Monday, July 16, 2018

Destinations: Switzerland (1987): Jungfrau

by Proloy Bagchi (writer), Idgah Hills, Bhopal, September 07, 2015

A travel story on Jungfrau in Swiss Alps

Another day out was perhaps the most interesting as it was into the Alps. My brother decided to take us to Jungfrau, German for maiden, one of the main peaks in the Bernese Alps. As is well-known, Alps are one of the great mountain ranges of Europe, stretching approximately 1100 kms across seven countries – from Austria and Slovenia in the east to Switzerland, Germany and France in the west and Italy and Monaco in the South. With 65% of its area covered by the Alps, Switzerland is one of the most Alpine of countries. Swiss Alps are generally divided into eastern and western Alps. The Bernese Alps, which are in the western part of Swiss Alps, have some of the highest mountains of the country and Jungfrau, also known as “Top of Europe”, is one of the main summits in it.

One morning eight of us, all of the family, piled into my brother’s two cars and hit the highway for Grindelwald in Bernese Oberland (highlands). We travelled for around two hours passing through some picturesque Swiss country including Interlaken and climbed on to Grindelwald where we caught a train to go further up to Kleine Scheidegg. That’s where we got into the Jungfraubahn which slowly ratcheted up the mountainside for about a couple of kilometres before it entered a long tunnel. Jungfraubahn is a cogwheel or rack railway which runs for nine kilometres between Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfraujoch climbing more than 1000 metres (more than 4000ft) within a very short distance. It is electrified and runs on a 1000mm gauge track and runs almost entirely within a tunnel built into the Eiger and Monch mountains after a steep climb from Kleine Scheidegg. This rail- road celebrated its centenary in 2012.

The train stopped inside the tunnel twice, on both occasions, to our surprise, the two stations offered views of the tall Alpine mountains through large glassed-up widows cut into the mountain-sides. The train and the tunnel are quite clearly prime examples of human ingenuity and unrelenting effort. The journey, though short, was an experience that was out of this world. As the train stopped at Jungfraujock we came out to get a stunning eye-level view of the Alps, with the Aletsch glacier sprawled out in front in all its glory with snow-capped mountains on its flanks. It looked like a river of snow and was a fascinating sight.

In 1987 Jungfrau used to be a small place with the Ice Palace as one of its limited attractions. There were hardly any Indians barring us in the crowd. Today, according to reports, there are shops selling Rolex watches and many eateries including Indian ones serving masala chai and spicy Indian stuff with a bonus of videos of Hindi film songs shot in the icy surroundings of the summit. Indian film industry and tourists have, seemingly, changed the tourism profile of the place.

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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