Switzerland for the kids in India who grew up in the 80s and 90s was just this vast patch of green as captured in movies. Film after film from Bollywood suggested that the only place to honeymoon was in Switzerland. In the company of many lakes, green pastures and cows. I still remember a very shriek-y Sri Devi in that strange movie, Chandni, screeching out her love in Switzerland. But soon enough, Switzerland became a little common in film sequences. Romance was duly shifted to splendid blue seas in Seychelles and other islands.
We spent three days in and around Zurich. One of the main reasons we went there was to go and see my Dad who is there for a few weeks. But we may have almost been in India. The number of Desi tourists pottering about in Switzerland is huge. Bollywood, it seems, has had an incredible impact on Swiss tourism.
Perhaps the most memorable part of this trip had to do with going to Jungfrau. The Swiss “country-side” is almost doll-like. Lovely houses, healthy fat cows with their bells. The view, snow and the altitude, were all rather breathtaking. A long bus ride, and a wonderful train journey that reminded me of the very-narrow gauge trains in the Indian hills. The observatory has a viewing platform where tourists skid and slip on snow. It was all incredibly beautiful, and enough to make us want to go back.
Even as you are surrounded by the Swiss alps and the snow, you are charmed by these fearless birds called the Alpine Choughs. Jet black, with yellow beaks, they eat bread, muffins and biscuits off your palm. I was fascinated by the birds, and for a while forgot all about Jungfrau.
I never thought Kareena Kapoor’s picture would make it to this blog. But it does, and how. Imagine our surprise, when we saw that at the height of about 11,400 feet, there was an Indian restaurant.
A desi eating joint named “Bollywood” at the Top of Europe. We assumed that it might serve twisted-Indian food, bland and colourless to suit European taste-buds. But the food was amazing. And a vegetarian’s delight. Perhaps another testimony to the number of Indian tourists in Europe.
The chef was from Garhwal, which probably explained the rather authentic taste. Film cans hung from the restaurant roof, and the walls had posters of Tamil and Hindi movies. Ungrateful as some people can be, the absence of rotis wasn’t taken too well. Overheard someone comment “There should be Pooris at least.”. Eat the bread, woman!
Even more interesting, in Zurich, we went to a lovely vegetarian restaurant called Hiltl. The place apparently started in 1898 and was the first all-vegetarian place in Switzerland. Ah, the sheer joy of not having to somehow say “vegetarian” in gestures was such relief.
Yesterday, the three of us walked around the old town in Zurich. Beautiful, small buildings on steep inclines. Quieter than most other cities this side of the world. Strangely devoid of graffiti. Almost, “too clean”. Zurich is not a grand city. It’s tiny. But it has its surprises. Antique shops with glass eyes in wooden cases. A huge cartoonish cow in the balcony of a building. Or stained glass art at the Fraumünster Abbey with a rather modern interpretation of Jesus by Chagall, an artist of Jewish origin. Something tells me there’s more to this city than what meets the weekend eye.
As the train pulled out of Zurich station, with my dad on the platform, I felt a sudden pang of homesickness. I realize sometimes, how much like him I am. The fondness for new places, the need to pronounce the complicated names of railway stations, the obsession with routes and history. And the fondness for eating bananas and raw Maggi.