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 - cafĂ©, 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


HeartFelt Template by Ipietoon Cute Blog Design and Bukit Gambang