in Lucerne is the Dying Lion's monument. It commemorates the 600 or more Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. The dying lion is impaled by a spear, covering a shield bearing the coat of arms of the French monarchy and beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. The sculpture of the lion is carved out of the natural rock that surrounds it. The American writer, Mark Twain described this monument as the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world. It was very crowded with at least 3 or 4 big tour companies present at the same time.

After going around the town the whole day, I finally entered a souvenir shop but it was packed with Indians probably from a tour company from Mumbai or Pune I guessed as they were talking in Marathi while mentally converting the cost into rupees. It was so packed that I could hardly get in so I decided to just make an exit and head towards Lake lucerne.

There are many cruises along the lake that leave at various intervals from across the station. There is a discount on the cruises if you have a Swiss Travel Pass. The husband and I however wanted to sit back and enjoy the beautiful and picturesque lake. Peaceful and scenic is the way to describe Lake Lucerne. There is a lovely walking area along the shore with ducks, pigeons, sparrows, gulls. One can spend hours just looking at the heavenly body of water. We sat down and had a nice icecream before we made our way back to the hotel.

Lucerne offers several other attractions like Mt. Pilatus but you need another day to do the mountain. Within the town, there is also a Swiss Transport Museum & Modern Art museum, Hofkirche, Glacier Garden or you can also enjoy a concert at the concert hall. For us, this was all we could see in Lucerne for now and we headed to Zurich

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Switzerland Diaries - Day 4 : Hello From Jungfrau

The hustle bustle started early morning as the bags were being packed as we were ready to checkout of the Beausite B&B. We discovered that one of my gloves was missing, the lip balm couldn't be found and the comb left on the table the earlier morning was no where to be seen, all in all a very chaotic morning. Having made peace that my bag would have swallowed these things like my washing machine, we had a good breakfast and took the bus to the Interlaken West station. I was in no mood to drag my luggage all the way up to the top of Europe, so we left it in the lockers on the station.

Breakfast view

We had some spare time until the next train so I made a suggestion to the husband that we could buy the mountain railway tickets for Jungfrau in advance. When we reached the counter, we were taken aback to find out that all mountain railway tickets from Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch (which is the final leg of the mountain railway) were booked and the first available train booking was at 100 pm. Soon those got sold out too so we quickly reserved the 130 pm train tickets. We later found out though that its not really necessary to book the train in advance because there is a separate line for 'unreserved' travellers which also moves at a descent pace. So in hindsight, it would have been alright to take the chance and just queue up.

Anyway, since we had booked specific trains, we now had plenty of time to spare. We walked the complete Interlaken promenade from west to east and as we were walking, we saw a hoard of Indians in the Kursaal garden near the casino. On pursuing my curiosity further, we spotted the Yash Chopra bronze statue. The government of Interlaken has awarded him the honorary title of “Ambassador of Interlaken”, and Jungfrau Railways has named a train after him – an honour shared only with the railway’s founder, Adolf Guyer. In addition, the five-star Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa in Interlaken has a suite named after Yash Chopra. It does not come as a surprise that the Swiss Government has done all this for the man who brought the breath taking Switzerland mountains and valleys to every theatre in India thus boosting the tourism in this area for decades to come. After taking a few photos, we continued our walk towards Interlaken Ost station. 

 Yash Chopra bronze statue

"Ambassador of Interlaken"

The journey from Interlaken to Jungfrau is a long one and you need to change 3 trains - Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen/Grindelwald (you can choose either), then to Klein Scheidegg (KS) & then KS to Jungfraujoch. I recommend you choose one way to go up and the other way to come down, we decided to go up via Lauterbrunnen and come back via Grindelwald. 

The parents who have been to Switzerland many years ago, even before Yash Chopra boosted its tourism, had suggested that we visit the Trummelbach waterfalls near Lauterbrunnen which was a good decision and an amazing experience. You can visit these falls by small bus ride from Lauterbrunnen. Loud, thundering and roaring in the interior of the mountain - these are the Trummelbach Falls. The Falls carry the melting water of the glaciers from the Jungfrau down to the valley up to 20,000 litres of water per second and its not a surprise that its a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's only glacier waterfalls that are accessible underground by lift, tunnels and platforms.

A tunnel elevator takes you up the steep mountain and small lookout and cutouts provides view to ten chutes where the water crashes down at a thundering speed with deafening sounds into foaming milky pools before disappearing into darkness until they come out again through another chute. The freezing spray water has made the caves damp and slippery but you can feel the fresh droplets of pure pristine glacier water as you move chute to chute. Unfortunately, we couldn't take very good photos as it was too dark inside the caves but mostly because I was too scared to go too close to the lookout points. All in all, its definitely worth a visit, a good stop to make on the Jungfrau trip, specially since you have already bought the mountain tickets. 

Water gushing through the chutes

One visit to Jungfraujoch will set you back by about 205 CHF (or a little less if you have a Swiss Pass or if you go early morning when its slightly cheaper), it was in fact costlier than my round trip flight tickets to Switzerland. So its important to check the weather before you drag yourself up the mountain. The train stations are equipped with webcam and you will be able to see the webcam videos and get accurate weather information.

Depending where you are travelling from, you have to catch a train from Grindelweld, Lauterbrunnen or Wengen which takes you to ‘Klein Scheidegg’ railway station. ‘Klein Scheidegg’ is a place where one can spend a lot of time admiring the beauty of huge Eiger, Monch and offcourse the Jungfrau. At the KS station, look out for the sign Jungfraujoch either in yellow or green. Follow yellow queue if you have no seat reservation, otherwise follow green. From here, you take the cogwheel train to ‘Jungfraujoch – The Top of Europe’ station. 

Cog wheel train going up to Jungfrau

The cogwheel train rattles slowly up the incline in about 50 minutes and the entire journey is through tunnel inside Eiger mountain, its a marvellous Swiss engineering. There are three stations where trains stop for few minutes to allow passengers look down through the cutaway mountain glass window inside the tunnel. No one in our compartment seemed to be sure of this and when the train stopped on it's first stop, everyone seemed a bit confused. The husband, having done his thorough research and mostly in search of restroom, popped out of the train and others followed us. The view of the snowy fields below is just outstanding and leaves you amazed at how quickly you have made the accent, so dont miss this opportunity.

Once at the final stop, you are greeted with a 'Welcome' board in different languages, including in Hindi. The husband and I were starving so we decided to sit down and have some food before we went around the  place. The food up there is average but expensive, but that did not come as a surprise. What surprised me was that there was a huge Indian restaurant aptly named as The Bollywood Restaurant (which was crammed with Indians from two or three tour companies). Outside, there were also some counters selling vegetarian & chicken sandwich with the name written in Devanagari script and also an overpriced cup of masala chai to keep the Indians warm in the freezing temperatures outside.

Masala chai to keep the Indians warm and cozy

We gobbled up the tasteless sandwich and also some chocolate and chips that we had carried and we were ready to go around following the tour sign. To start with, there is an elevator to go up to the Sphinx, the viewing platform over Europe. It was super crowded up there but nevertheless, the view of Jungfrau & Monch are stunning. It's strange to look down on an airplane flying below you through the valleys. The observation deck has been seen in Bollywood movies before, but what you see in movies was nothing as compared to experiencing it yourself. 

On the oberservation deck

The air gets thin at the top so use your energy and oxygen wisely- don't get too excited and start ruining all over in the snow. Don’t forget you will be at 3454m and may feel slight altitude sickness although its hard to contain the fun of jumping and rolling down on the snow. It was quite crowded near the observation deck so we started walking towards Monchsjoch Hut. It's quite a long walk to the Hut - café, so we didn't go the whole way, but just enough to get away from the crowds. 

I wanted to dance to 'Zara sa jhoom lu mein' but the husband was getting quite embarrassed by my behaviour so I let it be. I tried to make a snowman which didn't look like one in the end. It can get cold there, so I suggest that you carry warm gear from thermals, sweaters, coats, ski hats and gloves. When we visited, it was a lovely sunny day and we took off our jackets and lied down soaking the beauty of the mighty Jungfrau in front of us.

Hello from Jungfraujoch

 Heaven on earth

The other thing on the tour is the Lindt chocolate experience which we skipped. Then there is a Ice Palace which is quite nice, so dont miss it. Wander through a glacier with machine cut tunnels. See the very special Whiskey maturing in oak barrels, storeed in the ice for a quite unique flavour. Ice Age anyone? Do you remember the film and a frequent protagonist? Watch out for a cute and funny surprise. 

Ice Palace

Ice Age is here

Take deep breaths of the cleanest freshest air you have ever breathed. You'll never breathe like this again when you return to civilisation below. Go on, do it! You know you want to...

You can never get enough of the mountains, the pure white snow, the valley, the clear blue sky and bright sun above. But it was time to head back down, leaving footprints in the snow, until we meet again..Next stop - Lucerne

Footprints in the snow..until we meet again

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Switzerland Diaries - Day 3 - Meet the Matterhorn

Golden rays of sunshine began to seep in through the small gaps between the two curtains that were lazily closed last night. The husband rolled out of the bed and opened them up as we woke up to the mesmerising view with the lake below in the front and Jungfrau to the left. The summit was a bit cloudy but nevertheless it was a view worth waking up for. There were two small wooden chairs in the balcony and I made a suggestion that the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon should be spent soaking in the view starting with some coffee and may be ending it with a good glass of wine.

View from the hotel

The suggestion was promptly dismissed by the husband as he told me that we had to catch the 834 bus from Beatenberg (which was where our B&B was) else we would miss the good views of the Matterhorn. Now personally I have become very cynical of this hiking early morning to catch the best views. Just last year, husband and I were at Machu Picchu and we had woken up at 300 am to trek up and see the sunrise from the top and all we had got were thick clouds for most of the morning. Not only that, we had survived the rain and made it up the Wyna Picchu only to take photos against a full foggy backdrop. So anyway, dismissing my cynicism, I stepped out of the warm and cozy bed, my legs still tired from earlier day's long and tiring exploration of the Golden Pass trail.

The husband turned on the tv to the cable channel that has live feeds from the camera on the mountains. The train tickets are pretty expensive so make sure you choose a clear day before you make the trek. Jungfrau was absolutely foggy that morning so we decided to do Matterhorn which was nice and sunny looking at the feeds.

The journey from Interlaken to Gornergrat was long. Firstly we took a train from Interlaken Ost to Visp - this was about an hour in the regular SBB trains and since we had a six days Golden Pass card, we didnt have to buy a separate ticket. At Visp, we changed to the mountain railway - the Matterhorn  Gotthard Bahn that takes you right up to Zermatt in about an hour and twenty minutes.

Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

The trip on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn is absolutely stunning and is only a pre-cursor to what you are about to experience near the Matterhorn. As the train went towards Kalpetran, it went in and out of the tunnel until suddenly, in between the trees, we could see the tip of the Matterhorn. The tip of the Matterhorn was still covered with snow while the mountains surrounding the train were plush green. The sky was clear blue and the golden rays of the sun were making the Matterhorn shine even brighter. I took out my camera and clicked a few pictures from the train window.

Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn Route : Visp - Zermatt - Gornergrat

The train trudged slowly going criss-cross between the steep mountains which were almost vertical at times. We were sometimes greeted by the waterfalls and sometimes by the river dancing with its clear blue water besides the railway line. As we passed St. Niklaus & Herbriggen, Matterhorn was right in front of us. With every minute, it felt that we were getting closer and closer and the excitement was building up. 

Just then the ticket checker informed us that our golden pass ticket isn't valid from Visp to Zermatt. We were on the mountain railway Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, so we bought our ticket on the train. I questioned the husband about the economics of buying the Golden Pass before settling back in my seat and soaking in the view outside. The ticket checker requested us to pay in cash because the card machine required internet connection which was very weak in this narrow valley between the mountains. Luckily we had cash for onward journey so we buy one way ticket for both of us. The train then picked up some speed while rushing through Randa and Tasch. If you are coming by car, then you need to park your car at Tasch which is about 5 kms from Zermatt. 

View from the train 

Matterhorn starts to show at a distance

Our train finally reached Zermatt which is a car free village at the height of 1650 with romantic neighbourhoods and quiet corners. All the houses around the village are loaded with flowers. There are no automobiles in Zermatt. Walking – going by foot – is our common form of transportation. There are alternatives: bicycle, eTaxi, eBus or horse-drawn carriage.

Upon arrival, we crossed the road to take the Gornergrat Bahn which was a very wise decision. The husband, as usual, needs to checkout the restroom area as is the usual regime while I queue up for the train. The train ticket is 90CHF return for one person and you can hop out and hop in on any intermediate stations if you want. As soon as the train arrives and the doors open, there is a flurry of people trying to get on the train to catch a window seat. It's quite close to getting on the train except you can't jump in while the train is moving making it a bit more civilised. If you do manage to get on early, try to sit in the right side in the direction of travel.

By sheer luck, we do sit on the right side and we cannot stop marvelling as the Matterhorn begins to show. The train in itself is a wonderful experience and is Europe's highest cog wheel railway moving about 14km/hr, quite a descent speed for travelling at a gradient of 20. As we continue the journey, we pass the highest tree range in the alps. There are 4 stops on the way but I suggest that you go all the way up first and then hop off wherever you want while coming back. Words and photos cannot do justice for the beautiful views one gets going up in the train.

Train station

On the Gornergrat Bahn

Zermatt town with Matterhorn in the background

The steep gradient of the train

Photos from the train 

Gornergrat Bahn

The train comes to a halt at Gornergrat and you will not be disappointed by the mind blowing views of the tall standing Matterhorn. At the Gornergrat summit you have a fantastic panorama of seven glaciers beneath a 360-degree sweep of 29 peaks over 4000m including the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze).

The breathtaking view from Gornergrat

Europe's highest cog railway crawling up 

Matterhorn is made up of two words - "Matter" and "Horn", the second word means "horn, peak" whereas the first means possession : literally, Matterhorn means "Zermatt's peak". Matterhorn is truly a swiss icon and the view from Gornergrat is impressive and worth all the time and money. It was a perfectly sunny day but a small cloud loitering around the 4478m peak was irritating me. I waited for it to clear and then it was heavenly. From every angle, its aspect varies and as the day passes, it changes playing with colours, hues, shades, sun and clouds. The near symetrical and majestic peak rises in the Alpine mountains and stands tall almost demanding a worship.

The overall landscape from Gornergrat is so nice that it might even force you to forget the Matterhorn for a while. The scenery around you is hypnotising and you cannot get enough if it. At the top there is an hotel, an observatory, a small souvenir shopping mall and even a little chapel. We sat down and had our lunch amidst the glaciers.

Panoramic view

Monte Rosa peak

Some company for the lunch

While coming down, we got down at Rotenboden and from there you can then walk towards Riffelsee lake. In the lake you can take a picture perfect postcard photo of the Matterhorn and its reflection in the Riffelsee lake.

Once back in Zermatt, we went around the main street trying to soak in the charming village. Other thing to do in Zermatt is the Matterhorn Musuem. The alternative option to view Matterhorn by taking the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise to Klein Matterhorn but we skipped that.

The day ended with a nice dinner of cheese fondue at Beatenberg with Jungfrau in background, where we go tomorrow.

Cheese fondue & Junfraujoch


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