Breathe in the fresh mountain air, lose yourself in the pastoral setting, and feel renewed as you go chugging up the Alpine slopes of Jungfrau, towards the highest train station in Europe. By Bijoy Venugopal
Modern travel has made feet optional. You can go anywhere you want without as much as wiggling your toes. Despite healthy legs and an appetite for mountain hikes, I’d give anything to be transported without breaking a sweat. That’s why trains make me feel alive. The view is never boring, the rhythm is calming, and the absence of road rage puts me in an agreeable mood.
Last year, my love for the mountains met my love for trains. I made for Interlaken, where Yash Chopra had found his muse. So grateful were the Swiss to the late filmmaker for celebrating their landscapes that they declared him an ambassador of Interlaken. After his death in 2012, he was conferred an honour otherwise reserved only for Adolf Guyer-Zeller (the visionary industrialist who established the Jungfrau Railway)—he had a train named after him. He was also felicitated with a life-size statue, which graces the Kursaal Garden in Interlaken.
The Swiss have a train for every terrain, and some of the heritage railway systems are over 100 years old. Over the next week, I rode a great variety of them to explore the Jungfrau
region, Switzerland’s tourism gold mine. From Interlaken Ost, between lakes Brienz and Thun, which are linked by Aare River, trains open up the breathtaking Alpine landscape while making it unbelievably accessible.
Trundling aboard a swift mountain train to the gateway of the Jungfrau region, I was soon breathing the oxygen of the Alps. An arc of mountains swept the horizon. The skies were
dotted with parasailers and hang-gliders.
The Alpine panorama of the Jungfrau region is painted with the innervating greens of meadows and the rejuvenating azure of mountain lakes. It is stippled with the tans, blacks, and whites of grazing cows, their bells tinkling in harmony with the yodels of cowhands. The dark blankets of conifer and the slaty greys of bare mountainside are whisked up into foamy white snowdrifts above the tree line. Thrushes skulk in the shrubbery, blackbirds sing hosannas from the steeples, and choughs glide in the high passes.
Tucked into a Kodachrome Valley, amid this magical tableau, is Grindelwald. The resort town gazes at the snowy spire of Eiger, flanked by the grim countenance of Mönch and the demure cheek of Jungfrau. The three Alpine peaks enclose the saddle of the Aletsch Glacier. At 3,455 metres, served by the highest train station in Europe, Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe, is a playground for skiers and tobogganers. And holidaymakers of a more lazy compulsion, such as myself.
On my first day, our tour group took a cable car to Grindelwald First where we enjoyed the First Cliff Walk by Tissot. Trudging along a ramp hugging a vertical cliff, we battled vertigo to admire the tapestry of mountains, waterfalls, and valleys spread-eagled beneath us. The hike downhill was energetic, and at supper we warmed up over pots of fondue.
From nearby Wilderswil, a heritage train with open observation cars ferries the traveller to Schynige Platte for a lung-inflating hike in a fragrant Alpine garden, followed by a delicious lunch enjoyed to the rousing lilt of Alphorns reverberating in the amphitheatre of mountains. A completely different view and experience can be enjoyed at Harder-Kulm, a castle-like restaurant accessible by a funicular railway that skims up the steep gradient gazing down at ibexes grazing on the crags.
But the proverbial icing on this Swiss chocolate cake is the ride to Jungfraujoch. Alighting to the welcoming barks of Swiss mountain dogs at Kleine Scheidegg (2,060 metres), we boarded the cogwheel train that chugged through heated tunnels. The flank of Eiger imposed to our left. To our right, slopes and valleys fell away like details in a miniature painting. At Eismeer, we gazed through glass at icefalls and snowfields stretching to infinity. Then, up in the snowy heights of Jungfraujoch, we breathed that rarer, higher air that mortals are allowed.
I unwrapped a bar of hazelnut chocolate and sank my chattering teeth into it. I felt alive to be at the top of Europe, and all the more smug that I had made it there by train.
Take a direct Swissair flight from Delhi to Zurich, and take the train to Grindelwald. Then, take the train to Kleine Scheidegg to get on board the very narrow-gauge cog railway to Jungfraujoch.
At Interlaken, stay at the VICTORIA-JUNGFRAU Grand Hotel & Spa (Rs 33,500 per night for a Deluxe Double Room). Spa Nescens here offers a variety of treatments, including better-ageing programmes, body treatments, and facials.
There’s no catering onboard, but try the traditional Swiss cuisine-serving Restaurant Eigergletscher-Jungfraujoch; must-tries include the eigerspitzli and cream slices.