I opened my dry eyes and gazed out of the window. The faint break of dawn was burning my eyes red as I lowered my gaze. The first rays of the day gave shape to her contours. Her peaks were lit in crimson, casting a shadow over her barren crevices. The sleepless night was worth this view.
I like to think that it was because of my relentless efforts. But as the song says
This is ten percent luck Twenty percent skill Fifteen percent concentrated power of will Five percent pleasure Fifty percent pain And a hundred percent reason to remember the name
The warm smell of coffee filled the air and soon an air hostess appeared in the cabin, heaving along a trolley. It was a sight for sore eyes, quite literally. I sipped my warm coffee, looking out at her features taking shape as the sun rose over the city of Zurich. We passed over a hill with the lake to my left.
We must be approaching runway 34 or 32 since we are flying North, I thought. Given that I could not see the terminal on my left, it had to be runway 34. The plane flared up and we touched down smoothly, smoother than I would have liked. 10 degrees Celsius outside, the captain said. I knew she was cold, but apparently she was still cooler than the Delhi winter. Maybe I should stop listening to Badshah…
I breezed past passport control and was officially inside her. Her people were warm and polite, but I could see it in their eyes, they knew this was not going to last. As I got out of the taxi, a partially dilapidated studenthaus lay in front of me, sprawled over a hillock. The low laying fog hid a view of the Uetliberg. The grass was green all around.
The first week went by with a lot of paperwork. My days would go by quickly at ETH where I met a lot of like minded people. We shared our love for High Performance Computing and for that beautiful country. Die Schweiz, la Suisse, la Svizzera as she was called by the three people living there.
My infatuation had sparked a long time ago. One could also say that it was inherited. After all, my father had been the first of the Rajes to meet her. His work took him to Mulhouse, right on the border of France and Switzerland. The greener grass on the Swiss side must have been his cue to venture east. That was it, we spent several subsequent summers in the Alps, always visiting Switzerland and some neighbouring country.
With most of the central peaks covered in snow, I ventured south to the canton of Ticino. My first hike would take me 1300 metres above ‘lake level’. The lake of lugano was always to my left and made me keep going. After a long winter of skiing, this was already exhilerating for me. As I walked up the trail to the summit, I found that on one side of the trail lay Italy.
As I started living the Swiss life, the expenses seemed alarming to me. A simple meal in the ETH cafeteria would cost the same as a luxurious meal for two at one of the best hotels in Delhi. Tap water could also be chargeable, as I quickly learned. Meat, spices and even coffee were three times as expensive as in France. Switzerland was not just a country, it was a brand. Schweizer fleisch, schweizer alpwasser, schweizer alpkase, Schweizer milch! Even in the ETH Mensa, they proudly mentioned the country of origin for the meat used in the dishes. The people were willing to overpay at the sound of this name. It was a reassurance of quality, of beauty and finesse and above all, of the precision that was ubiquitous in this country.
The more I got to know her, the more I was surprised. Any peak on the map had a well marked trail to it. Every village that had a name had a train or a bus going to it, which-needless to say-was always on time. Many of them were frequented by asian instagrammars. I was possessive of her, I hated the thought of sharing her with these people.
In an effort to see her wild side, I hiked up to Neiderbauen-Chulm on the lake lucerne. This was a lesser known peak which lay in the shadow of several instagram-friendly, wheelchair accessible summits around it. The hike upwards was steep with absolutely gorgeous views all around. I finally saw the Swiss landscape shown in advertisements. A flock of sheep happily grazing, with the sound of cowbells in the distance. 150 degrees for 2 hours and it would be an amazing meal, I thought. As the peak became visible, I met some hikers coming down. Don’t go up the whole way, they said. Apparently there was still some old snow near the peak and it could dislodge at any time. My ego got the better of me as I continued on. Finally I came to a signpost warning people with vertigo not to go forward. “Alpine hiking gear is required”, it said. I looked around, the scenery had changed. It was now quite barren and rocky. Soon I saw a tunnel above me. A ladder led up into this tunnel. Was this the ominous stairway to heaven? I climbed up into darkness, and soon my eyes were flooded with the light breaking above me. There was the snow they were talking about. Sure enough, it was muddy. “Chal ladke!” (Come on boy) I screamed out. This had recently become a training cue for me to ignore all rational thought and just charge ahead. I soon discovered that the snow lay on the narrow trail. There were some rocks to the right not covered in snow. This was the only way up. I had never done any rock climbing, and there was no rope anywhere, just a straight drop down to encourage me to go up.
Some rocks I pushed down on, disloged. The soil I heaved myself against, was damp and gave way instantly. Several times, I found my weight hanging by my hands and my fingers. This was a disaster waiting to happen. I have never found myself thinking faster, never have I had more confidence in myself. While several adventure seekers have experienced far worse, this was my first share of real fear and it had found me completely unprepared. Needless to say, I lived to tell the tale, owing to much more than 10% luck this time! She wasn’t as predictable as I had thought after all, but she was certainly quite forgiving.
Several weeks of (ingenious, I would like to think) work later and several arduous hikes later, I found myself at the airport in the morning, sipping an espresso that had rid me of my last coins. I was looking at my residence permit, now legally invalid. Aufenhalt zur Ausbildung (Short stay for educational development) it said, and I smiled. I had seen some of the winter and summer as well. The days were longer than I was ever used to. My education had officially completed before I set foot in this country, but it felt like I had learnt more in these 5 months than the past year. The experience had indeed been wholesome. Surely, our relationship had it’s ups and downs, but I could only remember the way up, much like that of my hikes.