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Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland is a glaciated valley with steep mountains, including the three big peaks of Eiger (ogre), Monch (monk) and Jungfrau (virgin maiden), towering above and innumerable waterfalls plunging down the cliff faces. Lauterbrunnen refers to “many fountains” — 72 to be precise — with Staubachfall as the most famous and the main landmark of the village visible as soon as you step off the train. The station was featured in the Shammi Kapoor-Sharmila Tagore-starrer An Evening in Paris (1967).
Nestled in a valley, the village is a cluster of Swiss chalets and wooden houses functioning as hotels, restaurants and shops, all with beautifully bedecked flowers in their balconies and windows. It is a classic Swiss alpine scene with farms amid sloping meadows, goats and cows grazing, their traditional brass-bronze bells resonating in the air, as the sound of the White Lutschine river echoes through the town.
The Talmuseum is a good window to the Swiss alpine life. On the way to the Staubbach falls, you will cross the Lauterbrunnen Church dating to 1480s and a beautifully maintained cemetery. In summer, activities like hiking, mountain climbing, river rafting, hang gliding, helicopter flights for an aerial view of the Alps will keep one occupied. In winter, it is a skier’s paradise. Trummelbach falls, three km from Lauterbrunnen, is a combination of 10 glacier-waterfalls inside the mountain, made accessible by a tunnel lift and intertwining passages, some with steep stairs. The falls drain the glaciers and the roar of the gushing 20,000 litres of water per second is deafening. Other waterfalls include Spissbachfall, Buchenbachfall, Aegertenbachfall and Mattenbachfall. These picturesque waterfalls inspired the likes of Goethe, Lord Byron and JRR Tolkien, the latter basing his fantasy world of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings on the Lauterbrunnen valley.
High above the Lauterbrunnen valley lie the picturesque mountain villages Murren and Gimmelwald and the Schilthorn summit on one side and Wengen, and Jungfraujoch on the other. Full of sports activities, Murren can be reached by a yellow “post bus” (called so for being run by a subsidiary company of Swiss Post) to Stechelberg, from where a cable car runs to Gimmelwald, Murren and Schilthorn. Reachable by the longest aerial cableway in Switzerland, Schilthorn was famously the set for the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and thus, boasts of a “Bond World” exhibition, “James Bond breakfast” at Schilthorn’s Piz Gloria revolving restaurant with a panoramic view of over 200 peaks, and a “Martini, shaken not stirred” at the James Bond Bar.
Lauterbrunnen is the starting point of Jungfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch (or “Top of Europe”) at 11,333 ft, on a ridge between the Monch (13,475 ft) and Jungfrau (13,642 ft) peaks. A fantastic panorama of Unesco Heritage Swiss Alps and Aletsch glacier awaits visitors. The cog-wheel train journey in wooden coaches, some over a hundred years old, is fascinating. Incidentally, Jungfraujoch is as high as Leh in Ladakh — many elderly tourists often experience dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness.That the Swiss locales were made famous by Yash Chopra films is evident by a Bollywood Café atop Jungfraujoch serving Indian buffet, with a request to “not waste food”.
To be in Lauterbrunnen is to enter upon, in Lord Byron’s words, “a range of scenes beyond all description or previous conception.”
Sandeep Joshi is a Delhi-based former civil servant