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Magic Under the Swiss Mountains
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Zermatt, a picturesque yet sleepy little alpine village in the Valais region of Switzerland, is a place that is totally engrossed in mountaineering and skiing.



And for us, Zermatt was a place where we could relax and admire the majestic presence of a little more than 14,500 feet Klein Matterhorn which loomed above, almost in the back yard of this mountain hamlet.


We reached Zermatt by the graceful 'Glacier Express’ from Brig. The narrow gauge

railway continued up to the picturesque town of Zermatt. The train ride was breathtakingly beautiful and travelled through some of the most scenic vistas in all of Switzerland; ploughing up through the snow-encrusted Alps, the train reached Zermatt Bahnhof (the railway station).


Zermatt incidentally happens to be a car free zone; the only cars that are seen in the town are the battery operated ones, which are normally used by the hotels to pick up the guests from the station.


So it was mainly on foot that we saw and found the treasures of the town, the fine traditional buildings with steeply shelved roofs, the busy high street, with its unusual shops selling carvings and other memorabilia, traditional houses with balconies decorated with hanging baskets of flowers and with a sharp contrast to all this ethnicity was the glitzy and glamorous showrooms of Tag Heuer, Swatch and Tissot.


We strolled on the not so steep streets to get a feel of the town in general, and right behind the street facade, steep steps lead to the pretty English parish church. The church has some quaint altar pieces and the ceiling was unusually very decorative.


A little away from here is the sobering cemetery where lay the souls of the mountaineers who had an untimely death on the peaks of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa.


For refreshments, the choice is ample; starting from burger and pizza joints, there are exclusive Chinese and Indian restaurants, let alone the traditional Swiss restaurants serving regional delicacies. But for the time being we chose a cafe for a cup of coffee and mouth-watering chocolates, then watched the lives of the people around us.


Next day was a day to visit Zermatt’s most talked about attraction, the Matterhorn peak. We visited the local Swiss Alpine Mountain Tour office to inquire about visits to Gornergrat that would take us much nearer to 'The Big Rock’ as the mountaineers admiringly call it.


Matterhorn has a dominating presence in the entire town and its visibility and attractiveness from all corners can make anyone crave a touching for it.


We took a narrow gauge train that encircled the entire peak through the snowy tracks and wooden tunnels with glass windows; all flanked by snow and protected from avalanches by sturdy sheds, giving us absolutely superb views of the peak from all possible angles. We stopped at Riffelealp, where one could get off and trek up to the Gornergrat base station and after a while reached the snow clad base station of Gornergrat.


Surrounded by the different peaks of Alps, mainly the Monte Rosa, the mighty and imperishable Matterhorn stood straight, unscathed by the ravages of time.


The other attraction of Gornergrat were two charming St Bernard dogs, complete with brandy flasks, that became the local stars as they patiently posed for photos with visitors with the Matterhorn in the background, which looked even more spectacular in the blazing sunshine. We made good time Magic under the Swiss mountains up there admiring the entire natural set up and playing in the snow and visiting the observatory


Due to a very high altitude with the clean, dry air and the favorable meteorological conditions, Gornergrat is an ideal site for astronomical observations. Since 1974 the North Observatory has been rented to the Italian Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, and the south observatory to Germany’s University of Cologne. Both include cupolas, computer rooms, lab, workshop, living room, kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and a room with a liquid air machine with an infrared telescope.


There is a very fine restaurant there that served good food, especially the Swiss delicacies raclette and rostii. Finally, the skies were starting to get quite dark and it was time for the last train to Zermatt. A little prior to sunset, the temperature dropped drastically and the strong cold wind took hold of the Gornergrat.


We boarded the same cogwheel train to return to the hotel only to meet Heidi on a Swiss television channel. At that point I could quite relate to her feelings; the magic of the 'mountains’ was simply too captivating.



(Shanghai Star March 30, 2007)


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