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Thursday, October 19, 2017

DESTINATIONS: SWITZERLAND (1987): VERSOIX

by Proloy Bagchi (writer), Idgah Hills, Bhopal, May 17, 2015

Credit: This photo was taken by me outside Versoix
Cornfields outside Versoix

A travel write-up on Versoix, a village in the canton of Geneva where my brother was staying when he was working with the erstwhile GATT

My eldest brother worked through the late 1970s to late 1990s for GATT (General Agreement for Trade & Tariff and now), an UN agency, as consultant to its Director General. He used to live in Versoix (pronounced Versoa) and go to work in Geneva. In 1987 he suggested to us to take a trip to Switzerland. Although those days were not so expensive as they are now – the two way air fare was around Rs. 7000/-, the Swiss Franc was worth Rs 8/- (currently Rs. 68/-) and a Dollar was worth little less than Rs. 14/- (now 64/-) – yet a trip to Switzerland was not quite affordable for us as the salaries were low. However, as my sister too was coming over from the US, she insisted we make the trip. We mustered most of our savings and my brother and sister too chipped in with the air fares and we headed for Switzerland – on a ‘shoe string’ that was rather small. On one late June evening we took off on a Lufthansa flight for Geneva via Frankfurt. At Frankfurt we had to change over to another Lufthansa flight.

My brother had built a spacious house in Versoix, a place that was described to us as a village. It was, as we later found, pretty far from all that we associate with our villages. It was a full-fledged modern town, though small with a population of around 10000, with all the urban amenities. Perhaps, former President APJ Abdul Kamal had such Western villages in mind when he spoke of provision of urban amenities in rural areas (PURA). Versoix was a well developed township with great shopping, restaurants and, at least one manufacturing unit which we used to see every time we went to the station to catch a train and that was a chocolate factory. Switzerland, after all, is known for its chocolates.

Versoix, named after the eponymous river, is about 10 kilometres from Geneva and falls in the canton of the same name. The Versoix River originates in the neighbouring Jura Mountains and meandering through a few cantons it passes by Versoix to fall into Lake Leman, also known as Lake Geneva. Located by the side of this Lake, Versoix has excellent connectivity with Geneva by railroads and a highway that my brother used to take every time he went to Geneva. I should think it was more like a satellite town of Geneva with, apparently. a disproportionately high percentage of expatriates working in various international organizations that were located in the latter. Likewise, some expatriates, we were told, also used to live in a border town in France and commute everyday to Geneva. People used to go for shopping across in a border town the name of which eludes me now, though we too had gone there once.

From behind my brother’s garden a small stream with heavy vegetation on its two sides used to run for some miles with a walking track along it. It was a kind of a nature trail that we could use for long walks. It would eventually open up at a place that was beautiful and was used as a picnic spot. Such a trail in the midst of nature I haven’t seen anywhere else except years later in Mombasa in Kenya

The Swiss National Day was celebrated during our stay in Versoix. We saw the parade and the festivities in Versoix. There were colourful floats, marches and bands by the local fire fighting staff and others. Champagne was being carried in trucks and distributed free in plastic champagne-glasses to all and sundry. Each one of us had a couple of glasses. There was a magnificent fireworks display by the side of the Lake in Geneva after dark, a display like of which I had not seen before. A large number of yachts had assembled on the Lake to watch the event and their lights twinkled like stars in the darkened Lake.

While my brother showed us round a few places in the country, I did some others on my own. Making Versoix as the base we took a 14 day rail trip in Europe covering Munich, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Rome, Cannes, Nice and Paris. We had bought Eurail passes in India for these travels which allowed us passage in I Class.



About the Writer

Pushing 80 I was born in Gwalior in Central India to parents who were educated in Calcutta, now Kolkata. My father did his master's in English in 1916. He was a professor of English in the then only college in Gwalior. After qualifying in the exams for entry in to central civil services I served the government of India for 34 years reaching the very top of the professional cadres of the Indian Postal Service. I also acted as consultant ion behalf of the Universal Postal Union in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Swaziland.
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