There’s more to Mount Titlis than the fact that Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was shot here, never mind the giant cardboard cutouts of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
Imagine being in Cairns and skipping the Great Barrier Reef, or trawling through Agra and bypassing the Taj. That’s what it amounts to if you visit Switzerland and neglect the frosty peaks and icy glacier of Mount Titlis, Central Switzerland’s tallest mountain at an altitude of 9,930 feet above sea level. But chances are, if you’re Indian you’ll dart to the Engelberg valley with your knickers in a twist, for the valley and the snowy peaks that frame it have all the elements that have for years inspired Bollywood dream sequences. Pastures, cowbells, pristine lakes, waterfalls — all framed by creviced icy peaks.
What took the adulation to a whole new level, however, was when a scene from the movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was shot here, Titlis became more than just recommended; it was thronged, adored, turned into the hajj of the Bollywood lover. Which is why perhaps, when I exit the Rotair — the world’s first revolving cable car, that lets me spin my way to the top of this sacred mountain — the first thing that greets me are giant cardboard cutouts of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. A queue of Indians mill around the cutouts, clearly eager to be photographed with the paper stars against the snowy backdrop of the mountain.
But Bollywood is not the only reason to make this pilgrimage. The Baroque monastery church of Engelberg, in its entire 12 century splendour, sits at the base of the mountain. Once at the summit, a guide points out a Buddha created naturally out of rock. But of all the religious reasons to visit, nature’s cathedral strikes me as the most enticing.
Suspended above the glacier in the ice-flyer chair lift, it’s hard not to feel all human vanity and ego dissolve in the face of the mighty summits. One look at the crevasses in the ice that mimic the jaws of hungry sharks, and clarity is added to my eyesight, precision to my hearing and I find myself scanning the world below me with heightened awareness.
Deposited by the ice-flyer chair lift in the glacier park, a snowball smacks me affectionately on the cheek, welcoming me to this virtual Disneyland in snow. Those who don’t have their skis on are snowboarding, snow-tubing or tobogganing their way down white slopes. And although travellers are abundant here, this mountain — like most every other in Switzerland — is wholly interwoven into the act of being local. Children from ages as young as three are negotiating the slopes with the ease of monkeys on a tree.
If you hail from a prescriptive family and have been warned not to go out in the rain or to beware of the cold, these effortless encounters on the snowy, windy slopes by the young and adaptable is fascinating to behold. The mountains have moulded their people into a get-up-and-go tribe.
Travellers committed to more cardiovascular efficiency than me appear like ants in the far distance, equipped with backpacks and sticks. Ready to embark on the trail to look-out point — Gross Titlis, which reputedly offers views of over 80 per cent of Switzerland.
A stranger strikes up a conversation on her way back from this challenging trail. Bonded by noses red from the cold, she confesses that she negotiates this trek each year as personal therapy. “It’s hard to remember any woes when you’re so high above things. The mountain gives perspective to life and I let go of the year-round pettiness when I embark upon this annual journey.”
But every paradise has its serpent. And not all the popularity in the world can shield Titlis from global warming. That the snow cover is on the decline owing to climate change is like a virtual sermon on the mount, an invitation to think about the impact of the way we live on the planet. I feel gratitude at being here at this moment in history and being able to wander through the glacier cave with its rooms constructed from ice.
The lunch halt at Panorama Restaurant, like most other places around here, is where one ends up taking enough pictures to garland a mountain. Over hot chocolate and sausages, I chat with regulars. I’m warned of dire consequences if I leave Engelberg without experiencing their list of things to do. One attributes her silky skin to an invigorating whey bath in an open-air bathtub ensconced in a meadow. This is offered at the cheese dairy at the foot of the mountain. Another swears by creamy cheese treats from the cheese-makers in the Engelberg monastery.
In the middle of this conversation, a group of Polish travellers jumps up from the table and rushes to the window. “We’ve waited forever to photograph this sight,” they say. I assume that an ibex has miraculously manifested. But no — it’s a group of Indians with woolies over their kurta pyjamas and nylon shirts dancing unselfconsciously in Bollywood style on the slopes. Not for us, but despite us. There are assorted reactions from the watching crowd — some curious, others amused, still others patronising. But the dancers in nylon are oblivious, for they are admirably focused upon celebrating the magic of this mountain.