Green pastures, snow-capped mountains, quaint churches, pleasant cafes and Swiss cows (with cow bells) – Switzerland enchanted a die-hard Bollywood fan like me from the minute I first set eyes on its beauty via a 70 mm screen. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that I was being sent to this earthly paradise on an all-expenses paid trip. Sometimes, I love my job.
Of course, I wasn’t flying to the land of the Alps to join a film shoot, but for a more exotic reason – to watch some of India’s premier cricketers play ball on top of Europe, at the Jungfraujoch. So, all excited, I boarded a Swiss Airways flight to Zurich in the company of Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Anshuman Gaekwad, Syed Kirmani, Sandeep Patil, Farokh Engineer, Ajay Jadeja and their wives. And since former captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was to umpire the match, his begum Sharmila Tagore added a dash of Bollywood magic to our little group.
Cricket and Switzerland are a most unlikely combination, given that the most famous Swiss sportsperson is tennis star Roger Federer. Nor is the country’s terrain ideal for flat pitches and playing fields. But our host and the event’s organiser, Jaideep Sinh Parmar of Beyond Boundaries, ensured everything went off smoothly, with the greatest élan. Parmar also assured us that this trip would be more than a mere match – we were all (cricketers included) on a Swiss holiday.
A warm reception
A two-hour scenic drive from Zurich took us to Interlaken – so named because it is situated between the lakes Brienz and Thun. The river Aare also flows through the town. Interlaken is a renowned tourist hub in Switzerland, and a great base from where to explore the surrounding scenic countryside and experience adventure sports like paragliding, skiing and skydiving. It is also known as the gateway to Jungfrau (13,642 ft) – accessible via the trains of Jungfraubahnen, a 100-year-old company (and co-organisers of the tour).
Like every city, Interlaken has a main street, Höheweg Avenue, where most shops and hotels are located. Our hotel, The Krebs, was on the same street, almost in the centre of the town. Though freshly renovated, the hotel had an old-world charm about it, with a warm and welcoming ambience.
Speaking of warm, I was happy to find that Switzerland was fairly pleasant in August, ensuring that I did not need to bundle up in several layers of clothing. If, unlike me, you prefer cooler weather, the intelligent thing to do is to ask for a portable fan and keep all your windows open.
The sweetest thing
There are some things that are synonymous with Switzerland. Like chocolates – so, of course, we just had to visit the The Schuh Chocolateria, which treated us to a complete chocolate show and specially made chocolate Swiss cows for us.
When it comes to food, however, a word of caution. Make sure you place an order only after scrutinising the menu carefully and understanding what exactly you are ordering. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting a platter filled with potatoes that have been boiled with their skins.
The Indian food also, while good, understandably lacks that authentic flavour. So after a steady roll call of Indian meals on the trip, a fellow journalist and I decamped to an outdoor café by the Aare for basic pasta, Coke and ravioli – just heavenly.
Also, to be honest, our welcome and farewell dinners (on a cruise on the Brienz and at the Harder Klum restaurant respectively) were both excellent meals. Besides the feast laid out for us, we could also feast our eyes on the lush meadows, placid cows, and the serene mountains – a fitting backdrop for Sandeep Patil and his wife Deepa to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. But as I looked out, I had just one thought on my mind – Where is SRK?
Climb every mountain
The Swiss have definitely perfected the art of getting atop a mountain quickly and speedily, whether it’s by railway, funicular or cable cars. We got atop Jungfrau equally speedily for the 10-over cricket match – changing trains thrice over.
On the ride, both the 100-year-old trains and the gorgeous scenery we encountered kept us very busy. One of our colleagues unconsciously began to hum Mere sapno ki rani kab aayegi tu, drawing a smile from Sharmila Tagore, who was just two seats away. The match was the highlight of our trip – where the Best of India challenged an All-Star UK team. Kapil Dev captained the Indian side, while former West Indian star Alvin Kallicharran was his opposite number.
Our first sight of the cricket pitch was of a perfect expanse of green surrounded by the everlasting snows. After a quick round of setting up and players checking the bounce, the game got underway, and the stands filled up – a tribute to the players who have given their all for India in the past.
Sharmila Tagore took the coin for the toss, prompting Kallicharran to look at Dev and say, “I play to win.” Kapil Dev smiled in reply, “I don’t joke either on the field.”
After a hotly contested 10-over match, India won by five runs. It was a proud moment, but it got prouder still as everyone, Indians and foreigners, stood together to sing the victory song – the Indian national anthem – on top of Europe.
The last day was reserved for adventure games. We boarded another train to Ginderwald, a station some 40 minutes from Interlaken, known essentially for adventure sports. Then, we zipped from one end of the town to about 7,000 ft in cable cars. Coming down was the real deal. We did half the mile by First Flyer, in which one is seated and strapped in to zoom down nearly 5,000 ft at a speed of 90 km/hr in 80 seconds… Scary? Oh yes, but thrilling too.
The next 2,000 ft was accomplished via Trotty bikes. These have no pedals or seat, just brakes to help you coast down. The trick is to keep your balance without support by standing at a certain angle as you circle your way down at high speed. This was good fun too. We were flying back the next morning, so we headed to a pub called Black and White on the last night. This night ended up having so much colour that the pub didn’t live up to its name.
The trip ended, I fell to musing – maybe holding the next IPL on the Alps isn’t such a bad idea. Howzzat, Mr Modi?
Swiss Airways flies you directly to Zurich from Delhi or Mumbai every alternate day. Once there, you can take a cab or a train directly from the airport to the town you wish to visit. Get your Swiss francs from Zurich airport itself. The exchange rate becomes much higher in interior towns.
The 100-year-old trains of JungfrauBahn that crisscross the cities of Switzerland. A trip to Jungfrau is a must too.
Ginderwald, for great adventure sports.
In Interlaken, sit by any of the three waterfronts and just soak in the sun, go on a cruise on the Thun, sit in the various outdoor cafes, go for a chocolate making session.
Definitely sample the fondue. Do not waste your money on eating Indian food, though there are a number of such restaurants.
Chocolates and cheese, obviously. The other knick knacks like cowbells, Swiss army knives, caps etc are expensive, but can be picked up if you can bargain well. If you do buy a Swiss army knife, remember to pack it in the luggage you will check in at the airport.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by Beyond Boundaries