It was a work assignment that took us to Switzerland. It led to a stay in that country for about three years. On weekends and holidays, we made sure to carry out trips to various tourist destinations across Switzerland and whole of Europe.
Born and brought up in India, the Autumn season was alien to us till the time we reached Switzerland. There, it lasts for about a month and a half from the first week of November. We were told that trekking through the valleys is the most practical and easiest way to explore the season.Generally, weather in Switzerland is unpredictable and a bright sunny day is the best for treks.
How to shortlist the destinations to visit in Switzerland?
Switzerland is divided into different regions. Tourists can choose the destinations based on the nature’s diversity of the region. For e.g. waterfalls, peaks of Alps, valleys, Gorges, mountain lakes, etc.
Switzerland can boast of one of the best travel network in the world. Various types of railway tickets are available from the website of the Rail Agency(SBB). The ticket counter attendant at each railway station also helps the passengers to select the travel ticket. Along with the ticket, a very useful route map of the travel is also provided for free.
As vegetarians, we often had to pack our food before embarking on a journey like this, which is to an off beat destination. One cannot be sure of availability of pure vegetarian food. Even the locals pack their food when they go trekking. It is advisable to carry ones own water bottle along as water is expensive than a can of beer there. One can find drinking water sources in many places from where water bottles can be refilled. Another challenge we faced was the language. The most commonly spoken languages in Switzerland are German, French or Italian. These challenges are experienced only when off-beat places are visited.
The most convenient way to travel through Switzerland is by train. Train travel also gives an opportunity to enjoy beautiful views of Switzerland, also known as “heaven on earth”.
The day we travelled
A beautiful sunny morning in the first week of November, called for witnessing the autumn colours in Switzerland. We decided to explore Kaltbrunnen Valley in the Basel region of the country. Our trek was planned from Grellingen to Meltigen(around 8 Kms.)
We started very early in the morning from Geneva. Two trains had to be changed to reach Grillingen station via shortest of the routes. First hop over was at Lausanne, also known as the Olympic city of Switzerland. Second change of train was at Neuchatel, the watch capital of Switzerland to our destination, Grellingen (Geneva-Lousanne-Neuchatel-Grellingen).
The train journey from Geneva to Grellingen was filled with breathtakingly beautiful sights. As the train passed through the shores of Lake Lehman & Lake Neuchatel, view of the rising sun shining brightly over the snow-capped Alps in the background of the lake, gifted us an everlasting memory.
It took about three and a half hours of travel from Geneva to Grellingen station via Lauanne and Neuchatel. Grillingen station was completely deserted. The land area of this small municipality, Grellingen, is only three and a half square kilometers. The population is just under two thousand.
The usual trek from Grellingen station to Meltigen is about 8 kms. As we exited the station platform, we were greeted with the view of hills covered with rugged, colourful forests. Wide Birs river was flows through the middle of the village. Excellent signages from the Grellingen station and along the route were very helpful for the tourists to find a direction to their destination.
Through the municipality of Grellinggen, we began to walk towards Meltigen. The linear village of Grellingen had the Birs River flowing through the middle dividing it vertically. On one shore of the river were the houses of the villagers, and on the other side were the mud paths, railway tracks and a thick forest filled with colourful autumn leaves.
The path was uneven and paved with stones and mud. So it goes without saying that a good quality footwear is a must for such a trek. The sound emanating from the water flowing in the Birs River continued to be an entertainment as we walked ahead. We could see wooden benches placed at some points presumably for the use of trekkers.
Hills in autumn colours with little hamlet of beautiful homes in its lap Speeding trains kept passing by, as we continued to walk along the steep route. At the far end, the caves under the moss-covered rocks looked dreamy.
Some trekkers enjoyed the beauty of nature riding on the electric bikes having comfortable back rest.
On completion of initial 4 kms of walk, we reached Chessiloch which is a landmark of historic value. That was an open space encircled with the forest, the river (Birs) and tall rock formations. These rock formations had several emblems painted on them. A railway bridge was passing across the river Birs. The autumn colours were prominent here. Having seen such sights only as desktop backgrounds, this view left a long lasting impression on our minds.
The place called Chessiloch forced us to travel back to the history. During World War I (1914-18), border troops were stationed on the banks of the Birs River to protect the Chessiloch Bridge from enemy attack, which passes over River Birs. It is said that the army personnel immortalized themselves by painting coats of arms and other emblems on these rocks. If legends are to be believed, a member of the army on duty engraved his canton emblem on the stone. Following this, other soldiers tried to exhibit their painting skills. Thus the process went on and the soldiers painted more than 60 paintings on the rock while they were actively protecting the site. May be, these soldiers got involved in creating these paintings to relieve themselves of the boredom while on duty. As on date these are considered one of the most important military cultural monuments of Switzerland.
For picnickers there are a number of picnic areas with open fireplaces along the route. Remains of small fire pits can be seen here and there, as an evidence that the locals use this place for picnics.
The crackling sound of dried leaves posed as a companion as we continued to walk. Gurgling sound of the water invited us to explore the brook flowing nearby. It proved to be an inspiration for the journey ahead.
On walking a little further, we were greeted by the calmly flowing Ibach river, covered with beautiful greenery around. It was a junction where Ibach joined Birs river. The shutters of the camera had not rest. Moments, when it seemed that the camera is not capable of capturing the beauty witnessed by the eyes ! We spent some time there immersed in nature’s beauty.
We were a little disappointed by the unpleasant fact that the days are shorter in the Autumn season. We were not certain to reach Meltigen before it got dark. We could not see any fellow tourist walking along the way. Being new to the place we were a little scared to continue our journey through such a desolate place. The fact that we could not continue with trekking, forced us to return to Grellingen station to head back to Geneva.
We took a different route witnessing different views. As we entered the village of Grellingen, beautifully curated lawn gardens and window sills of the houses of the villagers were a treat to the eyes. Beautiful swiss chalets, stood tall in autumn colours. It seemed as if the pages from the English storybook I had read as a child reappeared before my eyes. The lawns looked like green carpets spread along the path.
The sun was beginning to set! As we were walking through the darker paths of the valley under the shadow of high rocky mountains, the sun was shining on another valley far away. It felt as though it was another world seen at the far end.
We walked for an hour to reached Grilligen Railway Station. Somewhere in the distance we could hear cow bells ringing. After grazing the green pastures, a herd of cows were returning to their byre.
The train reached the platform on time, to carry us back home. We returned to Geneva via Neuchatel and Lausanne. A Beautiful day filled with the beauty of the autumn forests continued to rule the mind filled with unforgettable and magical memories. It was time to move on, and chalk out the next journey to a new destination
Lesson learnt and things to remember
It is always better to analyse any situation for the disappointments it offered. This day we were disappointed for not being able to complete the trek, the way we wanted to be! We tried to find out through the local friends, what sights we missed by cutting short our trip. They informed us that the trek ahead would have been through dense jungle and some of the roads were along the river bank and some are in the middle of the forest. Nothing special to see but it would have been a totally scenic and refreshing trip. We also missed the chance to enter some ancient caves. The lesson learnt from this experience was that, when one plans a trip to an unknown place, one need to think about what one would get to see along the way and how long one can rest in each place. The activities should be planned in advance in a time bound manner.