A heaven on earth in between two lakes

irk99

‘God has been partial to this place’ – this is the first thought that rushes through my mind as I set my eyes on one of the most surreal destinations in Switzerland, Interlaken. I peer out of the large train windows as it meanders around a shimmering lake reflecting myriad shades of blue. The shutterbug in me excitedly captures nature as she poses for me – the cheery sun rays tears apart the cloudy skies, the morning mist seduces the lush green and little boats with blue sails bob around in perfect tandem. The train ride to Interlaken, from Zurich, Geneva or any other part of Europe is sheer delight. And if you are a photo enthusiast, every glimpse makes a gorgeous picture postcard! 

The train & the stream…A love story

Exploring the town

Located in the Canton of Bern, Interlaken is sandwiched between Lake Brienz in the east and Lake Thun in the west. Strategically located between the two lakes, Interlaken is the most ideal place to stay for tourists as it has easy access to most attractions such as Jungfrau, Titlis, Chilthorn, Luzerne lake and so on.

A little town called Interlaken

A wonderful little town, Interlaken can be actually covered from one end to the other on foot, if you are willing to explore. For all those who love adventure sports, Interlaken has lots to offer like skydiving, hang gliding, paragliding and skiing. Apart from lush green adorned with a rainbow of flowers, the quaint churches add to its artistic skyline.

Invitingly Interlaken…and a walk so memorable.

If you choose to drive (on-road option), it takes you through the streets, little villages and farms dotted with some absolutely stunning views of cliffs, waterfalls and lakes. 

Jus’ a neighbourhood
A church, a street and one big mountain
A drive you can die for…

The Harder Kulm

Despite the regular tourist attractions, one experience that dazzles through my itinerary is the Harder Kulm point. While most visitors tend to skip this trip for want of time, it’s worth every Swiss Franc you have set aside to splurge. It starts with a funicular rail ride in a very specifically built railway compartment or a boogey to climb up and down this interesting railway line that goes over 2,340 ft right up the summit in a straight line.

This funicular leaves every 45 minutes to 1 hour from the ground level and it takes about 20 minutes to witness some absolutely stunning views of the entire town as well as neighbouring cities like Speiz and Bern. While you marvel at the way the funicular has been built, it reaches mid-way to flaunt a breathtaking sight of a sparkling emerald-green lake cutting across the green land mass and flowing through it gently changing its colour to different shades of blue. Once you reach atop Harder Kulm, one can enjoy amazing views of mountains like Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau – some green tops, some white, two lakes and alpine tress scattered around.

An incredible view from the funicular

The highlight of this trip is when it starts snowing, but well, you must be there at the right time of the year for that. A panoramic restaurant at the top lets you grab something to eat and the best thing to get back is to take a walk down the summit through the woods. 

Other activities

The other places to visit when you are in Interlaken include the Alpine garden, the Mystery Park. The Trummelbach Falls which is the world’s only glacier waterfalls. For the trekkers, there is Rugen forest. If you are making your travel plan in January the chances are that you can catch up with the International Lauberhorn Race which is a part of the Audi FIS Ski world cup or be there to enjoy the lake Breinz Rock festival.

Car wash…anyone?!
Heaven above…and a little town below!

Or you can indulge in a private visit to a cheese dairy farm in a nearby little town to learn about the art of making cheese, Swiss-style. This little town offers quite a few shopping options too. For watch lovers there is Bucherer watch store showcasing some of the best Swiss brands. There are other lovely looking shops to walk around and shop for traditional Swiss bells, chocolates and other souvenirs. 

…for the shopper in you

Your abode

And if you are one of those crazy rich Indians, looking to feel and chill like a Bollywood star, Interlaken offers just the right place for you. Located right in the heart of Interlaken, perfectly positioned to offer you the picturesque mountain setting of the Bernese Overland, Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa offers an unforgettable Alpine experience. With the best of regional and international cuisine and bars, this property offers fine dining experiences with breath-taking views. From culinary artistry at La Terrasse to pasta creations at the restaurant Quaranta Uno, the Victoria bar is popular for cocktails and nightcaps. The Spa Nescens is where you want to be when in Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel to pamper yourself.

The superior duplex suites have a view of Interlaken, while the deluxe duplex suites offer views of the Jungfrau. The Tower Suite with elegant furnishings that characterises the unobtrusive luxury, is the highest and the largest too. It offers great panoramic view of the Alps. And for the true Bollywood lovers, you have the Yash Chopra Suite  dedicated to the filmmaker, who personally opened it in 2011. Designed in Indian style with subtle accents makes you feel like a movie star.

Truly a beautiful little town

This could be heaven..or simply Suisse!

Interlaken, without a doubt, deserves to be right on top of the list of ‘must see’ places in Europe and the best choice to stay when in Switzerland. It truly is a ‘heaven on earth’ in between two lakes, to indulge. 

Pictures – irk99

5000 years and it still ROCKS!

An early start to an awesome calmness

Right after breakfast, I walked to the nearest Tube station to catch a train to Victoria Coach Station, exactly as the tour brochure at my hotel in London’s Earl’s Court had recommended. Boarding a mini tour bus at Victoria Station, I was excitedly on my way to a half-day tour of Stonehenge. The image of Stonehenge was a familiar one, as many computers come preloaded with it as a desktop wallpaper, but I knew very little else about the ancient place.

I needn’t have worried though as the bus driver’s introductory talk was packed with all the interesting information. “It was so saddening when I heard one man say that it is just a pile of big stones,” the driver said with genuine hurt in his voice, expressing dismay at visitors who have no sense of history. After all, what appears to be the remains of incomplete, but ‘thoughtfully arranged big rocks’ at Stonehenge is nearly 3,500 years old, making it one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Britain.

Driving through calmness

Picture perfect

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at Stonehenge is the surrounding perfect English countryside — beautiful, lush green fields interspersed with delightfully yellow strips of rapeseed; a perfectly laid highway that runs more like an artist’s brush, making one long stroke from end to end.

An approach through yellow & green

Vehicles, especially long trucks loaded with new cars, suddenly appear up the curve and disappear below, before reappearing at the next curve and finally disappearing out of sight.

Cool country side – Wiltshire

Lending a picture-perfect touch was a flock of well-grown fluffy sheep grazing on the hillsides. It was especially delightful to watch them drink together from neatly arranged water troughs.

A typical english countryside

Prehistoric labour of love

Each visitor is provided an audio guide, with a pre-recorded voice narrating the history of the place. The best part about this arrangement is that you can always pause and rewind to the sections you may have missed at first hearing.

A storyline in rocks

The structure we see today is believed to have come up in three stages — an earth bank and a ditch came up in the first stage; the second stage is the dramatic part in which gigantic bluestones were dragged on rollers and sledges over a 240-mile track, all the way from Preseli Mountains to Amesbury. The third stage, set around 2000 BC, saw the arrival of Sarsen stones; after 1500 BC, the bluestones were rearranged to appear as we see them today. This truly is an awe-inspiring history in stones.

Interesting history in formation
Uniquely arranged
Solitary stand
A walk around…

Popular heritage site

Mystic rocks…narrating interesting history

Located a little more than an hour away from London, in the English county of Wiltshire, the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge is a popular tourist attraction. The site is also revered as a place of pilgrimage for neo-druids and others who follow pagan or neo-pagan beliefs; in June it turns into a popular venue for those celebrating the Summer Solstice.

A must visit when in London.

Picture – irk99

Historical Hanoi & the Halong Bay

A boatman, passing through…appears to carry the monster rock!

‘The most luxurious hotel’ reads the board, right outside Grand Plaza, standing tall in the heart of Hanoi. Though it sounds too confident, it can be your choice, particularly if you had a tiring journey boarding a flight at an unearthly hour as most flight from Indian cities are.  If you are too eager to soak in what the hotel had to offer, it may not disappoint you, as it does offer luxury honestly. Obviously there are choices when it comes to finding a hotel in Hanoi. 

The beauty of this chaotic yet idyllic Vietnam city, the spectacular Halong Bay and its magical islands are bound to leave you enamoured.

There is a clear evidence of lavish space and grandeur in the facade and the interior starting from the hotel lobby, with high roofs and crafty decor in dominating gold. Le Jardin, created tastefully with a touch of fine interiors, offers all-day dining with a specialty being the Vietnamese style boiled vegetables with steamed rice. Grand Plaza also hosts the elegant Taoyuan restaurant that serves a choice of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai specialties. The Fuji offers an extensive menu of authentic Korean and Japanese dishes with traditional decor to suit your mood. In all if you are on a quick trip and want to give the usual Hilton, Intercontinental and Sofitel Metropole a miss, this abode is good.

The most famous Red Bridge

Now that bit done, if you are eager to experience the true beauty of Hanoi, the capital city has lots to offer. Starting from the Hanoi Museum as a witness to the past, the grand old St James church standing tall as a testimony to strong faith, the most famous Red Bridge as a perfect stage for every tourist to strike a pose and much more. Talking of exploring Hanoi, one cannot resist but mention the unbelievable traffic. Yes, unbelievable even for those who traverse in unruly Indian traffic every day. For any first time visitor, the city’s weird traffic patterns is a challenge to even understand. And hundreds of lean and mean motorbikes swamping you the moment you step out makes for a freaky start.

Setting sails to explore the Bay

Enroute to Halong Bay

The place that amazes you most is Halong Bay. Beautifully described by Vietnam’s national poet Nguyen Trai as ‘a marvel of the earth erected towards the high skies’, a first glance at it brings the complete imagery of his poetic line to life. Situated in the North-East region of Vietnam, Halong Bay is part of Bac Bo Gulf and comprises the sea area of Halong City, Cam Pha Town and a part of Van Don island district, Quang Ninh Province. It’s a reasonably long drive, and even though the road isn’t kind enough to allow a smooth ride, it is worth the effort to reach this natural beauty. It also borders Cat Ba Island to the South-West and the Mainland to the west with a 120km-long coastline. Enroute, one can stop by to witness local artists who are physically challenged, creating incredible works of art, be it with thread or paint. It is difficult to get out of this place without picking a piece of their craft. The chances are that you may instantly fall in love with many a piece that depict so beautifully, the real imagery that is so Vietnam.

One of the first sights of a beautiful setting

The Luxury Cruise

Soon a captivating smell of the sea that draws you, a busy pier dotted with a large number of boats, some small and beautifully crafted, others big like a modern cruise. All of them head to the Halong Bay. Now when it comes to taking this beautiful trip, there are a few options but your pick could well be ‘the Paradise Peak’ cruise. Stylishly crafted in a traditional way, this high-end boutique boat is a classical work of art made of wood and from the finest materials that can be found in Vietnam. As one of the paradise cruise line, the Paradise Peak is a most refined one in its class and beauty that offers royal luxury and comfort. The cruise offers 8 lavishly designed suites, an awesome spa treatment, a fine dining restaurant and an outdoor bar. 

An interesting sight of the fruit vendors who hop in and out of boats in the middle of the waters with such ease teaches you a lesson or two ‘on-the-sea-mobile-delivery’. When the cruise gets closer to nature’s wonder, you could spot the varied shaped rocks lapped up in green, appearing in the middle of the sea in large numbers. The different shades of grey and green kept getting clearer as you get closer. 

Mobile fruit shop for instant delivery on water

Halong Bay covers a total area of over 1500 km, including 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. Limestone and schist are concentrated in two main zones: the South-East which belongs to Bai Tu Long Bay and the South-West that belongs to Halong Bay. It appears as if parts of earth right in the middle of the sea just woke up and stretched towards the sky in an attempt to reach greater heights, competing with each other. Exploring the bay, you will find those legendary stone islands appearing to keep changing their shapes depending on the angle and natural light. And it is bound to keep a shutterbug very busy. Based on their interesting shapes, these islands are given many amusing names such as ‘Human head islet’, ‘Dragon Islet’, ‘Cock and hen Islet’ and so on.

Geological wonder

These natural islands are considered to be between 250 and 280 million years old. Apart from the magnificent mountains coated thickly in rich, the mystery of Halong Bay is incomplete without the grottoes and caves. Each of them flaunts its own grandiose architectural creations. At the first stop you get to explore the most remarkable caves that are unbelievably formed right into the massive mountains. Over the last 100 years, the advance of the sea and the strong erosion by the heavily salted water has resulted in geological evolution with deep engravings on these stones, adding to its real beauty. The regaling guide will point out and urge you to see familiar forms such as dancing dragons, elephants, a man’s face and so on with a bit of imagination. Simply amazing, it makes you stand in awe while witnessing the precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved over 300 million years. The sight of sun-rays piecing through a small opening into the caves adds drama to every shot on your lenses.

Captivating caves

Sailing in to discover

After witnessing the captivating caves that was recognised as the world natural heritage by the committee of UNESCO twice, you get onto the boats to sail through some of the spectacular sights.

A picture perfect bay
Harboured boats
Sailing through spectacular natural settings
A caved entry into hidden paradise
Rocky green all around a natural pool and sky above!

Passing through some of most beautiful rocky forms in the sea, you will suddenly find yourself entering a little ‘village on water’. A few families have made this their own with their boat-houses. They even have a school for the little ones. Operating the boats and kayaks for the tourist is their livelihood. And right there, you find yourself all set to go kayaking to one of the best ever hide-outs that you may have ever been in your life. With only one narrow entry to get in you will find yourself in a natural hide-out surrounded by beautiful green topped tall rocks, still green water and blue sky above. You may so not want to get out of this paradise when you are there, as it brings an end to this awesome trip. While sailing back to the pier, the interesting setting of the rocks on the sea is sure to keep you busy with your camera. 

A busy day at the market place
Vietnamese delicacies to try

Back in the city, the ‘historical Hanoi’ promises to keep you busy walking through the numerous streets with shops, food and an adorable over-dose of vietnamese culture. 

Pictures – irk99