Snow in May: Memories of an Alpine rail journey

A great white expanse of pristine, white snow greets me as I step off the train. Snow in May? My used-to-Mumbai’s-muggy-weather-in-May mind wonders if I am dreaming or hallucinating or both. I bend down and touch the snow and rub a little onto my face. It is   snow and I am not dreaming or hallucinating.

And I am not in Mumbai, I am in Switzerland. :-)

Snow in May !

From as far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to experience the Alps via a rail journey. My wish came true on 13th May 2009, when I made a day trip from Geneva to Kleine Scheidegg in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. I love train travel, and this was one of the most scenic journeys I have ever undertaken. The clean and fresh mountain air was invigorating as was the super efficient and punctual train journey.  It was a trip that took me 5 hours one way with train changes at Bern, Interlaken Ost and Lauterbrunnen / Grindelwald, and a trip that I am going to take you on here.

So hop on abroad the train with me at Interlaken Ost and leave behind the muggy, sticky hot Indian summer behind to journey to the cool climes of Switzerland. :-)

10.30 am: Interlaken Ost. We change to the Jungfrau Bahnen or the mountain railway here. Interlaken itself is a big tourist attraction, but we give this place a miss as we have a  date with the Alps, don’t we?

This is the diamond-shaped route we will taking to Kleine Schedigg from Interlaken and back. We ascend via Lauterbrunen and return via Grindelwald.

And this is the train we will be travelling in from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunen…

… on these special train tracks meant for mountainous regions.

We pass the Brienzersee Lake, one of two lakes of Interlaken, the other being Thunersee. Even with the overcast skies, the lake is still a calming pale blue. We try to imagine what the lake would look like with clear blue skies…

11.10 am: The mountains are getting nearer ! The train passes these little hamlets and all we can think of is Heidi and Peter and Clara and Alm Uncle and the goats. :-D

12.00 pm: The train rounds a curve and suddenly the snowy mountains are there… they feel almost at arm’s reach.

12.30: Kleine Scheidegg at last. This place has the railway station, two restaurants, two souvenir shops and a small lodge, which is closed. That’s it! We spend the next hour or so frolicking in the snow, taking photographs, having lunch and avoiding boisterous and noisy Indian tourists.

Flags outside one of the souvenir shops. One can make a good guess as to where the tourists here come from !

2.05 pm: The return journey to Interlaken via Grindelwald begins. The route for the descent is even more beautiful than the ascent. Charming little stations, hiking trails and curving tracks, wildflowers, etc… We sigh over each one in delight.

Even 3 years after this trip, I can recall every detail from the fresh, clean, green air, to the punctual trains (at one station the driver announced for a delay of 46 seconds) to the thrilling experience of snow in May to much, much more. This was one of those trips where the journey was more memorable than the destination; in fact the journey was the destination. I hope that you enjoyed this journey too.

PS: Most of the photographs were taken from a moving train, so please do excuse the double reflections / refractions and blurred images.

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36 thoughts on “Snow in May: Memories of an Alpine rail journey

  1. the photographs are lovely. reminded me of my own train journey from Oslo to Finse. And yes i got a whiff of Hiedi and goats milk and lovely mountain air!

  2. Loved your travelogue and put me back to 1984 when I did the same journey. Oh I love train journeys esp on the Eurail

    • In 1984? Wow ! This area must have been quite something then, right? And train journeys are the best whether by Eurail or by passenger train from Mumbai to Bijapur ;-)

  3. You delivered on your promise! It was like doing the trip to read (and see) this post, except for the fact that I could not quite avoid feeling hot here:)

  4. ooh!!! wonderful!!!!! this has been one of my dreams too, but i wonder when it will come true, if ever! meanwhile, I am at least excited that I did see snow finally!!!! come back to fb and see my pics!!!

  5. it is always a treat to visit your blog. This post was no different. And yes, that village is at par with any kind of heaven anywhere in the universe. Those are good photographs. I wish the windows in India were also were as clean as that.

    • Thank you, Umashankar. You are always so encouraging. This journey was a dream and a dream that was real. Sometimes daydreams are good you see. As for clean train windows in India, I optimist in me lives in eternal hope of this possibility coming true. As for the realist in me… well no comments ;-)

  6. I have been here too, and I loved the train trip, the cows, their bells, the mountains et al. I almost burst out into a rendition of “The Hills Are Alive” never mind that I was in Switzerland and not Austria but hey, the Alps are the Alps. Did you know that one of the stores up there had Gujarati Sev on sale? :) That was the most surprising part of the trip for us. We went looking for chocolate and found sev instead. I went back and visited Kleine Scheidegg again, thanks to you. :D

    • Sev in Kleine Scheidegg? This is real proof of globalisation. I saw one Indian type counter but avoided it as I was into avoiding all things Indian. There were too many boorish Indians around, you see. You’ve been there? If I had known that I would have asked you to do a guest post here instead of writing this myself. Writer’s block is in residence and is showing no signs of leaving. :-(

      • I went in 2003 and I wouldn’t have done quite as nice a post as you have. And my photographs are not great, either. So, in all, I’m glad you did the post. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, I task you with writing about 10 places that you absolutely HAVE to travel to and your reasons for why they make the cut. Hope that helps.

  7. Thank you for the your post taking my memories back to the train journey along with my wife in 1995 from Geneva upto Interlaken Ost but not upto Jungfrau, since we were a bit late in taking the train from Geneva. However, we loved the EU Rail train journey from Geneva changing the train at Berne,another beautiful place. Your travel details helped us to recall our sojourn in Switzerland and mentally complete our trip to Jungfrau and back. The photographs helped us to visualise the scenic beauty of the different locations

    • Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I am very happy that this post brought back such happy memories of your journey to this region. :-)

  8. Your post took me back to the summer 1972, when I returned to india after postgrad studies, via a month in Europe. My college friend Esther and I did this trip, in July I think. Not too many Indians travelling, and I dont think we saw any Sev, but Jilebis in the Algerian quarter of Paris was a revelation :-)) What strikes me after so many years, is how very unchanged the Alpine scene is, how clean they maintain stuff with immense respect for nature, and strict adherence to rules regarding structures and so on. I do remember changing trains at Inetrlaken, en route to JungFrau, and also remember some hotel made entirely out of ice . Your post brought it all back, the green, the blue ,the tranquility and the grace of the mountains, …….most welcome in this sultry May in Mumbai .!

    • You have made a striking observation that the Alpine landscape has not changed much in the 40 years since you visited. And you know hat I don’t think it is going to change in the next 40 years to come too ! Such is the committment of the people and the government there.

      As for your seeing Jalebis in the Algerian quarter in Paris, I’m not surprised at all as the jalebi or zlabia or zlebia as is much Arabic as it is Indian :-)

  9. Nice pictures. :) I lived in Switzerland for 4 months. Commuted from Bern to Luzern. The scenery seen during the commute was breathtaking. Never a dull moment.

  10. Lovely post which brought back memories of trip to Jungfrau from Interlaken West and back! The scenery and weather is matchless ! Thanks for this beautiful post!

  11. You can make the mundane brilliant and when something is brilliant? well, mashallah! Subhanallah! Wah wah, janaab :)

    I am going to enjoy some Cornwall air next week. Hope the weather holds out, but I sure can’t write a travel post (or any other such post) as well as you do, Sudha :)

    Loved the part about ‘avoiding boisterous Indian tourists’. :D

    • I love the mundane, Zephyr. It is what makes my world go round. And thank you, thank you, thank you for your compliments, encouragement and support. Sure you can write a travel post, and it will be in inimitable Zephyr style. Why don’t you write about Indian tourists in Cornwall? ;-)

      Miss you, Zephyr.

    • Don’t weep, Arnavaz. Just make another trip to this place. If you can’t just read this post and do a virtual travel to the snow covered peaks of Switzerland. :-)

  12. Announced a delay of 46 seconds? Really?! I can’t imagine that happening in India! :D Here, even a delay of 45 minutes goes unnoticed. It is ‘normal’. :D

    The pics are stunning. BTW, the pics reminded me a lot about our trip to Kashmir last year. If not for the garbage, shouting Indian tourists and swindling of them, many of my pics from Kashmir could pass for those of Switzerland. In fact, a lot of people did tell me the same thing on my travelogue posts.

    • The Swiss are so punctual that it is quite boring and so clean that it is antiseptic. ;) And parts of the country are quite racist too, much more than one can imagine. :-(

      I have seen pictures of Kashmir and can imagine parts of the region passing off as Switzerland. And as for Indian tourists, less said the better :-(

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