There was pin drop silence inside the gleaming Mercedes Benz AC Coach which came to a halt near the Swiss border. We tourists had already been briefed, “Do Not even smile at the Swiss Guards when they check… this is a highly security-conscious country.” So, we, who had been joking and laughing till then, sat like statues with expressionless faces, holding our passports in our hands and hoping that none of us looked like criminals. Checking over, our bus rolled into Schaffhausen. From Germany, we entered a land-locked country famous for its scenic beauty, chocolates, watches and of course its banks.
Schaffhausen, situated in a thin slice of Switzerland, surrounded by Germany on three sides, had unfortunately been bombed by the USAF due to navigational errors during the Second World War. From Schaffhausen we proceeded to the majestic Rhine Falls. Located between the cantons of Schaffhausen and Zurich, this 450 ft. wide and 75 ft. high natural marvel is the largest falls in Europe. Driving through lush green countryside, past small Swiss chalets beautifully decorated with multi-colored flowers, we entered Zurich, the largest Swiss city as well as its financial hub. The drive via Bahnhofstrasse, the busiest street in Zurich, lined with banks and offices, was very interesting. Really exciting to know that you were surrounded by bags full of money, though not a franc was yours!!
Our main destination that day was Engelberg, which we had heard was a dreamy little town steeped in natural beauty. Placed right in the heart of the Swiss Alps, Engelberg, lying in the canton of Obwalden, is one of the most attractive mountain resorts in central Switzerland. It also hosted the ski-jumping World Cup. Famous for its winter as well as summer activities, Engelberg has much to offer to tourists, as tourism is its main source of income.
By the time the bus stopped, darkness had already descended and we were all quite exhausted. The elderly tourists were complaining of cramps, aches and pains. All of us wanted to get into our rooms in our hotel. Quite naturally, we stared in dismay when our Guide lifted his hand and pointed towards a huge sprawling building, scores of feet above our heads, there stood Hotel Terrace. Did we have to take all those stone steps to reach its doors? Not really. Down came a red, single-coach funicular railway, which took four to six at a time right up to the level of our hotel. A really pleasant surprise awaited us inside − hot, steaming cups of masala tea! Hotel Terrace was palatial and the maple wood furniture all around added a zing to its old world charm.
Engelberg is cushioned between the Swiss Alps, and the highest point of the range here is Mt. Titlis, a tourist’s delight. We were to see it the next day. In the morning, our bus took us to the foothills from where we boarded small four-seater cable cars which did not stop fully at the station but kept on swaying gently. Thankfully, we managed to get in without any mishap. Each car had a number and carried the flag of a particular nation. I was seated in No. 55 but kept my eyes fixed on No. 73, bearing the Indian tricolors. So much for stage one.
The next two stages saw us in slightly larger cars which took us from one zone to another, sailing in the air over coniferous forests, boulders, hillocks and an ocean of snow. The last stage of this 10,623 feet journey was particularly thrilling as we had to board the famous Titlis Rotair, the first revolving cable car in the world! The view from this car is panoramic and spectacular as one can see the glacier ahead as well as the Black Forest region in neighboring Germany. After reaching the top of this rugged paradise, we found snow all around. It was difficult to walk on the slippery surface but we somehow managed or else we would have missed all the fun.
The top of Mt. Titlis was not without pleasant surprises. There we saw shops, a photo studio, an ice cave and a marvel known as the Ice Flyer. This little beauty is a bench for four with a safety rail and a glass cover like the visor of a gigantic helmet. It does not stop and all you have to do is to stand at the edge of the boarding point; the Flyer does the rest. A soft nudge at your knees and you fall back into its seat and the guard rail comes down followed by the canopy and you are absolutely ready to ‘fly’. That’s all. It then takes you over the majestic Titlis Glacier to another car station just like a cable car. It was an exhilarating experience. The temperature that day was -5º Celsius but we weren’t feeling cold because there was no wind chill.
The next surprise in line was the Titlis Glacier cave. Not ordinary by any means, it runs deep into the mountain. The 150-meter long tunnel took us down to 20 meters below the glacier’s surface. Positioned at the heart of the glacier, this wonder, with its shiny and glittering ice walls and arches, takes one’s breath away. After all the fun and excitement, we assembled in a restaurant for a grand lunch on the top of the mountain before finally descending to Engelberg.
The rest of the day was free for us to explore that serene town. A walk through narrow streets lined with coniferous trees, lifted our spirits which soon reached seventh heaven when we were taken to a shop stacked with chocolates of all imaginable shapes and size. We had all entered empty-handed but came out one by one staggering under the weight of bags filled with delicious Swiss chocolates. Hence, about fifty Indian tourists would be driving out of Engelberg the next morning, loaded with very, very ‘sweet’ memories indeed.
There was pin drop silence inside the gleaming Mercedes Benz AC Coach which came to a halt near the Swiss border. We tourists had already been briefed, “Do Not even smile at the Swiss Guards when they check… this is a highly security-conscious country.” So, we, who had been joking and laughing till then, sat li