Snow Story

A picture of snow-fuelled activites in the winter wonderland that is Jungfrau, Switzerland

Jungfraujoch, the top of Europe.
Highlights: 
Literature may have unfairly turned winter into a symbol of everything dreary, but with every extra layer you don, the snow and the nippy air get a bit more alluring.
It’s only at Grindelwald that you can cliff-walk on the precipice of a snow mountain ...

Snow has a strange tendency to suck out all the colours from a landscape, rendering everything in tones of black and white. And so, when I look back on my memories of Jungfrau, Switzerland, I feel like they belong to the pre-colour film era. With the picture-postcard resort town of Interlaken as our base, we explore the Jungfrau region in the thick of winter, as the thermometer dipped to up to -10 degree Celsius.

Literature may have unfairly turned winter into a symbol of everything dreary, but with every extra layer you don, the snow and the nippy air get a bit more alluring. Decked in thermals, warm winter jackets, boots, gloves and woollen caps, we hopped into the train at Interlaken. Part of the Jungfrau Railway network, it would take us past stunning vistas of dark-grey mountains, snow-white ski slopes, storybook cottages and endless rows of snow-laden conifers to the winter wonderland that is Jungfraujoch. They call themselves the ‘Top of Europe’ and at 3,454 metres above sea level, it certainly feels like it.

Fortified by a mug of creamy hot chocolate, we stepped out onto the observation deck and it was hard to believe that a place like that actually existed. Craggy mountain peaks towered beyond the snow-covered summit on which we stood and cheery Christmas trees and lights warmed us with festive spirit even in the cold. And when the sun came out, we dropped down on the soft and flaky snow to make snow angels. Throwing huge balls of snow at each other and ducking for cover behind snowmen, I felt like I had entered one of the European storybooks I’d devour in my childhood.

After we’d had our fill of the snow, we proceeded to the Ice Palace, a beautiful fairyland made solely of ice. Those who found the floor slippery were advised to hold on to the railings. Inside, it was a labyrinth of ice arches, narrow passageways and striking ice sculptures of birds, animals and people. It was also freezing, which is why no one can be inside the palace for more than 20 minutes. But the biggest programme of the day was the unveiling of a Charlie Chaplin ice sculpture to commemorate the comedian’s 40th death anniversary.

Chaplin chapter

Speaking on the occasion, Eugene Chaplin, the fifth child of Charlie Chaplin, a recording engineer and documentary film-maker said, “I think this is a great way to preserve my father’s memory. Christmas was not an easy time for him, for it reminded him of his difficult childhood in London. But my mother (Oona) always planned elaborate festivities and Charlie would eventually join in, dressing up as Father Christmas and distributing presents.” What made the event most unforgettable was the presence of 40 children from nearby schools, all dressed as The Tramp, Chaplin’s best-known film persona.

We exited the Ice Palace to encounter a series of mountain videos covering the walls. When you stand in designated spots, a feeling of actually being amidst those wonderful landforms engulfs you. But why relegate yourself to the digital when you can actually feel the icy embrace of the Jungfrau region for real, right?

A shade darker

Our next stop was the Alpine Sensation, an eerie place that tells dark tales about the miners and excavators of yore through pictures and relics. It is thanks to their tireless efforts that the Jungfrau region is so well connected by a network of railways.

The journey through Alpine Sensation drew us into times long past, but Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven offered a welcome jolt back to sweet reality. Interesting exhibits educated us on the fine art of Swiss chocolate-making. The tour concluded at a shop selling all types of Lindt goodies. But I was already replete, for, during our 50-minute train ride from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch (with one change), we had gorged on all the Lindt chocolates our hearts could desire!

We had been blessed with good weather during our trip to Jungfraujoch, which allowed for great pictures and clear views. However, the day dawned windy, blurry and snowy when we were to go to Grindelwald, a picturesque village in the Jungfrau region, situated at the base of the Eiger north-face. But as I would learn soon enough, winter in the Alps is as exhilarating as it is severe. In the olden days, mere survival would have been a challenge, but in this day and age, thick sheets of snow only add to the adventure that is a day out in the Jungfrau region.

It’s only at Grindelwald that you can cliff-walk on the precipice of a snow mountain and gaze upon ethereal slopes and peaks and distant herds of red deer even as the snow and the wind compel you to hold on to the railing as tightly as you can. But to get there, you have to ride high above the ground, even higher than the tops of tall Christmas conifers, in cable cars that move as smoothly as possible. As ours left the ground and flew into the wintry air, we couldn’t help gasping. Our stomachs stilled and the magic of wafting over the winter forests and snowy landscape set my heart aflutter. The best part about the cable cars is that on one side, you can partially open the window to enjoy an unimpeded view of the Bernese Alps and allow the cold breeze to tinge your cheeks with a blush.

At the First Cliff Walk by Tissot, we walked along a winding terrace that towered 45 metres above the ground, overlooking forests and mountains populated only by alpine choughs and red deer that seemed unperturbed by the steep descent of the valleys. The snow and the wind sapped the details from the landscape but they made the walk incredibly thrilling, so that when we finally reached the lookout platform jutting out into the vacuum, we felt like warriors from the North in the saga Game of Thrones.

On the other side of the platform was Bergrestaurant, where we feasted on pasta, salad and warm glasses of fragrant mulled wine. But we couldn’t get too used to the warmth for our adventures in the snow hadn’t yet come to an end.

We took another cable car ride to reach a shop where we could rent snow suits, boots, gloves and anything else we might need to make the most of the Jungfrau splendour. Suitably fitted out, we trudged around in the snow playing, taking in the views and posing for pictures. A few metres ahead, there was an incline where we could practise sledging — a sport I’d seen often in the televised version of Heidi. As a first-timer, I fully expected to make a fool of myself, but wonder of wonders, it turned out to be a breeze! We also snow-walked for a short distance before returning due to heavy snowfall. A few members of the group also went zip-lining in the bitter cold. I knew I’d have to return to experience Jungfrau in the summer, but thanks to this trip, I was finally free from my abject fear of extreme cold.

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