I think I was born loving this place. How far ago in time I first heard of this land of dreams, escapes me. It could have been an idle Sunday afternoon, semi-dozing on the couch after a gigantic Sunday lunch, watching Sunday TV that I saw this place on the screen.
The idiot box glowed as every pixel lit up. The lush green melted with the snow white peaks. The blue of the sky touched the deeper blue of the waterfalls. The chimney smoke rose over red and orange buildings out of an elf-dom. In the center of it all was a prancing Shahrukh Khan. A dream was born.
Switzerland has been the epitome of Indian Honeymoon destinations. It was accorded that status primarily due to the Bollywood industry. They became the unpaid PR agency that handled all the propaganda revolving around creating it as the mystical spot for every newly wedded couple. Innumerable heroes shook a leg and an arm, wooing their lady love in the idyllic settings. Abundant trees were clasped and unclasped, in every love song, during the wooing process. There were enough birds, bees and gigantic green leaves in those forests to hide a kiss moment. Indian housewives sighed unanimously in carnal craving for this fabled land.
I fell for the Switzerland charm as well. When my friends at school asked me for my honeymoon destination, way before I became legally marriageable, I said without blinking, "Switzerland." Everyone nodded in agreement. There was no need for explanations. Instead if I had come up with Peru or China or Cuba or Mexico , I would have had to do a lot of geographical research to back my choice up.
Being a Bengali, the Switzerland dream is not so deeply entrenched in the older generation. When I asked my aunts and uncles about Switzerland, they would tell me, "Dhoot! Okhaney toh Shahrukh naachey. Gondogoler modhey naa jawai bhalo", which means, "Why should we end up at a place of chaos where Shahrukh dances?"
I guess if it was the eternal Bong favorite, Uttam Kumar, many would have made their travel arrangements.
I visited Switzerland this May to fulfill my cherished dream. Needless to say, the intention was to get away from the Indian connection after all the wedding socializing and relax in the charming foreign hills and vales. On the plane we found the seats packed with chattering Bengalis and Gujaratis. More of the latter than the former. Upon landing, their number doubled. They were everywhere. Swarming, gazing, ogling and enjoying. It was full family vacation!
Summer months are the peak times for rich families to push themselves out of India and visit a foreign zone. The housewives finally become successful in nagging their lazy husbands into making that phone call to the waiting travel agent. They were all decked up, drinking in every detail to narrate back in their kitty parties. The kids looked for food. We were in between.
As I made my way from one destination to the next I noticed the Indian touch more and more.
When I reached the top of Mount Titlis, in a cable car filled with forty yelling desis, I found my way to the peak by following the Hindi signposts, where I found a life-size cutout of DDLJ poster. As I fell flat on the snow, trying to walk, a hand shot out to help me. The hand spoke Gujarati.
In Junfraujoch, the Italian chef said one word to us, " Phir aana!" as we saw hordes of Indians of every age group making their way to the Bollywood Restaurant on the second floor of the Ice Castle on "Top of Europe" destination.
As I took my place in Panoramic Glacier Express and lost myself in fantastic fables of self glory, along came a Tamilian Swiss Rail worker, asking me for my lunch order.
In Zermatt, when I strolled about in the car-less village, I bumped into a Bengali. He was attired in a monkey cap, brown gloves, blue socks and sandals. As soon as the collision took place, he asked in a concerned voice, "Aaha laglo bujhi?" (Did it hurt?). I had left my mom's advice aside and tried to look cool instead of cold. It translated into wearing light clothing instead of being a mobile clothes rack. Due to the lack of cushion on me, a hit would hurt. Hence his concern was genuine and logical.
In Interlaken, I plonked myself into a cab. The Swiss cab driver, smiled at me. I smiled back. I had come to enjoy the utmost friendliness of Swiss people. They are encouraged to be super cordial to the visiting masses. A couple had helped us schlep our baggage to our hotel from the train station in Zurich. It quite a distance of schlepping. I had been impressed since then. If it was India, I would perhaps be suspicious.
As the cabbie smiled, we exchanged some mundane pleasantries.
"Did you know, the name of Interlaken is going to be changed soon", asked the cabbie.
I said no. I had no idea that was on Swiss Government's plan of action. Definitely my research didn't yield any such info and I had done a great deal of it. Interlaken was quite an apt name, if you asked me. It meant in between lakes. This small village was tucked away cozily between two largest lakes in Switzerland - Brienz and Thun. How could they replace such a logical nomenclature with something more appropriate? Tough I thought and I became curious to know what the new moniker would be.
"What is the new name going to be?" I asked inquisitively.
"They are planning to call it India-Laken!" He ended with a chuckle.
I slumped back into my seat. Tell me about it!
Switzerland was picture perfect. I managed to click more than a thousand photos and still feel inadequate when capturing its beauty. Despite the heavy "home" feeling in this foreign soil, finding myself in the land of Heidi was indeed a lifetime treat.