Swiss-Bliss (Part 1.1): Engelberg Diaries

“If you dont mind, it doesnt matter,” goes a wise saying. Apart from the deep truth it holds, its a key to a life of less worry, no stress and great satisfaction. The line could very well be a jest for life in Switzerland.

The Alps are the prettiest mountain ranges ever and the terrain of Switzerland is extremely beautiful. Driving into Switzerland the first town welcoming is Basel. The city of beautiful churches, sunshine and the River Rhine flowing in its tiffany blue spectacle. Getting past Basel is not easy, its charismatic, luring and beckons one with its rich diversity and sparkling eaves. The River Rhine is no less persistant. But all derived was a drive through Basel and food in Auto-Grill!

Auto-Grill is something that makes driving in Switzerland so much more comfortable. Much like the Swiss restaurant Marche, the Auto-Grills here are places with a variety of food options and even scrumtuous desserts.  The strawberry tart gets a full on 10 for its taste, asthetics and crunch. Its not expensive and well, that makes it taste a wee bit better! Coffee is on the house, ofcourse with the tart.

After burning the tyres a couple of hours more we reached the sleepy little hamlet of Engelberg. Nestled in the Alps this town of 3000 people is much more than what meets the eye. The motto or tagline of the Alpine country of Switzerland is “Get Natural”,  and Switzerland does not get more natural than Engelberg. The drive was made even more beautiful with cloudy skies, picturesque mountains, impeccable roads and breezy encounters. After the brief shower and the lovely drive we were greeted by a dainty rainbow on arrival. Ofcourse I have seen rainbows before, but this one has been the clearest, picturesque and perfectly storybook rainbow ever. At the Treff’s hotel our cosy corner room was spaciously flooded with ambient light, I think sunlight in Schweiz is ambient in nature! And a privy balcony, that was more like a terrace. Need I say anymore about the view from there? It’s sufficient to say that though I normally prefer beaches, an encounter with Engelberg was all it tookfor hearting the mountains! The mountains are still, changing, tussling with the clouds, holding the rain and are responsible for rainbows.

Time seems to be frozen here in Engelberg, and despite the feeling, the Swiss clocks chime away with precision every single minute and second. The train station at a stone’s throw, making all of Switzerland seem just moments away! The sleepy Engelberg is infact the base of the Mount Titlis. Changing a serie of cable cars the mountain is accessible and without the rarification of air its a breeze. At Engelberg though there are a host of hotels but staying in a Bed and Breakfast makes more sense I would think. If not Treff’s hotel should be your choice. Manned between 7 30 am and 9 00 pm its just like a home. Carry the front door keys if you think you will be late, the sign said. Wow what trust levels! Then I realised that such trust levels were only a way of life in Switzerland. Breakfast at this humble hotel was simple with a generous supply of cheese. Different types and various kinds of cheese and bread dotted the table with their usual accomplices and satiated the hunger developed by the clear mountain air.

On the way, everywhere are seen the very good-looking swiss cows! Grazing all day wearing their trade-mark bells and enjoying the weather, its just another day for them. Some are decorated and others bare. Yet they all serve the same purpose and await the same fate. Against the green grass and the alpine flowers they make a very pretty picture.

First stop on the way to Mount Titlis has the hiking paradise of Trubsee, all equipped with a lake. Hiking, rowing, climbing are all popular sports with the Swiss. Pretty women, Handsome men, Young and Old, everyone hikes here and if they cant (which in itself is a rarity) they will walk. That and ample amounts of cheese, chocolate results in their rosy cheeks, clear complexion and God-given Blue-as-the-sky-eyes. Every person if not every second person is blessed with cheery blue eyes that are lucid and crystalline in quality. We shared our cable ride with a Swiss family on their way to Trubsee for a much-enjoyed hike. As they got off we continued our way up but decided to come back to Trubsee in a short while. The Mount Titlis was going to be the first stop. The last of the cable cars to change is the Rotair, the worlds first rotating cable car. A rotating car was something that gives us a bit more of the much-loved Alps!

Up on Titlis there are a range of activities. From snow-boarding to skiing, from sledging to traditional dressing there is a lot to do. Taking the Ice-Flyer we first made our way to the ski-zone. The views from the Flyer are spectacular, suspended on a precarious looking seat with the armrest as guard, that moves scarily and the alps at our feet. Moments that cannot be captured and feelings that will never be forgotten! The dangerousness of the Alps caused several of those heart-beat moments. The wedges, crevices the deep cuts and swerves in the white white snow, all glaring back at the camera, as if rightly saying that they can never be captured in a single frame. Riding the flyer with the Alps some thousands of feet below is a far image of the houses of Engelberg. Some on the hill, some at the base, looking pretty and feeling peaceful. The ride is very delectable, calm with hardly any sound than that of the steel rope that runs the pulley.

Once on the mountain its snow-time fun on a roll! The feet sink into the fresh snow(we were literally the first ones to land on the mountain that day) our footsteps or rather footsloshes remained. If you thought walking on sand and running on the beach sand was difficult the snow is much much worse! Did I forget to mention Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan?! How could I! On Mount Titlis are huge life size cut-outs of the two cine-stars in their “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” costumes. The movie that was shot in the midst of the Alps and features a lot of this country has been solely responsible for a mercurial peak of tourism in the last 16 years. So innumerable Indians dot this place every year! Skipping the predictables we headed to the snow-sports!

Sledging, snowboarding on about 5 types of boards took the next couple of hours. So much so that I wouldnt be wrong to say that by the end of the adventure I had several candid moments(not just dashing, but bouncing, falling  and whooshing through the snow), tanned a zillion shades and was utterly famished. But it was such great fun. Snow-fights I proclaim are the most glamorous way to fight ever! Once we slide down the slope, we each have to carry the boards and make our way to the walkalator that helps us back to the top from where we slide again, and again and again and agian! As more people poured in all the boarding got funner and more and more exciting. It was sad to leave but with all else waiting it was finally time to head base.

So making our way down we decided to stop by at Trubsee where earlier our cable-mates got off. At Trubsee we were enamoured by the peaceful and beautiful lake. The paths of stone, naturally made, sidelays of grass with cows grazing, bells chiming and the placid waters. What a view! The lake for your information comes with row boats. The boats with first-aid kits, life-jackets and oars are clipped to the jetty and are free to use. Simple pleasures of life, rowing away to the centre of a lake that is bare minimum, so very natural and utterly beautiful. We sighted a couple of others on the lake having great family moments. This lake connects to two others, their shades of blue mingling, their air tingling and bells of cows jingling. The naturalness of Switzerland is at its best here. For once in Switzerland time freezes and we dont. 😉

After the balmyness of a lake its time for lunch. Note that all activity in the Alps stirs hunger, burns calories and leaves behind on you happiness and joy! You cannot help smiling and feeling as fresh as that Alpine flower in the midst of July. Any guess what the Alpine flower is? Never mind shall break it to you soon! For now its time to head to the Cheese Factory.

At Engelberg is an old cheese factory that is attached to the monastry. I had heard a lot about Swiss Guards but Swiss Monks? Well apparently they are a cut above the rest too. Walking through the streets of Engelberg we passed by a wayside stream and a young bella having her lunch. Lunch by the stream, among the flowers. Summer in Schweiz is a stunner. She looked so happy to have the sun in her eyes while she munched on what looked like a sandwich. Such Bliss!

The monastry is sombre yet playful from the outside. It employs wooden construct with large windows, sloped roofs and all else. Very much like the Swiss Architecture. Theres no room for tackiness in Swiss architecture, its crisp, intelligent and though ancient has deep shades of modernity. The slopes of the roofs on the houses, the church, the quarters are all the same here and all different from the other parts of Europe. The wooden construction is often built upon and intermediated with stone. While today the modern swiss architects like Peter Zumthor have exhibited a remarkable mastership over concrete and stone. The flowers dot the monastry in their bright colors and brilliant arrangements. Its actually all over the country, the flowers, on streetlights, on window-sills and in the planters on the foot-paths. The walk through the monastry is an experience. Cheeses are of plenty types, we got to see the making of the Brie variety. After curdling, setting it takes about 8 days for the cheese to happen! The making of cheese is quite magical and thats why I use the word happen.

A chef works in continuity making cheese while we eat a srumptuous cheese salad with olives, lettuce and tomatoes. For dessert its a local pastry delicacy of raspberries. The meal and calories were much a necessity after a thrilling morning! Then we walk to the church that the monastry is attached to. A couple of lads skate-board outside the church. The church is so calm, so pretty and so Baroque! One wouldnt expect the inside after the exterior. As the church bells gong we lit candles, said our prayers and then  headed out to the streets of Engelberg!

The good part is that the weather here never makes you tired. Atleast in July it doesnt. In Engelberg you hardly can spot people and that makes the vacation so much more privy. The streets are quaint and stylish while the goods are uber expensive. One simple haircut is priced at 95 euros! Good Lord! Work or no work people have 35hrs/week work-hours. After 5 30 they are off. No matter who they may be! In Engelberg the pubs and bars are open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the rest of the time they are simply arent! 😉 Oh well maybe they are open but only till 5 30 ;). But on these specific days the place is transformed. There is then an influx of people, incessant chattering is in the air and the town literally comes alive. On these days the places stay open till wee hours in the morning. Going by all that I think that Engelbergians work only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday!

The house-keeping lady at the hotel comes in during the same hours and this one lady handles the 20-odd rooms of the hotel. The one receptionist does mailing, booking, is the concierge and all else. The Swiss dont believe in wasting, be it time, money or resources, mostly in that order. Architecture embodies all what the Swiss believe in, its simple, its modern, devoid of anything that would waste resource and most importantly very very intelligent. If there is one attribute to the architecture of modern and ancient Swiss architecture, its intelligence. Coupled with the scenery and the surrounds its pretty and super-natural. Tensile roofs are employed at all the places wherein shade or roof is required, so intelligent and so environment friendly. The Swiss dont really construct unless they really need to. The house, the stream and the mountains, the pictures I drew first, we all drew first in our books are what Switzerland is all about. The chimney-house, the sloped roof, the attic window, wooden doors, the stream, the snow covered mountains, the rising sun, the rainbow they are all here and all reminscent of first standard drawing lessons in school.

The pretty Alpine flowers I spoke of earlier that dot the landscape are Edelweiss. Dont I simply love them! It is the unofficial national flower of Switzerland. The tune from Sound of Music fills the air as the hummable number fills my head,

Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me.
Small and white,
Clean and bright,
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever.
Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever

Small and white,

Clean and bright,
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever.
Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever

In Schweiz, its mind over matter all the way!

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